Western Australia’s original economic successes might have been the result of hard work in the mining and agriculture industries, but the WA Innovator of the Year Awards are a pointer to our future economic prosperity.
Since 2006 – when it was known as the WA Inventor of the Year Awards – the awards have showcased the creative talents, research genius and business savvies of hundreds of inventors, innovators and scientists. The inaugural awards drew more than 150 entrants from across Western Australia. Their inventions were diverse – and imaginative. One inventor developed a new type of camera lens that automatically changed exposure to cope with shadows, another came up with a method for converting natural gas to help counter global warming and a third caught the judges’ imagination with a prototype for a skateboard brake.
To reflect a wider focus, the awards were renamed the WA Innovator of the Year Awards in 2010. With the help and encouragement of the State Government, the awards continue to support our inventors and innovators, helping them not only to demonstrate their skills and ingenuity but also help create new products and jobs.
A survey of past entrants found that, while their original achievements were remarkable, what’s happened to them since is truly inspirational. By almost any measure, the awards have been a success for those involved.
A recent survey of the entrants and firms involved in the 2011 awards reported numerous positive outcomes. They particularly pointed to the awards providing benefits in terms of:
- Valuable networking opportunities
- Greater public exposure and promotion for inventions and businesses
- Help in terms of extra credibility and creating a profile in the marketplace
- Excellent business skills seminars involving mentoring and pitching sessions
- The opportunity to meet high profile investors at the awards presentation events, and
- Encouragement and motivation
- Benefit from judges’ expertise.
Creating jobs, investment
Not only that, the firms reported that being involved in the awards later led to them employing more staff. Several companies doubled – or, in one case, even quadrupled – their staff in the year following their involvement in the awards.
Another positive outcome is that being in the awards led to increased investment from business angels and venture capitalists, with the awards adding to the firms’ credibility and making it easier for investors to make their decision to invest.
The companies also reported they were now focusing not just on opportunities in Australia, but also international markets. More than 45 per cent of those responding to the survey now successfully export their products or services overseas. For instance, most projects in the 2011 awards achieved new market penetration in the following year, with many opening up markets in places such as Europe, Asia, South America, the US and Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.
Protecting intellectual property
Just as importantly, perhaps, are the longer-term benefits that entrants in the awards can accrue from protecting their intellectual property. More than 85 per cent of the 2011 firms surveyed now have intellectual property protection. This could involve the firms having taken out patents, trademarks or entering into licensing agreements.
In one of our stories, Kevin Inkster, one of WA’s most well-known and successful innovators, was able to explain the significance of the awards in a nutshell. “When you invent something, that’s the easy part,” he says. “Forming an organisation, getting a group of people together and making it a reality and commercialising it – that is the hard part. “I love people playing with ideas, but the real strength is making those ideas a reality and something like the awards really helps to focus you and make it a reality.”
Of course, much of the success of the awards is due to the sponsors who realise that fostering innovation is important for WA’s – and Australia’s – future. Each year, their foresight, generosity and support behind the scenes help make the awards a reality. The program gratefully acknowledges Mitsubishi Corporation’s generous support as Principal Sponsor of Western Australia’s leading innovation program – the WA Innovator of the Year Awards.
The program looks forward to continuing a strong and mutually beneficial relationship that advances both local industry outcomes and research and development. Likewise, behind the scenes, innovators have the tireless support of the local innovation community, the State Government and agencies, the business community and the State’s universities and other educational institutions. We hope you enjoy these stories about some of the inventors and innovators who have gone on to bigger and better things since entering the WA Innovator of the Year Awards. We hope they will inspire others to enter the awards – so that in coming years, we have even more inspiring stories to bring you.