Eleven new innovations aiming to solve a range of business and consumer problems – including a pocket-sized video projector and retail price manager software – have been unveiled as part of a university incubator program.
Class 12 Incubate, a business accelerator program run jointly by the University of Sydney and its student union, hosted a pitchfest at the Australian National Maritime Museum on Wednesday (17 October), showcasing some of the latest from Aussie inventors as they seek to commercialise their innovations.
My Business was in attendance and was impressed at the level of ingenuity and sophistication displayed by some of those presenting, as well as the commercial opportunities that lie ahead not just for themselves, but for other businesses in the use or commercialisation of the ideas.
Making retailers more price competitive
As ShopGrok founder Aaron Cowper explained to the crowd, price management is a major and often costly exercise for retailers.
Mr Cowper devised ShopGrok as a data tool to simplify this process and allow busy store managers to better track how product prices and sales volumes intersect, having previously worked in a pricing analytics role at Woolworths and previously with management consultancy McKinsey & Co.
“In my experience working in and consulting to large retailers over the past 6 years, a 2-7% increase in gross profit margin can be attained through an optimised pricing and promotional strategy, by being smart about how prices are set and ensuring promotions are on the right products, at the time, and at the right price,” he told My Business.
The start-up is already working with two listed retailers and an international giant in Australia and is on track to achieve $300,000 in annual recurring revenue after its first year of operation.
Mr Cowper said pitching his work was a great opportunity, although as happens in the world of business, a surprise external event meant he had to put his preparations on the backburner.
“I do wish I had a little more time to prep but Amazon had launched their Food Pantry range yesterday (see here) so my team and I spent most of the day furiously collecting data in order to update our platform and customers on what had changed, which meant demo day prep suffered a little!”
‘Taking projectors out of the ’80s’
According to James Bailey, founder of Pocket.Graphics, video projectors are “stuck in the ’80s”. He suggested that most homes do not have one because of their size, hefty price tag and often poor colour experience, not to mention their importability.
It is a situation familiar to many professionals too, where meetings are delayed because a projector fails to properly sync with a laptop, cables are missing or damaged, or poor visibility diminishes the effectiveness of using them in the first place.
“They've made small projectors for ages, but they have always been low definition, with a host of other problems. I really wanted a good one, so I pulled a bunch of them apart and improved them, then I got it so good I realised I should probably start selling it. I was literally hacksawing apart and resoldering these things,” Mr Bailey said with a laugh.
Weighing just 100 grams and smaller than the average smartphone, Mr Bailey said his projector is designed to be portable and indestructible while simultaneously enhancing the visual experience.
He told My Business that he is “passionate about the art of cinema”, which is his first priority for Pocket.Graphics, but that initial sales will help to fund the development of “bigger projectors appropriate for brighter venues” such as offices.
Nevertheless, many businesspeople doing customer presentations – such as real estate agents and mortgage brokers – may be interested in the current version of the technology.
Bonding mothers with their unborn child
For Franziska Seehuber and her co-founders Jessica Watts and Anna Natlacen, their invention was driven by a desire to solve a very personal problem for many expecting parents – a perceived inability to bond with their unborn child.
She told the crowd about interviews with some 800 pregnant women, more than 40 per cent confessed to struggling to connect with their baby, with one quoted as saying she feared whether she would be able to love the child once it was born.
PetiteBeat is a pillow designed to allow pregnant women – and their partners – to hear and feel the baby’s heartbeat from inside the womb, to forge a greater emotional bond with the child before birth.
It then doubles as a sleep aid for newborn babies, allowing parents to record their own heartbeat for the baby to snuggle up to for comfort at nap times.
“The idea for PetiteBeat came about during a university project for the unit Design Thinking with the overall topic 'Design for Wellbeing'” Ms Seehuber told My Business.
“We did a lot of user research with more than 800 pregnant mothers to find out their needs and issues during pregnancy. We came up with over 40 ideas to solve their problems and went through the whole design thinking process until we shaped our final idea.”
Optimising crop production for farmers
Steve Scheding admitted that he and business partner James Underwood have an ambitious goal: “to manage the life cycle of every fruit tree on the planet”.
He told attendees that management of fruit trees is a laborious and time-consuming task, whereby farmers count individual blossoms and fruit on each tree in their orchard manually.
His business, GreenAtlas, has introduced technology to take over that process and then map the results, allowing farmers to see in real time how their crops are faring.
According to Mr Scheding, one trial enabled an apple grower to inspect fields that were planted with trees purchased from two different nurseries, which demonstrated one vastly outperforming the other in terms of fruit volumes – and hence profitability.
“The ROI for the farmer is the labour saving, or revenue increase resulting from optimising their crop, based on the data we have provided,” Mr Scheding explained to My Business.
“Each of our customers has indicated that they have gained actionable knowledge from the data we have provided them, which outweighs the cost.”
The other business to have pitched at the event were:
Ardal - a managed fund designed to help students and young people onto the property ladder
BacPoc - a digital tool to streamline the lost and found process
BioScout - an artificial intelligence based tool for detecting and tracking airborne diseases affecting agriculture
BrillUp - a skills management and career progression tool for employees
EasyWheel - an attachment to motorise manual wheelchairs
Mearth Technology - a maker of electronic bicycles and scooters
VisoSpace - maker of a patented hoverboard for use in virtual reality entertainment
Pitches a valuable tool for established businesses
Providing entrepreneurs and their fledgling businesses with the opportunity to pitch for investment and network connections is not the sole purpose of such events.
For those in attendance, pitch events provide a very good way to stay connected with new developments in the market, identify new business opportunities (as a customer, investor or partner) and even potential acquisition targets.
The Incubate accelerator program has supported 99 start-ups so far in its five-year history, creating at least 200 jobs and helping to secure in excess of $25 million in financial investment.
Australian innovation and entrepreneurship has been increasingly in the global spotlight in recent years, particularly since local technology incubator Cicada Innovations was named as the world’s top incubator earlier this year – beating out the likes of Silicon Valley in the US and other tech-heavy hubs throughout Asia.
Disclosure: The author has a personal connection with James Bailey of Pocket.Graphics.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.