SciBlogs

Archive June 2012

Know and figure out ‘pain points’ before any commercialisation – KiwiNet Peter Kerr Jun 28

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Market validation, before the really expensive part of idea commercialisation, was Duncan Ledwith’s message to KiwiNet people.

What pain point do you address was his rhetoric question put to university and CRI commercialisation people at a recent Wellington forum?

The Auckland Icehouse and UniServices executive in residence, ex-pat Scot and former Microsoft ideas to market man (as well as some of his own ideas and products) says the start point for any commercialisation is to answer who that person is [with the pain], and what problem do you solve for them?

By asking 15-25 relevant people if what is being proposed is a problem, by the 10th person “you should have some form of resonance.”

It can be relatively quick, easy and cheap to determine whether someone is willing to pay for your product or service – Duncan Ledwith


A draft value proposition – “what do you plan to do for the person who has the problem’ – can provide a quantum for the issue that is intended to be solved is next. From this, the $ value, market share and volumes can be estimated.

Constructing the offer, with a ‘minimum viable product’ feature comes next says Ledwith.

“At every stage, the intention is to fast fail,” he says.

He also made the point that this market research come market validation part should take a maximum of 90 days. For some of the products and services he’s been involved with, this stage has taken four days!

It was all good pragmatic (as you’d expect from a Scotsman) stuff.

The end result of such a market process reduces the risk of any new product launch, and means the startup team can focus on executing a product launch, and a branding and marketing campaign to support the new product release.

It also launches the sales phase with a set of pre-qualified leads!


If we build it, will they come…..MakerSpace takes a punt Peter Kerr Jun 26

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Lee Bennett (L) and Nick Taylor, providing the MakerSpace environment for people who want to create new things

If we build it, will they come…….is one of many thoughts swirling in the active minds of Wellington MakerSpace founders, Nick Taylor and Lee Bennett.

The two, whose backgrounds sweep across coding, making (for Peter Jackson), creating and being socially/societally useful have taken a big punt along with their financial backers.

The first floor space at 6 Vivian St they’ve outfitted provides a workshop on steroids.

It is specifically provided for those looking to make one-offs, prototypes and sellable items from plastic, metal and wood – but who don’t have either their own facility nor the scope or scale to necessarily approach larger scale engineers or fabricators.

MakerSpace links into the mass customisation trend (see sticK story here :) , and simpler and often free software allowing individuals to design something and produce a machine-read (CAD) file.

These CAD files in turn are able to be turned into physical products by MakerSpace’s three (especially sexy) machines that you normally don’t find in a home workshop – a laser cutter/engraver, a CNC 3D router and a 3D extrusion printer.

The five-roomed venue also has a swag of other power and hand tools (see here for description).

At their heart though, the two are looking at the mashing and intersecting world of design, manufacture and the democratisation and providing a place for this to happen.

Lee Bennett and a plastic rabbit – courtesy of the 3D printer

“Over the past two or three years we’ve talked about creating such a space, we’ve had lots of people say what a good idea it is, and how they’d use it if it was built,” says Taylor; the coder side of the equation.

“Now I guess we’ll see whether those who talk the talk walk the walk.”

As they start promoting both the facility’s manufacturing capabilities, and their own and others’ abilities to teach the skills required to drive such machines, MakerSpace has one or two clients potential clients for whom it is looking to carry out some contract creation.

One of the main jobs though is to spread the word, let people know MakerSpace exists.

The slightly underground digital cum creative cum design cultures of Wellington are already well in the know about MakerSpace. Already it has a number of people who have signed up for its Day Experience, Maker and UberMaker (monthly ‘passes’).

“But we want lots more people to be aware of us, let their kids and parents now we exist and can help,” says Bennett.

“Word of mouth, and spread of that word through social media networks are aspects we’re particularly keen on.”

Another trend MakerSpace is looking to tap into is the almost immediate feedback that can be provided through creative people developing a new product (say a piece of jewellery), testing at a market (e.g. Frank Kitts on a Sunday) to gauge demand, and then selling the item across the internet.

This form of (relatively) instant market validation is perfectly suited to what MakerSpace can provide.

