Does Australia have an Elon Musk in the making?
Chief Technology Officer Peter Dickinson from BuildingIQ explains why Australian companies need to take risk and dare to innovate.
In recent times some surprising things have happened in areas close to my heart and probably yours too. A thermostat became sexy and resulted in a $3.2 billion acquisition by Google. A stationary battery pack for homes and large buildings became sexy and sold out months in advance. A robotic security guard started patrolling a college campus. The Pope even got on board with calls to reduce man’s impact on the climate.
People are even murmuring that the clean technology industry – ‘cleantech’ – is alive again.
So, as we think about the future, how many people are as excited as they used to be about the next gadget? Maybe it’s just because I’m getting a little closer to 40, but this gadget freak is starting to show signs of fatigue. I still can’t quite believe that I’m completely happy with an iPhone that is now a couple of generations old. I’m in no rush to buy an Apple Watch and I haven’t been on Facebook for nearly two years. Do you have a fitness band or two sitting around at home? For full disclosure, I will admit that I do have a soft spot for Twitter.
This makes for a fantastic juxtaposition. Solar panels, thermostats, electric cars and private space flight are inspiring many of us, while a good portion of the same people are tiring of yet another app or gadget that yearns for attention. That ding of another notification has become like nails on a chalkboard and seeing what a high school friend is eating for dinner has run its course.
The world’s great innovators have noticed the same thing and are looking at industries that have been long neglected due to their lack of sex appeal. This has led to drones being used for precision farming, robotic butlers for hotels, the 3D printing of a bridge… the list goes on and on. The Meraki founders are even looking to apply their skills and make industrial sensors 10 times cheaper!
It is safe to assume that here in Australia the same transition will occur in our local industries, despite the mining downturn and winding down of local car manufacturing. In fact, this transition will have to occur in order to fill the significant gaps left by these large upheavals.
I moved back to Australia at the end of 2014 after living in the San Francisco Bay Area for a little over three years and helping to get our US operations cranking away. Silicon Valley! Mecca for engineers! Weekend barbecues where the other mums (moms) and dads were engineers or in start-ups! This was certainly a different feel from growing up in Canberra. A wonderful experience professionally, and for my family, but the things that stand out are not the differences between San Francisco and Australian cities, but the similarities.
Australian talent for engineering and entrepreneurialism is truly world class. A person doesn’t really need to travel to or live in the US to know this, but it is worth saying out loud for everyone to hear. It’s probably worth screaming out loud because it is hardcore science and engineering innovation that can best fill the massive gap in our economy. This is a prime opportunity for Australian companies to fill that gap.
That’s where you come in.
Will Australian innovators stand up and help usher in the next success story or wait for the next ‘Big Blue’ to come along and present the solution that nobody got fired for choosing? There are many thousands of professionals across the facilities industry who know there are better solutions out there. There needs to be a rush of excitement in order to encourage the mavericks! It will take challenging, secret or risky projects to attract top talent. Companies need to encourage employees to join that meet-up or professional organisation that we are often hesitant to embrace. Employees need to learn how to sell ideas to management. The enthusiasm of one person will be infectious across a company. These are the areas that the Silicon Valley culture has embraced and traits that the can be copied.
Of course there will be missteps. There will be some broken timelines and some broken promises. Some solutions, projects and companies just won’t work out, but this will be needed to help the next Atlassian come from within the property industry or uncover the next Elon Musk here in Australia. If the Australian community doesn’t fill the gaps and take some risks, somebody else will.
The author, Peter Dickinson is the chief technology officer at BuildingIQ, a provider of HVAC energy management solutions.