Amber Standley shows off one of her visualisations. Photo: Melissa Adams
Striking out to create a new type of business should be like driving down the highway at 110km/h, said Matt Stimson, a 27-year-old putting together his own social network for Australian teachers called Peereo.
He hopes – like the analogy of driving at reasonably high speed – that he can control the risk and reduce the variables that may bring him undone.
‘‘We hope teachers will use it to bring each other up to date on the national curriculum,’’ said Mr Stimson, a law student who also manages Entry29, a co-workspace in Acton where the owners of business start-ups mingle and inspire each other.
Rob Coorey’s Geospatial Intelligence app gives real-time information at street level. Photo: Supplied
As Canberra’s redundant public servants receive their golden handshakes – or perhaps even silver, bronze or just plain pitiful payouts – many will have a niggling question in the backs of their minds: should I start that technology empire I’ve always wanted?
After perusing mortgage statements, calculating living costs and talking to partners, a lot will decide against it, but a few will follow their dreams in an attempt to become entrepreneurs and will turn up at places such as Entry29, which expects increased interest this year from bureaucrats leaving departments.
‘‘The ACT has such a depth of talent in IT and because of the tough budget the government is going to be looking for new solutions which are cost effective,’’ Mr Stimson said.
Matt Darling has developed a computerised support system for hospital staff. Photo: Nick Cubbin
Entrepreneurs received conflicting news after the federal budget. The small business sector will benefit from a $484.2 million Entrepreneurs' Infrastructure Program, which the Coalition reportedly expects will “improve the capabilities of small to medium enterprises and streamline business access to government programs”.
Other bodies will be slashed, such as Commercialisation Australia, the Enterprise Solutions program, the Innovation Investment Fund, the Enterprise Connect program and the Industry Innovation Precincts scheme.
The mixed news will not deter many start-up owners. The need to take calculated risks is in the blood of people like Canberra’s Tiffany Hart, whose father started a string of fitness centres.
Tiffany Hart's father started a chain of fitness centres. Photo: Supplied
At age 26 she has launched a global self-publishing business and, despite having no personal links to the public sector, hopes the cash-strapped Australian government can use her venture to make money.
Her enterprise, 7Write, lets anybody publish a book on multiple digital platforms around the world – basic users publish for free while others pay a one-off cost of up to $450.
Her business has given voice to 2500 authors so far and it stops nobody from publishing.
Clients have written on subjects as different as cooking and business and marketing but Ms Hart can see an even broader application for the enterprise beyond traditional publishing.
“We could help governments monetise their content,” she said.
‘‘The government needs a way to pool and publish its vast amount of content.”
She said the federal government could publish pictorial books showing great Australian tourist destinations which might appeal to overseas buyers and generate interest for potential visitors.
Speaking from Amsterdam where she and co-founder and coding expert Mark Harrison run the business, the former professional dancer said 7Write had attracted almost $400,000 in seed funding.
‘‘We’re so tight with our cash,’’ Ms Hart said. ‘‘We’ve moved [residence] 10 times in the past 12 months to save money.’’
Inventor Matt Darling, 41, wants to change the way medical records are maintained in hospitals, but said he would not have survived this long if he had known at the start how much effort was needed to establish clinical trials for his innovation.
His SmartWard system, being trialled in hospitals at the moment, could save money for state and territory governments battling to stop health budgets swallowing expenditure for roads and schools.
He developed the revolutionary system after the death of his daughter in 2008 – a traumatic time when he was able to look at the problems of outdated record keeping.
Mr Darling, a lifelong Canberran and former adviser in the departments of finance and prime minister and cabinet who left of his own accord, said his system stationed small computers at each patient’s bedside and these were updated continually with vital information being fed into the network.
Information is geo-located, meaning the system records when medical staff see patients because they wear sensor tags and the computer brings up the most relevant page it thinks they will need as they approach.
In short, the system is heavily geared towards automatically finding evidence for all medical records made and can remind staff about what needs to be done with patients. It replaces the traditional system of paper records and multiple IT systems, which are often inaccurate and lack information because staff are afraid of being sued for medical negligence.
‘‘We found a single patient [under the existing system] could have up to 29 separate charts that relate to them,’’ Mr Darling said. ‘‘A hospital could have 200 separate IT systems – IT silos are a destroyer of productivity.’’
New technology can help governments keep track of their staff and update them on developments.
Rob Coorey from Geospatial Intelligence develops mobile applications that government workers will use to fight bushfires. He also has another creation on the way which may help public servants travelling overseas.
His future app could allow Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff to have up-to-the-minute information about cities, towns and streets they are walking into – whether they are walking into the middle of an emerging outbreak of ebola, civil unrest or nasty weather.
“It’s about enabling users to make informed decisions about where they are,” he said.
He hoped to roll out his latest application out by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Mitch Harmer, 23, was speaking to a friend in the construction industry about the difficulty of people signing in when they walked onto building sites.
Mr Harmer created the SignOnSite application, which allows workers to sign in quickly and can be used by government departments to ensure the safety of staff alone in the field.
‘‘We can give it a dead-man switch so, if the worker doesn’t respond to a push notification within half an hour, an alert prompts headquarters to go and investigate if they are OK,’’ Mr Harmer said.
‘‘We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this. One of the hardest things about being a young company is that governments don’t want to take a risk.’’
Technology can allow better communication with the public as well.
A recently publicised example was the Australian Tax Office’s decision to use voice identification technology that would save customers 45 seconds per phone call once it was established. It would also allow the ATO to make 100 staff redundant or find other jobs for them.
Amber Standley, 31, wants to enrich government information with augmented reality so departments can better communicate with taxpayers.
For anybody who wants an example of augmented reality, think of the scene from Star Wars where a hologram of Princess Leia says: ‘‘Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi.’’
Standley can overlay digital content pretty much anywhere so a person can point a smartphone or tablet at anything, such as a normal printed brochure, and a video will play on their device, or they can move their digital device around to explore a 3D image.
She said it could change the way bureaucrats communicate with the public. If a government wanted to build a development on a vacant block of land, members of the public could explore a three-dimensional, completed image of the buildings using their smartphone or tablet.
‘‘I remember really struggling to come up with a name for the business and then one day, looking through some old photos of my travels to Japan, I remembered how a lot of Japanese believe blood type determines one's personality or future,’’ she said.
‘‘As creativity and a passion for problem solving, technology and collaboration runs through my veins, I decided on APositive – which is my blood type.’’