08/10/2008 - 22:00

Technology, resources a perfect fit

08/10/2008 - 22:00

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MANY technology and innovation conferences in Western Australia have a sub theme that can be summed up as 'life after the resources boom', but the chair of next week's Leading Lights conference has a different focus.

MANY technology and innovation conferences in Western Australia have a sub theme that can be summed up as 'life after the resources boom', but the chair of next week's Leading Lights conference has a different focus.

Larry Lopez, who had a successful career as a Silicon Valley investment banker before moving to Perth a few years ago, believes the resources sector provides the biggest opportunity for technology innovators in WA.

"If you think about it long term, resources technology is where we are going to be global champions," Mr Lopez told WA Business News.

In the short term, he also sees plenty of opportunities in the life sciences, biotechnology, software and other fields.

Mr Lopez feels optimistic about WA's prospects, helped by the 'reverse brain drain' as people return or move to Perth mid-career.

He said one of the state's biggest problems was its mind-set.

"People in WA give themselves no credit for what they achieve in technology. Until you get people in WA to believe they are the smart state, there is no point telling the rest of the world," he said.

Mr Lopez has helped to assemble an unusually strong collection of speakers for the Leading Lights conference, including Apple Computer Inc co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Mr Lopez said he targeted speakers who combined international experience with local knowledge.

"I thought I'd get people from outside WA who have a global perspective but have a tie-back to the local market," he said.

These include the co-founder of mobile internet company mig33, Steven Goh, who is now based in San Francisco, and Stone Ridge Ventures founder Rob Newman.

Other speakers include Mobius Venture Capital's Greg Galano, GBS Venture Partners' Geoff Brooke and Innovation Capital's Mike Quinn.

Mr Wozniak said the success of Apple reflected the combined efforts of a team of people rather than individuals.

The name most associated with Apple is Steve Jobs, who heads the company today.

"My goal was to be a top engineer, but he had this drive, he really wanted to be able to move the world forward," Mr Wozniak said.

Apple's founding president Mike Scott was another important contributor, as was an angel investor who acted as a mentor to the co-founders.

"We were young, we were in our early 20s, we had no money," Mr Wozniak recalled.

He said that, apart from the initial angel investor, Apple managed to grow without having to seek external funding.

"One of the most important steps was pricing with enough profit to grow with our own income," Mr Wozniak said.

He said the company had great products, but also ensured it invested in marketing, business systems, engineering, finance, operations and all of the other aspects of running a successful business.

Mr Lopez, who now runs specialist investment bank RedDog Capital Partners, and Mr Wozniak agree that Perth's isolation provides an added challenge for technology innovators.

Mr Lopez is concerned that some entrepreneurs choose the wrong funding option.

"Here, everybody focuses on money. You have some great companies that failed because they raised money from the wrong people," he said.

Mr Lopez describes Perth's main challenge as the lack of an innovation "ecosystem", which comprises entrepreneurs, advisers, investors, specialist managers and so on.

"If you had the right ecosystem, a lot more capital would come," he said.

The conference speakers include Howard Rosario, the chief executive of superannuation fund Westscheme, which is an active venture capital investor.

"If Australia had 10 Howard Rosarios, we would have a thriving venture capital industry," Mr Lopez said.

In contrast to many people in the technology sector, Mr Lopez does not believe government is the "missing ingredient".

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