Wall-climbing robots, technology controlled by thought, 360-degree view cameras – it all sounds like it could be kit from James Bond’s bag. In fact, they’re innovations being commercialised by small Kiwi businesses.
It’s one thing to have an idea; it’s quite another to package it up and sell it. Commercialising innovation is a notoriously long – and expensive – process, and this week a handful of small business owners share their experiences of the challenges and lessons learned along the way.
Take those wall climbing robots, produced by Christchurch-based Invert Robotics, which develops and uses remote inspection equipment to provide industrial inspection services.
The firm’s CEO, James Robertson, says the company spent nearly two years developing its technology before it could even think about market entry, during which time the company was supported by investors who believed in the concept and the team’s ability to deliver.
But Robertson says it was time well spent. The company immersed itself in the task of understanding exactly what their potential clients would need from the technology, ultimately allowing the firm to develop a better service.
“That’s also paying dividends in other ways too,” says Robertson. “Because we’re developing technology that no one really thought could be done, clients are more willing to share other problems they are facing and that is giving us other opportunities.”
Andrew Turnbull is investment committee chair of the Kiwi Innovation Network, also known as KiwiNet – a consortium of universities, Crown Research Institutes and Crown entities focused on supporting the commercialisation of research. He’s also got a swag of experience in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries and as an angel investor.
Turnbull says companies that successfully commercialise innovation are able to strike a tricky balance between a number of factors: they have tenacity but know when to give up; are adaptive yet focused; have both youthful exuberance and proven commercial experience; and are open to building relationships, but discerning with it.
At the heart of success is a great team and good governance.
“Team is number one,” says Turnbull. “You can have the best technology in the world but if your team isn’t up to it you’re never going to get anywhere.”
Innovation is about doing things in a whole new way, opening up the prospect of new possibilities that just weren’t available before, and the companies interviewed this week are determined to shift some paradigms.
Auckland-based startup Thought-Wired, for example, is focused on commercialising its first product, called NOUS, aimed at assisting people who have severe physical disabilities.
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but NOUS uses the natural power of thought, via a brain-computer interface, to navigate, control and access applications – allowing an entirely ‘physical-free’ way to access communication and other computer applications.
It’s technology, says the firm’s founder and CEO Dmitry Selitskiy, with the potential to make a real difference.
“Apart from having commercial importance to our business,” he says, “bringing our solution to market has the potential to be life changing for the tens of thousands of people with profound disabilities and their families in New Zealand and around the world.”