Partnering with some of the biggest global names in the resources sector, Perth-based Unearthed is helping to deliver gains in efficiency and competitiveness through the development of innovative technologies and processes.
Since 2014, through its international program of hackathons and online competitions, over 2,000 innovators have produced 175 prototypes which have already made significant and measurable impact on its partners’ bottom lines.
Now through a six-month long mentor-driven accelerator program, entrepreneurs will be supported to build sustainable businesses with commercially ready products to reach global markets.
“Through the Unearthed Accelerator, we aim to create 50 new start-ups in five years,” said Accelerator Program Director Kathy Bunce.
“These start-ups will introduce technologies that will improve the competitiveness and efficiency of our resources sector partners. We believe this is the fastest and most cost-effective way to introduce new technologies to the resources sector, as well as the best way to support new resources tech start-ups.”
Direct participation in the Unearthed program from resources partners ensures that the technologies developed are fit-for-purpose and quickly adopted in their operations. This participation includes mentoring and facilitation of site trials.
The resources industry has long been a dominant player in Australia’s economy. Mining and related services employ more than 380,000 people. The industry accounts for 50% of the nation’s export earnings, with the top 40 companies in the sector producing more than $400 billion in annual revenues.
However, the sector is facing significant change to the tune of $100 billion in economic impact from disruptive technologies by 2025.
Globally, the impact over this period will be closer to $1 trillion. “The mining sector has experienced declines in productivity of more than 33% over the past 10 years,” said Founding Director Justin Strharsky.
“In order to cut costs, many companies have reduced staff numbers, maintenance and capital expenditure, all of which are short term solutions. Future gains in efficiency and competitiveness will be driven by adoption of innovative technologies and processes.
“Technology start-ups will drive much of this change. They have the right structure, methodology and tools to quickly test hypotheses about new technologies and business models in a market. They are able to fail fast and often on the way to finding what works.”
This is where Unearthed, as an open innovation platform for the global resources sector, comes in.
“We believe in the power of entrepreneurship to transform individuals and communities, to create economic opportunity, and to address global challenges,” Mr Strharsky said.
“Why make bets on individual transformative technologies when you can build an engine that sustainably generates hundreds of them?
We like to think that Unearthed is that engine.”
From testing the Accelerator Program model last year, Newton Labs emerged, which won a WA Young Innovator of the Year Award for its innovative work in assisting a global mining heavyweight with the challenges of large boulders blocking primary crushers at its iron ore operations.
Newton Labs developed a novel sensor and analytics package, and is now using its technology on mine sites to report on particle size distribution and prevent oversize material from blocking the crushers, delivering significant savings to the mine operator.
Unearthed is assembling a mentor network with the experience and skills to assist start-ups to thrive and flourish in the international resources sector. Mentors including Bill Withers, a seasoned resources sector technology entrepreneur, and other senior leaders in major resources companies, entrepreneurs who have built global technology businesses and venture capitalists that know how to assist companies to scale.
Each of the founding directors of Unearthed has had successful careers in the resources industry as well as founding their own tech start-ups. Collectively they have 40 years’ experience working in the resources sector, have raised seed funding for their own start-ups and have invested in other start-ups focused on the resources sector.
Kathy Bunce has also joined the team as Accelerator Program Director with her own long tenure in the resources sector (formerly General Manager People, Innovation & Information at Iluka Resources). Ms Bunce said: “This is an exciting time to harness the technology groundswell in Australia, and I am thrilled to be stepping out of one company to create opportunities to impact the whole resources sector to make sustainable change and even see potential disruption not even imagined.”
The aim is to foster Australian talent and provide the right conditions – including mentorship, capital, and support – so that they can take local technologies to the world.
“Australia needs to increase investment in our developing ecosystem, if we are to reap the rewards that these start-ups will have to offer.
If we do not build the capacity to create and support new start-up ventures pursuing this opportunity, Australia will lose the opportunity to innovators overseas.”