Innovation is a buzzword so favoured by organisations and governments that it’s almost become a cliché for a good idea. But true innovation is a lot more than simply a good idea. It has a lead driver, broad application and above all, innovation makes a difference.
Innovation incorporates elements of originality, change, talent, improvement and perseverance. It’s the meeting place of what’s desirable to consumers, possible with technology and viable in the market.
As economies change nationally and globally, innovation is viewed as an important part of Australia’s social and economic growth. But why is it so important? One reason is because it answers our need to diversify in order to navigate the commodity slump.
As Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’’ In other words: innovate or die—think Kodak, Blackberry and AOL. While each of these organisations were once huge corporate players, they failed to keep an eye on their competitors, keep up with technologies, and stay in touch with consumer needs.
When it comes to innovation, South Australia has a strong heritage dating back to its foundation as a free-settled, experimental colony. Its history is dotted with important firsts and innovations—from the discovery of penicillin, to the iconic Hills hoist clothes- line, and granting women the right to vote.
Today, South Australia continues to produce great innovators who are breaking rules and disrupting norms.
Vinnovate screwcap is revolutionising the wine industry
A serendipitous encounter, an eye for innovation, and a level business head have set brothers and Vinnovate business founders, Simon and Joshua Schmidt, on the path to entrepreneurial success. Now, their technology is opening doors beyond the wine sector.
Their ingenious Vinnovate screwcap technology, which allows consumers to tailor wines to their own tastes, is taking the wine industry by storm.
In April this year, Vinnovate’s technology was named as the top innovation across the Australian and New Zealand wine industry, winning the team $35,000 and a chance to work with Pernod Ricard to develop their product.
It’s the second grant the team has secured in the past 12 months: in May 2015, they were awarded $50,000 seed funding through Venture Catalyst, an initiative of UniSA and the State government to help start-ups realise their ideas.
In true entrepreneurial style, the brothers are doing just that. Their innovative screwcap technology works on demand, allowing consumers to remove preservatives with the simple press of a button, without changing the taste, colour or aroma of the wine.
“Being able to customise beverages is the next big consumer trend and we believe our innovation can positively impact how people enjoy and consume wine,” says Joshua Schmidt, Vinnovate’s Chief Innovation Officer.
It’s a bold step in an industry that is steeped in tradition and mystique, but for Vinnovate, it’s a step towards the future of the wine industry.
But it’s not only about customisation for taste—the innovation also has health benefits, with the ability to remove preservatives from wine.
Vinnovate’s Managing Director, Simon Schmidt, explains how he came upon the idea through a chance conversation overseas.
“I’d been talking to our guide about the wine industry, when he asked why he might get an allergic reaction after drinking wine. I immediately thought it was likely a reaction to preservatives—a lot of people get this—and I thought, this is something I could fix.”
Through the Venture Catalyst program, an initiative of the University of South Australia and the South Australian Government, Vinnovate's innovation was realised.
From here, development progressed quickly, with the brothers producing a tangible prototype, Simon beginning his MBA, and the pair working further with the University of South Australia on the concept.
“I was very specific when developing the design. It had to be as similar as possible to existing screwcap bottle closures, but it needed to be functional and offer a value-add—to make consumers want to pick it up.’’
It was through the Venture Catalyst program, that the team was encouraged to look at other applications for their technology.
“That advice opened our eyes to the broader potential of our innovation and was an important lesson in considering the bigger picture,’’ says Joshua Schmidt.
“We’ve now made sizeable inroads into other opportunities and with that, came the realisation that there are real commercial prospects for this technology.’’
Already, there has already been significant interest from major carbonated beverage companies, an industry which has an estimated annual revenue of $4 billion in Australia alone. Importantly, the technology also has the capacity to aid in health and humanitarian applications, with Vinnovate exploring options for providing clean drinking water in remote areas, as well as response mechanisms in the wake of natural and man-made disasters.
Voxiebox founders making waves in the gaming world
“WE EMBARKED ON BUILDING A HOLOGRAPHIC PROJECTOR BECAUSE ONE DIDN’T EXIST AND WE WANTED ONE.“
It was their shared love of innovation, invention, beer, and Star Wars, that was the unlikely catalyst for business partners Will Tamblyn and Gavin Smith’s revolutionary 3D holographic Voxiebox, now making waves in the gaming world and on the 3D display scene.
An innovative combination of existing gaming and display technology, Voxiebox can be used in the video gaming industry, manufacturing, health, education and marketing sectors.
Smith and Tamblyn say while conceptually, Voxiebox is straightforward, technically, it is difficult to create, involving spinning pixels, helixes and slicing 3D data, among other highly specialised factors.
“It’s very complex and involved,” Tamblyn says. “But put simply, the result is a new type of 3D display that consumers can look at from any direction— above, below, behind—making it very interactive.
“At this stage, it’s a digital version of a board game, where you all gather around and share the experience,’’ Smith adds. “It differs from 3D TV because you don’t need barriers like glasses— everyone gets their own view and you get to control it. It’s huge fun and a lot more social than other forms of gaming because of the way it brings people together.’’
Fun has been a focus of the pair’s relationship and the Voxiebox journey started eight years ago in Tamblyn’s shed where, Smith explains, “we’d gather every Thursday for our ‘lab session’ to drink beer and make crazy whimsical things.”
