Making IT dreams reality

DESPITE our reputation as a mining State, there is an abundance of creative talent in IT in universities, business parks and backyard sheds. Plenty of people have commercialised their dream – and made a successful go of it.

People like Jason Barber, a former police officer who saw the need for a particular program in the force, left to develop it, and is about to run with it in the marketplace. Or Paul Kristensen, who developed a 3D television system (for which Samsung Korea paid a one million dollar licence in 1995) that spawned a successful 3D technology company.

So what do you do if you’ve got a great idea?

According to people in the know (from former developers themselves to funding bodies), there are just three things to remember – support, support, support.

“The idea is the easy part.” KDC Systems managing director Brian Kasten says.

“Ideas don’t necessarily translate into reality.”

While KDC isn’t involved in IT, Mr Kasten has the unique standpoint of overseeing his own invention through to its current commercial position.

“There’s a lot of support out there,” he says, “but the biggest problem most inventors have is they don’t want to tell anyone.”

Phil Harman, DDD’s chief technology officer, agrees that pig-headedness or secrecy will get you nowhere.

“Inventors want to do everything,” he says. “They want to be chief scientist, company secretary, marketing department and head of finance. Generally inventors don’t have much business acumen, so they have to be prepared to give away a lot.”

And support need not be hard to come by. Most agree not only how vital it is, but how much exists. As Entrepreneurs in Residence general manager Pieter Struijk explains: “We know a huge network of companies.”

And outside accepted structure of the R&D field, KDC’s Brian Kasten believes you can rely on the basic good nature of people.

“People in general are very helpful if it’s not impinging on their business,” Mr Kasten says.

While your passion for your idea might seem out of place in the world of market investment, it’s very much a ‘people’ industry, and investors are buying your enthusiasm as an inventor/engineer/programmer (IEP) as much as they are a potential IT winner.

Mr Harman – while highlighting what he calls the ‘New Baby’ syndrome of keeping your idea close to your chest – admits it’s a good thing.

“I think it’s a positive thing because it’s indicative of someone who’s inspired by what they’re doing,” he says.

Peter Why, chief executive of Dutch-born Venture Capital firm Zernike Australia, says it is important not to forget that what people are investing in first and foremost is you.

“It’s very hard to work with people you don’t get along with,” he says.

“We invest in people.”

EIR’s Peter Struijk agrees. “We support them. This means little things like how to get your company on a correct legal base,” he says.

DDD, like most investors in technology, has even seen good work go by the wayside.

“Over the years a lot of inventions have come my way which were terrific and should have seen the light of day,” Mr Harman says. “But because of the extreme characteristics of the inventors, business people walk away from it.”

Budget pushes innovation

THE Gallop Government’s first budget has promised innovation, investment and strategy development for the State’s IT sector.

And while IT companies will take comfort from last week’s supportive words of encouragement, they know words alone won’t be enough to kick start the industry.

After a major clamp down on Government spending this year, tech firms were looking forward to a renewed focus on IT projects and contracts. Like the global IT industry, the WA market has been close to rock bottom since the crash last year.

Local new media player Pretzel Logic blamed WA Government cuts to IT projects for its recent decision to lay off several programmers.

Instead of new projects, the Government has promised innovation, investment and strategy. Premier Geoff Gallop announced the formation of Innovate WA, an initiative to receive $50 million over four years to support the commercialisation of ideas and improve educational and research infrastructure.

“We’re putting the brakes on Government waste and directing more resources to the delivery of services,” Dr Gallop said.

“The Innovate WA strategy is all about turning ideas and knowledge into products and services that would enhance Western Australia’s long-term economic competitiveness.”

He said the initiative aimed to make WA a leader in innovation-related activities and to become globally competitive.

“For WA to be competitive we must improve the State’s research infrastructure, support private sector investment in research and development and promote science education in our schools and higher learning institutions,” Dr Gallop said.

The newly created Premier’s Science Council will review State Government research and development spending and decide where the $50 million will be allocated.

Also announced in the budget is the formation of Wireless West, a $7 million joint project between the State Government, Federal Government and Telstra to improve mobile phone services in the South West.

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