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Playing risk: How breaking the mould paid off for 5 Aussie businesses

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

In a crowded world of me-too companies, what does it take to lead the pack? For these homegrown businesses, innovation lay in trusting their instincts as to where the gaps in the market lay.

Risk takers – companies or individuals prepared to go out on a limb and take the financial gamble associated with doing things differently – seem to be in short supply.Unfortunately for the straight-and-narrows, sophisticated marketplaces demand innovation. The same-old-same-old is no longer cutting it. So it’s to those treading new ground that consumers now look in their quest for the new, the unique and the personalised.Here are just a few Aussie businesses that have had the temerity to break the mould, to give you inspiration for your next innovation.

Matt Fowles from Fowles Wines

1. Fowles wine: trust your instincts

Leave a thriving career as a blue chip lawyer to develop a boutique wine range industry experts say has no chance?

“Why not?” said Victorian vintner Matt Fowles, who had the boldness to do just that.

In 2008, he began developing the Fowles Wine Are You Game? range – upmarket drops designed for pairing with wild game.

“Wild game is a different class of meat… You need to change the way wine is made to complement it,” he says.In the beginning, wine consultants told Fowles risking the business on an untested market segment was a rash move.

“It was a massive risk for us and we did it against marketing advice,” he says. “[But] We believed it was real and it would work.”For Fowles, the risk has paid off. The wine sector has now recognised his instincts with a slew of awards in local and international wine competitions, including Australia’s Best Shiraz in the Great Australian Shiraz Challenge of 2010.

Fowles’ belief in the market in the early days gives other small businesses food for thought – just because it doesn’t exist now doesn’t mean there isn’t an appetite for it. 

2. Robo work tools: Make life easier

Who better to develop new tools to simplify the back-breaking process of laying and cutting concrete than someone who’s spent years on the tools themselves?

After 10 years working on sites, concreter and Robo Work Tools founder Ray Rowbotham sold his house to finance the development of the Robo Joiner – a product he believed would make his, and many other concreters, jobs easier.

A stainless-steel tool that automates joint cutting and reduces the grunt factor involved in the process, it promises to reduce work time for concreters by 50 per cent.

“You never know if you don’t have a go,” he says.“

I could have been sitting there stewing for years. It used to annoy me. I thought, there’s got to be a better way.

”Rowbotham is not the only one who thinks that his solution to concreters problems has legs. His tool has found favour with distributors and buyers in the US as well as Australia, and scored him a gong for Inventor of the Year 2014, from the Inventors Association of Australia.

Cases like Robo Work Tools show that industries need to evolve. For small businesses, finding solutions is likely to benefit more than just you, and can provide an additional revenue stream long into the future.

3. Dincel construction system: Go against the grain

Cars, clothes, canned goods… A stream of closures has buffeted the Australian manufacturing industry in recent years, with a string of local companies opting to shift their factories off-shore.

But for Dincel Construction System, opening a $28 million plant at Erskine Park in Sydney’s west in late 2013 to manufacture its unique waterproof walls for use in residential and commercial buildings has provided a number of benefits.

A cost-effective alternative to clay and concrete masonry and brick veneer, the patented polymer formwork produces a strong, durable structure when filled with ready mixed concrete.As well as making its mark in the local construction sector, Dincel has attracted interest from earthquake-prone regions overseas, due to its ability to build quake-proof structural walls.

Keeping manufacturing in-house has meant the business is able to easily monitor quality control. Additionally, the company’s punt on doing things at home has created skilled jobs for 35 Aussies on the factory floor.

4. Instant laser clinic: Create a market

Developing a local market for overseas technology that’s brand new to Australia can be an expensive – and risky – move. For former dentist and Instant Laser Clinic founder Mathew Jafarzadeh, it was a gamble well worth taking if it provided the means to give his clients knowledge about their health that was more than skin deep.

Two years ago his Melbourne cosmetic therapy clinic, which specialises in a range of treatments including dermal fillers, tattoo removal and cellulite reduction, became one of the first in the country to offer a Bio Profiler test.

Used to scan the cells in the human hair root, the Profiler can prove useful in investigating the cause of a wide range of illnesses and diseases.

So far 200 clients have availed themselves of the service and been satisfied with the insights provided – ample justification for his decision to invest a significant sum in technology previously little known in Australia.

“People are coming here and looking at head-to-toe service,” Jafarzadeh says.“It’s using cutting edge technology that not many people know about and have access to, to make life easier.

”For small businesses that are as interested in people as profit, the social benefits that come with taking these risks can be as rewarding as the financial benefits. As a result of Jafarzadeh’s determination to bring this technology to Australia, hundreds of Australians have a better idea of their overall health.

5. Neometro: Give back

Property developers enjoy a collective reputation for extracting maximum value per square inch from their sites. Return on investment is important – but it’s not the be all and end all, says James Tutton, co-director of boutique Melbourne developer Neometro.

The developer’s long term commitment to projects that deliver community as well as shareholder benefits paid dividends last year, when it was awarded a $70 million contract to redevelop the space around Brunswick’s historic Jewell Railway Station.

When complete, the precinct will include community gardens, contemporary art and public performance spaces, as well as about 100 apartments.

“It’s a highly commercial venture which will be delivering community and social benefits,” Tutton says.

Neometro’s success shows small businesses how important it is to ensure people sit alongside profit in the evaluation process. Not only can it open new doors for businesses, it builds relationships with customers and helps business owners sleep better at night.

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