“We decided to pick something that would push our technical skills. We embarked on building a holographic projector because one didn’t exist and we wanted one,’’ Smith says.
“We were inspired by Star Wars; the idea itself has been around in sci-fi for years, but the reason it didn’t actually exist, was because it’s very hard to do.”
Tamblyn says sourcing funding has been the bridge—albeit a difficult one—between the shed and having a real business.
Last year the pair received $50,000 in Venture Catalyst funding, which was a critical turning point in taking their innovation a step closer to commercial reality. Tamblyn was studying Project Management at UniSA, but decided to defer his studies to focus on Voxiebox, which began to take off after the funding injection.
He says that when the pair “came out of the shed’’ and began working towards a commercial product, they found plenty of practical help and support, but it was difficult to get the financial backing needed to develop a commercial prototype. He said the Venture Catalyst funding wasn’t only a practical support, it was a shot of confidence in the concept.
Meanwhile, a failed crowdfunding attempt was a blessing in disguise, Tamblyn says. Proof of concept wasn’t enough and it forced the partners to focus more on the business side of Voxiebox. It was a big lesson and one the pair says inexperienced innovators often overlook.
myEvidence developer changing crimescene investigations forever
For myEvidence developer, Tung Tran, the innovation journey was life changing. As a working police investigator, university student, and now, business innovator, Tran is adept at juggling multiple demands. Tran, together with business partner and fellow officer, Jerome Lienert, has developed myEvidence, a new investigation and evidence collection tool.
It’s designed to change the way important elements of police work are carried out and presented in court, and arose from a potentially fatal on-the-job encounter for Senior Constable First Class Tran.
Tran explains that in 2010, he and his partner attended a domestic call out. What happened next changed the course of his life.
“We arrived and were ambushed by a gunman,’’ Tran says. “He had an M16 and shot through a screen door at us. We were lucky that we only got shrapnel injuries.
“Afterwards, I spent a lot of time thinking about my contribution to the job, and life in general, and I’d always had this idea about how we can improve evidence collection and presentation.
“I developed the idea further with my co-founder, Senior Constable Jerome Lienert. I was so serious about taking this further that I decided to go to UniSA to do some relevant study, took the idea through different idea generation workshops, looked at other applications, and basically worked really hard on it. And now, we’re at the testing phase.’’
Tran completed a UniSA Commerce degree in 2010, and in 2014 he and Lienert not only received the Pank Entrepreneurial Prize for Social Innovation and Enterprise, but also a $50,000 Venture Catalyst grant.
Echoing the views of all the Venture Catalyst recipients, Tran says that the Venture Catalyst program has been vital to their ongoing success.
“We are all so grateful,” Tran says. “It is an incredible program which allowed us to meet with and learn from like-minded individuals, as well as get business mentoring and networking support to further our ideas.”
“One thing I’ve learned, is that if you have an idea you believe in, research it, expand it and be receptive to input, and persevere.”
Tran believes the myEvidence concept has applications across a range of international jurisdictions.
He says the pair wanted to fix the array of practical problems faced by local police officers, investigators and prosecutors, with the aim of reaching the best possible outcomes and overcoming a host of issues relating to evidence collection.
“Our current systems are costly, antiquated, very time consuming, involve a huge amount of paperwork and are duplicative,” he says. “With the current method you’ve got a digital camera, video camera, voice recorder and written notes. There’s a lot of gear to carry around and to manage.”
“We wanted to come up with one seamless and efficient mobile application that helps investigators capture an array of evidence and assemble it in the one place. It consolidates digital photographs, records interviews, undertakes scene canvases and can even do 3D scanning.”
“myEvidence lets you do all of that on the phone, on the tablet, and then flick it back, so by the time you’re back at the station, it’s all there, all done. You don’t have to include 30 minutes to send the evidence off, or any of those cumbersome practices.”
The application offers major benefits for investigators in that it enables them to package-up evidence for court, and with all material synched to a secure server, case evidence can be shared with other investigators.
Tran says the applications are essentially limitless.
“It can be used by private investigators, government bodies, loss adjustors, and insurance investigators. But it can also be used as a personal tool to keep track of your own assets.
“At the end of the day, we work for the community and that’s what it’s all about.
While the routes to innovation have been vastly different, each innovator agrees: persistence, drive, flexibility, and being open to and actively seeking expert input, has made all the difference between ideas remaining just that, or becoming viable innovations and sustainable businesses. Each business has received a $50,000 University of South Australia Venture Catalyst Award to help with project commercialisation.
GOT AN IDEA?
The Venture Catalyst program could be your ticket to ride...
An initiative of the UniSA and the South Australian Government, Venture Catalyst was established to encourage student entrepreneurship and the creation of local start-ups. It provides seed funding of up to $50,000 to early-stage ventures that are founded by UniSA students, recent graduates and their teams. Successful companies also receive mentoring, support and a working space to develop a product, service or process and take it to market.
Offered under UniSA's Innovation and Collaboration Centre, Venture Catalyst provides a fantastic opportunity for people looking to develop their entrepreneurial skills and make an impact through new commercial ventures.