“And naturally, if the product’s successful, we’d like them to continue to use MakerSpace to manufacture,” says Taylor.

Taylor himself is a prime example of how this might work. See here .

Bennett envisages that one day, a MakerSpace-like facility will be attached to libraries and be found throughout a community. As more people become adept at designing their own one-offs and potential world-beating products, the likes of MakerSpace will become commonplace.

The challenge is to now, you suspect, spark the interest and unloosen the wallets of those corporate-type employees looking for an outlet (literal and actual) for their own good ideas. There’s sure to be any number of bureaucrats for a start with thinking time on their hands who have a much greater opportunity to visualise and create in 3D.

A Melbourne colleague, when pointed out the existence of MakerSpace made the observation. “Oh, I’m so jealous. We don’t have anything like that here, but wouldn’t many love to have one. Well done Wellington.”


Cutting its way into niche/niche market – Tuatahi Peter Kerr Jun 21

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Tuatahi’s R&D maintains its edge over the competition

If to prove the late Sir Paul Callaghan’s dictum that New Zealand companies are best playing in niche/niche fields, then Tuatahi Racing Axes & Sawsare a case in point.

The Masterton-based, globally focused company produces exactly what its name says, with world champions in both event types using its specialised products. Tuatahi has the edge over its competition, and intends maintaining that position says its office manager, Jo Fawcett.

The seven-person team may be (re)creating products that have been in use for centuries, but there’s no shortage of R&D into making them better (and faster for their users).

Much of their production is hand-crafted, and Tuatahi recently spent $200,000 developing a machine that would help automate sawmaking.

“We were trying to improve production, and that’s not an easy thing to do,” says Fawcett. “We wanted to take away some of the hand work, a lot of the hand-filing for our racing saws and work saws. It was a bit heartbreaking when it didn’t work as we wanted, so we’ve had to go back to the drawing board.” Tuatahi (which means number one or the best) made a manual machine instead, and this is working well she says.

In the meantime, Tuatahi had to maintain its current production of 25 – 30 axes a week, each one of which takes about two weeks to move through the system from a block of steel to the (hand-sharpened) finished product. It also produces a number of saws a week, though this varies depending on demand.

“We can’t get axes out the door quickly enough,” Fawcett says. There’s a 12 month waiting list for its saws and a three month delay for its racing axes.

Automation of some of the process would cut down this lead time and also allow Tuatahi to have work axes in stock.

The constant demand for its products is one reason Tuatahi has never had to advertise its wares, word of mouth and competition success being its best marketer. As it is too, buyers demonstrate a remarkable faith in the company, as money is required upfront before leaving the factory for its $500-$600 racing axes – though there is often quite an amount of backwards and forwards discussion via email in particular.

“But we really do work with our customers,” she says. “Different timbers require a different edge and finish, and our job is to produce exactly what they need.” Up to 30 precision variations around length, width and finish of the axe are possible.

And while many New Zealanders may be used to woodchopping competitions as seen at A&P Shows and the like, overseas such events can be much larger scale.

One event attended by Jo’s brother Grant (who is Tuatahi’s axe forger, as well as chief saw filer) in Austria had 10,000 people watching. Woodchopping and sawing is also big in the USA, with TV programmes on the competition, and Fawcett’s expecting further demand for their products when a television series AusAxe starts screening soon.

It means that the market size is difficult to determine. Fawcett reckoned there used to be about 2500 competitive axemen and women worldwide, but that this number is growing. Compounding this is that often one overseas person will be ordering for 10 or so others, with up to a dozen axes being ordered at once through this contact.

“Sometimes we really don’t know where they’re going to go,” she says.

But even with such strong relationships, “we still have to work hard to be the best,” says Fawcett.

“You’d like to think that competitors using our axes and saws would be loyal. If it’s a high paying competition, they want the best….and they don’t care where they come from. We keep that in the back of our minds all the time.”


Web 3.0 + Kiwi IP = connection to the world Peter Kerr Jun 19

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So, what do you do if you’ve got a patent, little money, and want to see who out there in the rest of the big wide world would be interested in buying it or licensing it?

