The outback innovators
Monday, September 3, 2012/
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the dominion of the Australian start-up resides close to its shores, with its citizens holed up in metropolitan warehouse share-spaces, dingy studies or back rooms.
It has become a lamented stereotype now; the image of the well-dressed city-slicker sipping coffee in a café, talking about their cutting-edge app at the latest tech meet-up.
The opportunities to share ideas and troubleshoot, the access to support and possible funding is something that urbanites take for granted when building their business.
So spare a thought for those outside the grid, where easy access to internet and support are limited, and the opportunity for networking even more so.
While it may seem that starting a small business away from the big city lights is a fruitless endeavour, having less competition for ideas and services for rural locations is its massive advantage.
Tech start-ups in the Mallee
Looking at the sandy soil of Menangatang in Victoria’s north-west edge of the Mallee, you wonder how anyone could make a living, let alone create a fast-growing tech start-up.
But PA Source founder Ben Jones has done just that, developing software that allows farmers to harness the power of satellite imagery data to plan how to plant and grow their crops.
This sophisticated software was Jones’ brainchild, built from the ground up – not through the love of start-ups, but the need to solve a problem.
“I worked as a scientist in Menangatang with an agricultural company in the area and they were looking for ways to shift data themselves,” he says.
“I set up a system for them that was based around Google Earth, and it was a bit of winner for people involved in it.”
“We could see that there was potential for something bigger outside of that company and at the same time I was doing research on precision agriculture, so it fell together.”
Jones believes the secret to the success of PA Source is in its focus on the user.
When you’re clear that there’s a problem to be solved, the business grows from there.
In his case, the user is himself and communities like his.
“There’s definitely a strong user focus if you’re getting out and driving a tractor (I was still farming while I set up PA Source) or talking to advisors who would be users one day,” he says.
“I think it helps to create a user focus in things that you’re doing – rather than being excited about your idea, your focus is on solving a particular problem and how, as a user, you’d like to have solved and you can imagine the people that you’re working with interacting with what you’re doing.”
“It’s good to be close to your community of potential users – in this case the community was out there.”