Listen to more episodes of the Industry Growth Centres Initiative podcast, Future Clicks
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Welcome to Future Clicks, a podcast about the future of Australian industries. Produced by the Australian Government's Industry Growth Centre's Initiative. I'm science journalist, Bernie Hobbs and in this four part series, we'll dive into the new opportunities facing Australian businesses, workplace skills of the future, pioneering industries and industry pioneers, and why going global is more achievable than ever. Don't forget to subscribe and find out where our Future Clicks can lead you and your business.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: In this episode, we talked to three industry innovators. Matt Smith of MyPass, Dr. Marcel Dinger of Genome.One, and Chris Gibbs Stewart of Austmine. Working across mining, workforce management, and health, all three have transformed their industries and, while their specialities may be dramatically different, the keys to their success are not.
Interview with Matt Smith, Managing Director, MyPass [01:07]
Bernie Hobbs, Host: The year was 2013. Matt Smith was working for a large employer of labour, and he'd had enough. The highly manual processes of using ads, spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls to find and engage workers with the right qualifications and certifications was tedious and inefficient. So, he decided to take a chance on creating an alternative, automated solution.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: MyPass is a virtual passport where workers can share their credentials with employers and sites, allowing them more control over their professional profile, and helping to find jobs that match. On the other side, it provides a single source of truth for employers, saving time, money, and so very many spreadsheets.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: It's the ability for individuals to have more control and ownership over their professional profiles and certifications and training, but to also have that verified so that multiple parties can use that data and come back to a single source of truth.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So I can't make up a little qualification that I got from some university online in Indiana, ten years ago, for example.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: That's right, that's right. Makes it a bit harder to do that. It's never bulletproof, of course.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Okay.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: But at least having that done centralised at an industry level means that less hands need to touch that compliant data set.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Right.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: And that's the big problem we're solving is, there's a huge amount of manual effort involved with sourcing those documents and that training, verifying it and keeping it up to date because it can easily be 20 or 30 qual[ification]s and cert[ification]s, and licenses per worker. So, what that means, and this is common in a lot of industries, is that people ended up with mega spreadsheets to try and to track it all, so-
Bernie Hobbs, Host: That is my idea of the ninth circle of hell, so thank you for everything you're doing for removing that possibility. And what have you learned? I mean, like I said, you were working in a large organisation that provided labour, so you're not a stranger to big organisations, but it's different having a tech solution and then trying to get that into large companies. What are some of the things you've learned about trying to pitch a solution to large companies?
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: Yeah, that's a good question, Bernie. Look, probably the timing and the decision making is really the big thing. So, big companies can take a really long time to make decisions. It's just inherent in the nature of their size more than anything.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Which is very costly for you, potentially.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: Correct, that's exactly it. So it takes a long investment of time and therefore money, over an extended period of time. So, the sales cycles for the large businesses we’ve brought on, be it an oil and gas operator, or a mining company or a large employer, can easily be two to three years.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So, how did you get around that? What did you find is a successful way to push through?
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: A lot of it for us has come back to the business case. Fortunately I've also had a background, I'm a mechanical engineer by qualification, but also I've had some experience in business improvement as well, and one of the key mantras there is that technology won't fix your broken processes. And taking it end to end ... Which is sad for some people to hear, right?
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Yeah.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: No silver bullets.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Dammit.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: You can’t just [unintelligible] and hope it works. So, actually understanding that sort of end to end process as being key because then, you can actually unearth the actual real process, rather than what people thought the process was. Which, when you start to add metrics to that, and cost out the time and effort expended on all these various tasks throughout that process, that makes the waste visible and the additional efforts like updating spreadsheets, for example, to therefore underpin the business case for actually doing it.
Working with National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) [05:00]
Bernie Hobbs, Host: During his journey developing MyPass, Matt came across the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre known as NERA. Through NERA and the Accelerating Commercialisation [element of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme], MyPass was able to dedicate important research and development time to ensure they had a good and profitable product.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: I'm very positive and I guess feeling privileged that we're a part of that. It's really about accessing support and a network to be able to, I guess, understand that well-travelled path that other companies have taken to expand internationally, and understand what some of those key things are to look out for, and ways of doing it, whether it be channel partners or setting up geographically, etc. Once people get awareness of the way we're solving this problem and doing it in a unique way that flips that data model on its head of work around, and maintain data, they get quite excited and immediately get it. But you've got to actually, obviously get in front of those companies and actually allow them to understand there's another solution out there.
Working with Accelerating Commercialisation [06:09]
Bernie Hobbs, Host: You've also had an association with Accelerating Commercialisation. What value has that given to MyPass?
