Scale-ups rise to the innovation challenge

The launch of RISE.

Industry growth centre METS Ignited made waves two years ago when it collaborated with the Queensland Government and KPMG on an accelerator pilot for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the resources sector.

Igniting METS (mining equipment, technology and services) involved candidates from eight shortlisted companies, who embarked on a 12-week intensive course to deliver better exposure to their respective businesses and increase their confidence.

The program will return in 2019 in an expanded form and with a new name: the RISE (Resources Innovators, Scale-ups and Entrepreneurs) Accelerator.

The Queensland Government and KPMG also return, along with the addition of the Western Australian Government and METS Ignited’s fellow industry growth centre NERA (National Energy Resources Australia).

In addition, RISE will expand the applicant pool beyond the resources sector and into the energy sector as well. RISE is distinguished by its focus on scale-up companies as opposed to start-up companies.

The companies don’t have to be new to take part — they could be as new as 12 months old or industry veterans with 20 years or more to their credit.

The most important aspect is that they have a new innovation to showcase that needs traction, whether it be capital investment or new customers.

“We decided to go with scale-ups because there wasn’t really anything to help existing SMEs with new innovation to reach the customers in the mining and energy sectors use them as a basis for international growth,” METS Ignited acting chief executive officer Ian Dover says.

“Our objective is to grow the international competitiveness of the METS sector, which means that if you’re starting with an SME that is already experienced in dealing with customers then the chances of them being able to make an impact in a shorter time frame is higher.”

With the expansion west, the cohort will expand from eight companies to up to 16, with eight Queensland companies and eight Western Australian companies being the ideal distribution, according to Dover.

The final cohort will be selected in February and courses will again span 12 weeks across Brisbane and Perth. The course will teach participants to refine their innovation offerings in order to better-appeal to potential customers and investors within their relevant industries.

Participants can also gain useful exposure to corporations, including the opportunity to present their company or offerings to potential investors in a Shark Tank-style scenario.

“Essentially what happens is you go from a very broad understanding of what you’ve got to offer, and go through business improvements that bring you to a much crisper definition of what you’ve got so you can then provide that to the corporates,” Dover says.

“In turn, it teaches participants in the corporate stream to deal with small or innovative companies, giving them a good understanding of the environment and ecosystem of scale ups and innovations within their particular field.”

Quick Safety, one of the graduates of the 2017 pilot, is a notable example of what a company can gain by participating in the accelerator.

With a focus on supplying software for electrical compliance testing, Igniting METS provided a foothold for the company to gain significant access to the mining industry through networking opportunities.

The company applied skills learnt on the program to a well-received seminar at the 2017 International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC).

“Because of the accelerator, we have a much better understanding of the procurement and operating environments in mines,” Quick Safety’s founder and CEO Kurt Alexander commented in 2017.

As the Igniting METS pilot has grown into the RISE Accelerator, RISE is expected to grow in turn. A focus on expansion to different states and regions of Australia will be the next key stage for the program, with METS Ignited and its partners hoping to increase the cohort significantly in the coming years.

RISE also promises to build on its predecessor’s successes with an emphatic focus on the importance of regional businesses. Five of the eight companies in 2017’s accelerator were from regional Queensland and that trend looks set to continue.

“The first key thing that we learnt from 2017 was the importance of the regions in resources innovation in Australia — that’s really important,” Dover says.

“We need to be able to provide access to those capabilities that came out of 2017’s exercise for the next cohort as well.”

This article also appears in the February edition of Australian Mining. 

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