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How a startup's R&D team built a successful business

Nick Bloor
30 January 2012 5 minute readShare

Gold Coast vegetation management company Technigro is 15 years old and, as CEO Nick Bloor explains, research and development is at the heart of the company's ongoing success.

Gold Coast vegetation management company Technigro has been in operation for 24 years, and from its humble beginnings as a single person start up to its current position as a multi-award winning industry leader, CEO Nick Bloor has been adamant about pushing internal innovation for the company. Here, he discusses the thought processes that took him from spraying weeds to overseeing a company with an R&D department that’s continually creating internationally recognised technology innovations.

Nick Bloor

When I started Technigro in 1987 I was actually part of the way through a law degree; however, I wanted to make some money and essentially be my own boss. Some people go down this path because they don’t like taking orders from other people—my reasoning fell more on the side of wanting to be able to call the shots and be part of a company whose culture was analogous with my own world view. Labour-oriented industries tend to be populated by two types of people: those that stubbornly resist change (even, sometimes, at their own expense); and those that encounter roadblocks and actively seek out solutions. I was determined to fall into the latter category.

As a startup, I was responsible for just about every facet of the business. My father provided me with some funding and business expertise, but by-and-large I was responsible for delivering the services to clients, for getting the company’s name out there and running the administrative side of things. This work paid off as the company started to grow organically. Technigro became a real family business with my wife, my brother and his wife also coming on board. Over the next 10 years the business grew and our service offerings expanded. However, there came a point where I realised that I was going to have to do something more to take the company to the next level. Rather than just appointing more managers, consultants, and board members, I felt the company had the potential to create change and decrease inefficiencies in the vegetation industry.

So we started our own R&D department. R&D is headed up by George Kast, who has been with Technigro for more the 15 years. It is through George’s passion, drive and commitment to innovation that we have been able to produce industry-leading technologies.

In 1998, under the watchful eye of George, the team developed the first prototype of the DriftProof Sprayer; years later it is still regarded as the ultimate spraying machine; ensuring product delivery is precise thanks to its patented ground hugging shield. Following this, we created the SmartWiper, which accurately controls problem tall grass weeds in mown surfaces. The technology uses a wiping action to apply a concentrated dose of product to the taller weeds without contacting the underlying surface. Both technologies use significantly lower volumes of chemical; in most cases up to 70% less. Furthermore both were developed in-house as part of an internal push to use our products in the most sustainable and economically viable ways.

As a result of our internal R&D, we’ve developed a number of tools to help us work more efficiently, become highly competitive in our industry, and have been able to discover new and innovative ways of using existing products and chemicals. One of our core values at Technigro is ‘passionate innovators’, having the R&D department has been highly beneficial to realising this value. The whole team are given the opportunity to explore efficiencies and assist in the process of product development. This gives all of our team an added sense of ownership of the business, which in turn instills pride, dedication, and gives them opportunities to think laterally about their own activities within the business.

Now, we’ve distilled our service offering under the title of integrated vegetation management—or IVM—which essentially sums up our ethos to deliver results for clients through a “do what must be done” attitude. If we find a roadblock in delivering a service for our clients, our R&D department will swing in to action and look for a solution through a variety of methods, whether established or less conventional.

How did we reach this point? What has it brought to the company? I can happily say that forming an R&D department is the best thing I ever did for Technigro. Here’s why:

By innovating, we’re nailing our colours to the mast

When we use the DriftProof Sprayer on a job, we’re able to do more than just offer significantly reduced chemical use—we’re able to offer clients an assurance that the results delivered are the safest to the environment, the public and to the operators. This in turn signifies that they are dealing with a dedicated company that’s committed to achieving the best results through internally driven research; a kind of professionalism that no level of marketing nous can effectively communicate. We also enable our customers to bring problems to us with the knowledge we have the resources to find solutions to their issues, which allows us to broaden our R&D horizons as well as offer an added level of value for clients.

We’re able to look at how we work from a different point of view

Generally, innovation is about overcoming a problem or bettering your processes. Identifying issues requires some level of self-awareness about what you do—something that doesn’t necessarily happen organically in organisations. By establishing a dedicated R&D department, we were able to create an impetus for our people to look at what they were doing, and potentially have a tangible solution developed for roadblocks that they encountered. Over and above providing our R&D department with material to work with, this process helps to ensure that staff are actively examining their roles and focusing on problem solving. Even if we don’t get a new product out of it, there is significant value in having our people actively thinking about better ways of doing things.

We can offer added value for prospective clients

The technology that we’ve developed in-house is not being used anywhere else, and because of this, the associated benefits generally can’t be offered by our competitors. We don’t charge our clients for the use of our specialised equipment, and in most cases, the efficiencies delivered cut our costs—savings which can then be passed on to the clients. However, it’s not just economic savings that innovations can deliver. Through research programs and equipment improvements, we’ve been able to make our processes more sustainable, safer, and more convenient for the public who use the green spaces that we maintain. While these mightn’t have immediately obvious economic benefits, clients do look favourably upon such factors when it comes to comparing similar job quotes.

We’re creating something that’s unique to us

What does it all come down to? Having a point of difference. There are lots of companies in our space, but I’m proud to say that we are well-known for our commitment to excellence through R&D. Every time that we quote a job involving one of our specialised pieces of equipment, we’re communicating to current and prospective clients that we have something the others don’t. Given that we work in an industry where most people are using the same tools and are competing on price more than anything, having a number of totally unique technologies is a major point of difference.

The fact of the matter is, the benefits of R&D may not be immediately obvious, and without a strong commitment, the benefits may be scarce altogether. However, the very process of looking for new things, identifying shortfalls and searching for solutions will set you in good stead—regardless of whether you’re visiting the patent office any time soon.

How a startup's R&D team built a successful business
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Nick Bloor

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