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: It's given us immense value. Actually I'm very grateful that we've been a part of that. For us, it's meant that we've had adequate funding to actually set up a proper foundation for our business, where otherwise, we may have taken shortcuts, which can be anything from the way we've set up subcontractor agreement or the way we've set up the structure of the company, or the way we've done proper, thorough market research; whereas in if it was just every dollar you were spending of your own, you'd be tempted just to do a bit of desktop research, and go on a gut feel. So, it's really helped us to develop and refine our commercial offering in a much more structured way.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Yeah. I guess it's giving you that access to experts and the money, as you say, to do that more thorough research, to really make sure you're as best prepared as you can be.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: Absolutely, and yeah, I've got huge value out of the two advisors we've had throughout the journey as well, and that's one thing they do do well. It's not just "Oh here's a grant, with some match funding for a specific project, give us your reports and we'll be happy." To actually have that advisor/ mentor, that is a constant connection that always seems happy to be that wise sounding board, is immense. Which is, obviously, you got that network effect attached to it as well, as you mentioned, with the expert network that these people typically plug into. And it's something that I know Accelerating Commercialisation is really keen on developing as well, is making it easy for companies like ours to plug into their formal expert network.
Interview with Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One [07:50]
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: I mean, I grew up on a farm. Our farm is effectively a self-managed, sort of an enterprise.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: With a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, associate professor Marcel Dinger, added software to his skillset and formed Genome.One.
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: It's really all around the enabling precision healthcare in Australia and around the world, and one of the key areas that we most focused on, is making genomic information accessible, routinely in healthcare.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So, how far off is it before ... For example, I could go along to my G[eneral] P[ractitioner] and I had some unusual symptoms that couldn't be diagnosed, and we could get my genome sequence, boom, like that.
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: So already, Genome.One is going down this path and there are others around the world as well, that are making this possible. We've just recently launched a service that enables you to go to a GP and can request to have your genome sequence, and return information about your susceptibility to breast cancer, or various other kinds of cancers and predispositions to cardiac disease. The main barrier, now, is really cost and a general understanding across the health system, of what this can do and what it can bring.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Has there been much collaboration with the industry and with, for example, the pharmaceutical sector, in getting Genome.One to where it is now?
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: Certainly, in some areas. I mean, absolutely, collaboration is fundamental in all of this. There's no question that in an industry like this, building linkages across all of these different sectors, whether it's other industry, and whether it's public health and private health, and pharma[ceuticals], they're all part of the picture and bringing it together is enormously challenging.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So, I'm intrigued as well as ... Because it's not like you've been sitting on your haunches all these years. As well as being a ‘gun’ researcher, you've also founded two IT companies. So, you're not just an expert in molecular biology and genes, but you've also got a software background. Was that instrumental in getting you into this position?
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: While I was doing my PhD, I had started two different companies at the time. I-
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Hang on a minute, you weren't busy enough doing a PhD? You had to just start another couple of companies at the same time?
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: Yeah. I guess it was always an area that really fascinated me. While I was doing my PhD, just by way of little bit of background, I was at the time, studying, also doing genomics but it was done in microorganisms. This was in the early 2000s. Already then, I guess I could see how the linkage between software and biology was already starting to become very real, and that discoveries in biology were certainly being driven more by data science, which was software and algorithms. But you could also see the enormous opportunities. The different tools and programs that were needed to enable that space, and so, I guess I saw commercial opportunities there, then already.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: You had that entrepreneurial eye right from the start. Is it something that you grew up with?
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: I mean, I grew up on a farm. A farm is effectively a self-managed sort of an enterprise, and I was always involved with all of that stuff. With the family and running a business, and seeing that perspective growing up, I think I always had an inclination towards the enterprise.
Working with MTPConnect [11:07]
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Marcel sought out the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals Growth Centre, known as MTPConnect, to help Genome.One access funding, build capacity, collaborate and address the knowledge priorities in his sector. MTPConnect is also working to establish Australia as an Asia Pacific hub for medical technology and pharmaceutical companies, drive skills development and address policy and regulatory impediments.
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: MTPConnect have been incredibly helpful and supportive, of course, with a couple of successful grants with them, which were focused around building capacity in oncology. So, we started with these other areas of disease and this really enabled us to take that next step, and be able to start testing tumours, and cancers, and using that information to direct treatment for those patients. Which is quite different to what we were doing, which is why it really required another independent set of funding to make that possible. The other area that MTPConnect supported in, was actually in the connection of clinical trials and being able to understand what the market needs from this type of test.
Interview with Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine [12:15]
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: One of my friends was actually lamenting that her son was studying gaming technology at university, and where is he going to get a job? Everyone wants to be in the gaming industry, everyone wants to make the next new game, and I said, "Well, great. He can be employed in the mining industry. We need a lot of people with those skills."
Bernie Hobbs, Host: From work passports to mapping the body, to working the mines, our next guest is Chris Gibbs Stewart. As CEO of Austmine, is firmly focused on delivering value to the mining equipment technology and services sector.
