Resources-based technology accelerator in the works

Plans are being made for the possible development of a resources-based technology accelerator program in Perth, on the back of a successful mining hackathon in the city earlier this month.


Justin Strharsky, director of RIIT, organisers of the Unearthed hackathon, which was backed by mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, says it’s the first event of its kind globally.


The 54 hour event held on the weekend of May 2 saw big mining companies present real problems to teams of entrepreneurs in the hopes they could solve them cheaply and efficiently.


Applied Mathematics Inc, a team of two coders and two mathematicians, took out first prize with an alarm system that helps prevent crusher blockages due to large boulders.


“I think we’re seeing a lot of this hackathon approach, I wouldn’t say crowdsourcing solutions, but finding solutions outside the group of usual suspects,’’ Strharsky says.


“We’ve flipped the situation on its head for Rio, previously they would say they need a solution, they would spec out that solution, they would open that spec to their preferred provider, in this case software developers.


“And they would get exactly what they specified, if they’re lucky, which means they’re limited to one perspective.


“Whereas at the hackathon, five working prototypes were presented.”


The team behind Applied Mathematics Inc is now in discussions with mining companies who, Strharsky says, are “very interested in taking that forward”.


He adds this is where the need for a resources-based technology accelerator in Perth comes in.


“We think there is an absolute need that takes these prototypes from inception to a commercially available product,’’ he says.


“How will you write a contract with four independent people who haven’t protected their intellectual property? Team members who have day jobs, how will they be motivated to take the risks?


“An accelerator would follow the regular structure providing IP protection advice, company structure advice, and as a competitive advantage here, by focusing on connections to the resource industry.


“Getting them involved in the supply chain, helping them meet the requirements of those contracts, because that’s a challenge faced not just by small companies in our industry, but also the large companies.


“We need to convince (the mining companies) of the need for a resource-based tech accelerator in Perth.”


First place included a 1oz gold coin and a mentorship from Commercialisation Australia.


With the abolition of Commercialisation Australia announced in Tuesday’s federal budget, Strharsky says they are unsure if the mentorships will go ahead, but RIIT will make alternative arrangements if they don’t.


Initially it was difficult to get both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to support Unearthed, because of concerns about what data they could provide, whether or not it would need to be “sanitized”.


“This doesn’t happen without champions within these sorts of organisations,’’ Strharsky says.


“A couple of people who really picked up the idea and as a result of their efforts (their companies) were able to participate.


“They were able to find some very specific problems and data sets that didn’t ring those alarm bells.


“We knew there was a problem with global competiveness and efficiency in the mining industry, we knew we had a potential solution, but we were very surprised how excited the mining industry was to get on board.”


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