It is this challenge that’s helped bring about the formation of IPEXCHANGE.

IPEXC.com is a Hong Kong based startup with an international team which aims to connect patent owners worldwide with others looking for the solutions the patents’ offer.

Its founder and CEO Hidero (Hidi) Niioka describes its purpose as being a global exchange for monetising IP. Hidi got hold of sticK to bring awareness of IPEXC’s existence to independent patent holders and innovative SMEs in New Zealand.

At a first blush and following a conversation with the Japanese-born, German-raised, globally-educated Hidi, IPEXC seems like it could be an especially good fit for countries like New Zealand – that is, smaller patent portfolio-holders wanting to get their ideas in front of larger companies and entities.

The company’s done its market research (and has no doubt also been assisted by a pretty impressive looking team of advisers).

Among some of the findings, which will be no surprise to many Kiwi patent holders, is that most IP brokers and law firms will only work on a contingency basis (i.e. a successful sale percentage fee) for portfolios which contain a large numbers of patents. In addition, most law firms want a retainer of US$10,000 – $15,000 upfront.

Equally, a single patent owner approaching a large company will usually find it isn’t interested either.

“Up till now there’s literally been no answer for the ‘small fish’ such as individual patent owners and innovative SMEs, those with limited resources, or none at all,” Niioka says.

So how does it work? The patent owner uploads as many patents as they want for free. Neither the patent number nor enough information is provided via IPEXC for someone interested in the idea to circumvent the site.

Under the site’s business model, potential commercialisation agents (IP brokers, law firms, interested technology companies etc.) who want access to more of the patent information, and to connect with its owner, have to pay a subscription fee (which itself comes at two levels.)

Patent holders pay a success fee only. If there is a successful sale or licence of the patent, IPEXC receives a commission, which varies from 4% – 12%.

The company is also actively marketing patents, It’s using its own trademarked and US patent pending Crowdlicensing aggregator, and bundles like patents to provide critical mass.

“This grouping creates a patent portfolio that is more attractive to potential commercialisation agents and gives more leverage to the individual patents in the bundle,” Niioka says.

Commercialisation agents or subscribed technology companies can view, licence and/or buy on this basis.

Niioka has also been successful in attracting the attention of national patent offices (Swedish Patent Office, Danish Patent Office, and the Japanese Patent Office as examples) in a number of countries, and providing links to IPEXC from their home pages.

IPEXC has designed its system to give patent holders control over how their patents are sold or licensed.

“What we’ve created is an example of Web 3.0,” Niioka says. “Much of the discussion and transactions can take place across our interface, interactively. It also means the patent owner retains full control of the process.”

Having been involved in business and academia intellectual property, Niioka says the purpose of three-month old IPEXC is to “create something useful for everyone”.

For countries such as New Zealand (and so far people from 55 countries have checked the site out), IPEXC offers a legitimate and credible way to make money from a good idea he says.

“Also, our global reach and multi-language functionality means that patents can be viewed and accessed by agents from all over the world, increasing visibility and chances of a successful transaction.”

A January sticK blog (see here http://sticknz.net/2012/01/19/innovations-not-easyand-theres-other-ways-to-get-value-from-it/), quoted Chicago-based Steven Steger saying that NZ businesses are completely ignoring the option of selling or licensing patents overseas.

IPEXC offers one way to maybe remedy that.


Fantastic; more faffing around for an Advanced Technology Institute Peter Kerr Jun 14

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Oh great – yes the May 24 budget announcement has $178 million allocated over five years for the evolution of Industrial Research into an Advanced Technology Institute.

But buried in the numbers (page 108, here) is a huge reason to not get too excited that too much is going to happen anytime soon.

Why? Namely a $1.871 million allocation to the Ministry of Science and Innovation (subsumed now into MoBIE) for ‘Advice and Support’ on shaping the Science and Innovation system MCOA (M84)’.

What does it mean?

Exactly nothing; now and in the immediate future and for a fair while beyond that too probably.