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: Austmine is a leading industry association for the Australian mining equipment technology and services sector. We've been around for some 30 years and since that time, we've been helping to promote this sector and its capabilities, and really driving the conversation around the importance of innovation, and technology in mining.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: There's so much change going on in all sectors but certainly the mining sector has seen some in recent times. How important do you think agility and fast learning are, in the sector?
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: I certainly think that's very important. Really, with what's happening today and the pace of change, and digital disruption, people need to be on their toes in terms of the new trends that are coming down the track. But one thing about the mining industry, everyone's first to be second. So, while you need to be agile and have fast learning to succeed, you also need to have a great deal of patience because the adoption of new technology into the mining industry can be very long. So, it's not about trying to introduce something and then, quickly implement it and leave. You need to be in it for the long haul.
Working with METS Ignited – Austmine Women in STEM: METS Career Pathway Program [14:04]
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: What METS Ignited is doing, is really pulling together the various stakeholders in the sector, giving them an opportunity to come together and discuss some of the major challenges that are impacting the sector, and also aligning people around a vision for the future, and then a strategy on how we're going to get there.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So, Austmine's working with Growth Centre, METS Ignited, to run a-
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: Correct.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: ... a Women in Stem: METS Career Pathway Program, can you tell us about this and why you think it's important for the industry?
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: Well, what we're doing is we're trying to apprise young people, in particular females who are studying STEM projects, on the opportunities in the METS sector. Often, when people are studying things like mining engineering, they only think about working for the big mining organisations. And so, what we wanted to do is really give them a good idea of what's happening in the METS sector. So, we're working with nine university partners, to get young women together, apprise some of the opportunities in the METS sector. We do that through face to face events. We have a lot of great women who are already in the industry, come along and present what their career journey has been and talk about the benefits of a career in METS, and how they've found working in the mining, in general. And then, we place the young women in paid internships over the summer months.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Is that to help businesses collaborate better?
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: That is certainly part of it, yes. It's really to pull together the value chain of the mining industry. From the suppliers to the researchers, to the miners themselves, and help them with collaboration. That's correct.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So, you're obviously leading this organisation that's the leading industry body for the METS sector in Australia. You'd be very future focused. What skills do you think are important for the METS sector in the future?
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: First of all, you certainly need to be flexible and agile, and we talked about that before, but the skills which are in demand are those things around digital, around data science, around automation, and around robotics. Because with all the digital transformation that's happening, not only in the mining industry but all around us, those skills are certainly going to be important into the future.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: So, we shouldn't be worried if our kids are up gaming until 5AM because they're really just skilling up for the future.
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: Well, that's correct. They'd be perfect employees in the mining industry.
Four Steps to Becoming an Industry Innovator [16:40]
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Three industries, three distinct careers. But what do they all have in common? Matt, Marcel and Chris share the four steps to becoming an industry innovator. Step one, start with a problem, not a solution. Step one, start with a problem, not a solution.
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: Well, first of all, I think you don't start with innovation. It's not a start, stop process. It's really a state of mind and it's really about looking how you can make a difference, and add value to your customer. So, one of the things you need to do is really understand your customer's needs and then, look at what you're doing to be able to meet those needs.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Step two, know your customer.
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One: Without getting very close to the customer, it's often very difficult to, actually, you know, completely conceptualise what that need is. So being able to trial and pilot, and get that honest feedback from your market. ‘Build it and they will come’ philosophy, is one that will very rarely be something that you can actually pull off.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Hang on a minute, Kevin Costner's wrong. Is that what you're saying? Don't know about that, Marcel.
Dr Marcel Dinger, CEO, Genome.One ... Be industry‑led. We've been really customer centric on everything we've done. We've come from the industry and really worked hard to validate that the problem we've been solving, actually, is a problem for others, and has a significant pay-off for it. So, that's been critical and has allowed us to evolve, and change our product to be a better product market set over time.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Step three, start small, think big.
Matt Smith, Managing Director, Mypass: Starting small and thinking big, I think that's really the best road that we can really hope for in this space. To get overwhelmed with a massive problem to be solved, to try and go too big, too soon, whereas I believe there's a smart approach there of getting a working prototype in place, that validates or disproves your assumptions in a fast way, without needing to put too much on the line.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: And step four, get out there. You won't find all the answers on your own. Organisations like the Growth Centres can help.
Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO, Austmine: What we've found that when people work together, they can offer a more holistic solution which, for the customer, is a real benefit. It's a continual conversation and it's about providing the spaces, and the platforms to enable them to do it. So, Austmine has been championing collaboration for a long time. We think it's the key to the future success of the industry because working together can we only solve the major challenges, which the mining industry is facing.
Bernie Hobbs, Host: Thanks for listening. The Industry Growth Centres Initiative is an industry‑led approach supported by the Australian Government, to foster growth and help create the jobs of the future. Don't forget to subscribe to receive the latest episodes and find ‘Industry Growth Centres’ online and on Facebook, for all the latest news and opportunities for Australian businesses.
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