Derick Markwell, Roborigger’s founder, is a Civil Engineer by training, worked offshore in the lifting and construction industry, as well as design, and has branched out to develop some of the ideas that he formulated during his career.
Roborigger is one of Derick’s concepts and he realised it was better for him to develop this product himself as he had formulated ideas of how it would work. As a start-up, finding co-founders was certainly beneficial for sharing ideas and workload. From a technical development point of view, it has given Derick the freedom to develop Roborigger the way he felt it needed to be developed.
It’s a bit of a story, but many years ago Derick saw some other devices attempting to do what Roborigger now achieves, those devices used gyroscopes and Derick believed that despite being a great concept, they didn’t actually work. So, he was very keen to make his concept work! He then came up with a different solution using a flywheel and fan. That, in fact, worked really well, and this is what differentiates Roborigger from other equipment out there. Roborigger is the only company using this technology.
Derick describes the success to date, as a long and winding road, and probably a bumpy one. It was never as straightforward as expected particularly with interruptions like Covid, challenges with the product, such as software issues, or delays on the delivery of parts, and the inability to source electronics in a timely manner. International expansion has also been difficult as we couldn’t travel during COVID. We had to learn how to train people remotely, and promote our product using Teams, which was very difficult compared to face-to-face.
Derick mentioned that one of the high points he experienced was getting Multiplex involved early in the process. Multiplex saw the product and noted that this could be a real benefit to the safety of their operations, and they promised us some fundings if we could get it to work. But we had to get it to work first, and it had to be ready to go to site, and only then would we get that funding. Once Roborigger got to site, and we had Multiplex onboard, it started a snowball rolling, as described by Derick.
Blackbird Ventures, Australia’s largest venture capital company, was next to invest. One of the interesting things about Blackbird and Derick’s connection is that he used to just stop by and meet them for a coffee. One day, Derick was doing a demonstration down in Wollongong and he called Blackbird on his way back and said he was just driving past and wanted to drop in for a coffee. 10am Derick turned up in high-vis and boots with Roborigger on the back of his Ute. Derick relays the story: “They welcomed me saying… “All right, we’ve got the video all linked up and everyone is on the boardroom for the pitch”, “And I went pitch? I came here for a coffee. So, I went to the boardroom and said right, I’ll tell you all about Roborigger, and here I was in my high-vis and boots. Then we went outside, I turned Roborigger on, made a loud noise and everyone said oh wow, this is cool! It was a completely unprepared pitch and yet, Blackbird said, it was one of the best they had the whole year!”
Derick stresses one of the advantages of being in Western Australia (WA) is that there is a great innovation community here. “We are a little bit smaller than the rest of Australia, and everyone knows each other; what you’ll find is that behind all these shop fronts and industrial buildings outer in the suburban Perth, you’ll find world’s leading technology that is already made or that is in the same stage of development as ours, and so we have a great community to discuss and share ideas with”.
One of the biggest challenges of developing a product in WA, Derick stated, is that we don’t really have much of a market here. “We find that the mining companies here are really looking for billion-dollar innovations that will change their whole business; for example, they need to electrify their mining trucks or something as big as that. The building construction market in WA has also proved challenging with adopting new technologies. It’s very hard to get your product out into the WA market. On the other hand, being in WA you have got to understand that your market is global, it’s as much in Europe and Southeast Asia, as it’s in the Eastern states, so, it’s a big advantage to us in a way, as we start thinking globally rather than locally”.
In regard to Government, Derick mentioned they have had strong support from the WA Government. “There have been a number of grants that allowed us to develop internationally competitive capabilities here in our workshop, that we wouldn’t have been able to develop if we didn’t have those grants. The WA Government is also very supportive of us in terms of promotion”.
“I think it’s essential to be part of the start-up community, not only can you have access to technical advice, but you can also get business strategic directions, for example what’s the best way of introducing your product to the Middle East or to Europe, or find new connections with a transport company, all of that sort of advice comes from this community and without it everything would have been a much bigger challenge” – remarks Derick.
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