But the good news is there will be more meetings. Might as well get some consultants in to…..can’t have enough of those. The odd report or two or three probably won’t go astray as well.

So, just at a time when we (NZ Inc) really needs an ATI to be bursting into life and adding another extremely necessary piece to our innovation ecosystem, we’ve got some sand, lots of it, thrown into the gearbox.

Aaagghhh.

There’s a good reason the word ‘evolution’ is used in the opening sentence.

Trying to prescribe what IRL-cum-ATI should look like, and trying to backseat-drive the process through bureaucrats is stupid. (Not the least reason is that during the MSI’s 18 month lifespan, many of its best people have left).

For goodness sake, give the combined brains of IRL, industry (and government with a very small ‘g’) the mandate simply to get on with getting on.

This will mean growing the Auckland and Christchurch parts as required, as well as refreshing and refurbishing the Wellington HQ. IRL has a modular laboratory/office design that can easily be set up in different sites. These are ready to begin, now, if only the green-for-go button is pressed.

As with nature, an embryonic ATI could evolve very quickly, and start providing the services and skills required to create high margin (as well as high value) manufacturing.

Call me a pessimist, but as things stand at the moment, given the underlying ‘advice and support’ for IRL/ATI, we’ll still be faffing around this time next year and no further ahead.

And that’s exactly what we don’t want.


Kiwi Landing Pad sweetens deal for startups Peter Kerr Jun 12

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There’s nothing quite like being in the market…….so

The Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco’s sweetening the pot for startups looking to springboard into the States.

Under its ‘Catapult’ programme it is providing a month’s placement in San Fran’s South of Market district, along with the current 12 NZ companies attempting to bulk up and move on from the co-working space. Xero’s probably the best known of this bunch so far.

Catapult project lead Reuben Metcalfe says it’s an opportunity for startups, particularly in the internet/tech space, to get in front of (potential) customers and investors, to test and sell.

All applicants have to do is fill in a 10 page (remarkably little in how these things often work) power point template that basically explains what the startup is trying to do, and how they might use their time in Silicon Valley

This goes past two panels, the first of which includes ex Sonar 6 boss John Holt.

“If all the boxes are ticked and the panels think they can deliver, flights, accommodation and the desk space is paid for,” Metcalfe says. With a two month lead time, KLP will help the individual companies plan for their trip, introducing them to people on the ground, according as to what stage of the business they’re in.

KLP itself is now part of what is believed to be the world’s largest co-working space, a 190 seat open space in the heart of San Francisco, called ‘Startup HQ.’

“Startup people can’t avoid each other in this environment, there’s a lot of cross-pollination.” says Metcalfe.

The other advantage from everyone’s point of view if the startup is selected to be brought across is that “they’ll find whether they sink or swim much faster than if they stayed at home.”

“Some incubation periods for startups in New Zealand get up to 36 months,” Metcalfe says. “That’s not incubation, that’s life support. In a lot of cases, there’s more merit in killing something quickly if it’s not moving, and starting on the next venture/project.

The first cab off the rank is bimstop.com from Scott Barrington. BIM is the acronym for building information modelling, and the web application puts specific manufacturers products (and more importantly specifications) into the 3D models that architects increasingly use in their designs.

Metcalfe says the KLP Catapult initiative is beyond a pure market validation play (hopefully the startup has already carried out this phase), and a chance for direct customer acquisition.

“It’s an opportunity to secure customers and deals,” he says.

One advantage of being in a city such as San Francisco is that the startup culture “cycles faster, and company valuations are a completely different ball game.”

Go here for the KLP Catapult application folks

In a further development, the Startup Weekend organisers in New Zealand have added the sweetener that the most promising idea will also be part of the KLP Catapult. Naturally people will have to go to the Wellington event (July 27 – 29). Auckland Startups getthe same opportunity on June 15-17


Tapping into market knowledge….down at your local library! Peter Kerr Jun 07

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The library can dig deeper, for free, than most individuals are able to

One of the great things about going to events such as the World Class New Zealanders Inspire day in Wellington is you never know who you’re going to bump into.

Thus, how many people know that Wellington’s Public City Library has a Business Information Specialist?

What’s more, for those businesses looking for market information, Marilyn Domney is able to provide an hour’s free research (you’ve just got to have a library card!). Given that Marilyn knows how to ‘drive’ different search engines, and that the library’s ponyed up for many in-depth publications which would cost an average person an arm and a leg to access, it’s a remarkably good opportunity to find out stuff.

“There’s a huge amount of material out there from a science and business point of view that Google may or may not be able to access,” Marilyn says. “In particular, getting hold of the full text [as opposed to a summary] is something we often have available through our databases.”

She says a lot of online information is only available to subscribers which Google’s indexer can’t access.

Some of this information (again requiring a library card) is available through the library’s www.mygateway.info site.

Acquiring this information would, otherwise at times, cost thousands of dollars.

“A lot of New Zealand businesses don’t realise the range of reports and figures they can find through the library,” she says. “It’s part of making the library more relevant to different groups of people.”

Marilyn says often she’ll sit down with people, and go through the resources and databases. “Sometimes people don’t know what they want till we stumble across it, and one advantage of being in this role for a while is I know where to look.”

Marilyn recently had a 20-strong group of Wellington fashion designers in for a demonstration of what they could dig down and discover.

“They were blown away. Say some of them were looking to go to Australia; with our resources they could find out a wealth of information.”

As they say, knowledge is strength, and knowing as much as possible about a market before entering it can save a mountain of money and time and pain.

Good on Marilyn for making more people aware of the service.

Some of the topics Marilyn’s been asked to look for outside of the usual business /industry type queries – eco-art, Cultural history of afternoon teas in NZ, ethical jewellery, e-waste, craft beer, pacific health initiatives

And being the good marketer she is, she provided the following information as places to go to find more of the same.

www.wcl.govt.nz home page

www.wcl.govt.nz/business business pages

http://www.wcl.govt.nz/popular/science.html science pages

http://www.wcl.govt.nz/mygateway/dbindex.html a-z of our online resources

http://www.wcl.govt.nz/wc-bin/pressdisplay Current newspapers from around the world with the same layout on the screen as they have in print. Pages are complete with photographs, graphics and even advertisements. It has hundreds of newspapers from 80 countries in 40 languages. It is very up to date, with some newspapers appearing on the database before they are published in their home country. Pages can be printed or emailed. You can browse one newspaper on a particular day or search across many titles going back 60 days.

www.docuticker.com The DocuTicker DocuBase is a daily update of new reports from government agencies, NGOs, think tanks, and other groups. DocuBase offers a hand-picked selection of resources, reports and publications from government agencies, NGOs, think tanks and other public interest organizations.

www.fulltextreports.com Full Text Reports…A top-tier research professional’s hand-picked selection of documents from academe, corporations, government agencies, interest groups, NGOs, professional societies, research institutes, think tanks, trade associations, and more.


Science gets a rap – Tom McFadden Peter Kerr Jun 05

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Getting kids interested in science by showing that it can be fun

Getting kids interested in science is a bit of a challenge around New Zealand, but transplanted American Tom McFadden’s doing his best to up the excitement.

The Californian, a Stanford biology lecturer in a former life, is currently studying a Masters in Science Communication at Otago University, and recently made a Fullbright Scholar sponsored trip around a number of NZ schools under the persona, Rhymebosome.

This is his ‘science rapper’ moniker, where a beat plus rhyming words provides children with another view of how things work. Here’s a Youtube video of him in action.

“Part of the purpose is to reinvigorate, not replace the current science education,” says McFadden. “It also helps to get teachers to think about other creative ways they can put across science.”

McFadden’s also the fresh young face promoting the New Zealand International Science Festival’s ‘Science Idol’ music video competition.

He’s using the second year of his study to research the questions:

1. The efficacy (or effectiveness) of a music based video (for science)
2. Authorship – is it better to watch or make your own hip-hop song

As a test in action, McFadden’s an interesting example of someone finding himself at a certain time and place.

“I suddenly found myself being known as the Science Rapper,” he says.

“It has given me the opportunity to operationalise and test some of that thinking for the Master’s thesis.


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