Monday 28 March 2011

Profile on… Specialty Group


Profile on… Specialty Group

Daniel Leipnik of the Specialty Group recently spoke to the AIC about the company’s journey along the commercialisation pathway. The Specialty Group is a manufacturer of glass and textile based raw materials and has recently developed a technology solution for the generation of roof top renewable energy.   

1)    Briefly describe your business

Specialty Coatings (Aust.) Pty Ltd was established in 1978 and is a manufacturer of coated, laminated, and impregnated glass and textile based industrial and technical raw materials for multiple industries including: Defence & Emergency Services, Oil & Gas, Automotive, Building & Construction, Transport, Interior Furnishings and Marine. 

More recently, the company has begun developing Building Integrated Photo Voltaic (BIPV) technology solutions in the form of solar roofing materials for the generation of roof top renewable energy.   

These materials are produced in panel form and replace the need to install a roof on a house or building and then have another separate crew come back and install heavy solar panels on top of the roof.  Essentially the technology we have developed is a one-step single layer roofing material that is installed on the whole roof of a house or building and already has the solar cells embedded into it.

2)    How did you generate the idea?

The initial idea of producing solar roofing materials came to us as an off shoot of a similar concept from a technology partner in Europe and since that time it has transformed into a $7 million dollar R & D and commercialisation project.

3)    What made you decide to progress it from just an idea to a real business?

After conducting independent research through the Australian Institute for Commercialisation as to the size of the current solar market, the potential volumes, and the growth of this sector, we then spoke to major players in the roofing industry and solar industry, and researched the technology aspects to confirm the need of a new innovation. 

We then applied for and received State and Federal Government support which, combined with our own funds, has paved the way to progress this project from concept through to development and commercialisation stages. 

4)    What were the main challenges faced?

The major challenges we faced is the development of a world first innovation in Photo Voltaics that is made in Australia and cost competitive while delivering acceptable levels of renewable energy output.  

This is being overcome through equipment that automates the manufacturing process and produces thousands of metres of solar roofing materials a day.

5)    What tips would you pass on to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?

My advice is to work for a company in an allied area for as many years as you can.  Develop your knowledge base and save up as much funds as possible. This will make the whole process of making your idea come to fruition much faster. 

When you are ready to start developing your own project, create partnerships.  Develop relationships with research facilities, other businesses, suppliers, clients, and try to access support from Government departments for both funding and networking.   

6)    Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

No. 

7)    Where do you see the business in 5 years’ time?

In five years we see ourselves as the leading manufacturer of building integrated solar roofing materials in Australia and internationally with 30-40 million dollars a year in PV roll from raw materials produced and a further 75-80 million dollars a year in finished solar roofing panels that are sold in Australia and around the world and deployed successfully on hundreds of thousands of roof tops.

8)    What would you suggest that the AIC strives to tell government in Australia around commercialisation? 

There is a fantastic existing model for bringing together industry players and multiple Government funding sources called VISTECH which the Victorian Government operates. 

The program requires Victorian based manufacturers to link up with an Israeli company capable of joint R & D for the purposes of then commercialising Victorian technology into Israel and beyond. 

The program involves bringing together funding from the Victoria Company, Victorian Government, Israeli Company and Israeli Government. 

This mechanism splits the level of risk 4 ways and facilitates a partnership of a Victorian company and Israeli company such that your chances of success are greater than doing something on your own. 

This model is replicated with some other programs but its foundations for creating multiple funding solutions and immediate market access are second to none.  

I would encourage the AIC to reiterate this model to other Government Departments for adoption as far more commercialisation would happen if such programs were in place with more countries. 

I believe that many country’s governments would also support the program in return.   

9)    If you could have been responsible for any innovation, what would it be and why?

I am very happy to be responsible for the development and commercialisation of our building integrated solar roofing panels right now at a time when man’s energy needs are sky rocketing and the need for green energy solutions is needed more than ever from an environmental standpoint. 

To be a pioneer of solar energy products that are more affordable and easier to install is very gratifying.  

10)    Which entrepreneur do you most admire and why?

The entrepreneur I admire most is my late Grandmother, Michelle Bude. 

Michelle was a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania who lost her whole family in the war and survived the horrors of being imprisoned in several concentration camps and death camps. 

She immigrated to Australia in 1960 and brought with her a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit.  She was determined to make something of herself for everything that was taken away from her in the 40’s.  Within a first few months of being in Melbourne, she was actively looking to start a business but didn’t know what to get into.  On a tram ride one day she sat next to a Polish man and asked him what exciting businesses are people getting into in Melbourne.  He told her that “chickens” are becoming a huge trend with people looking for something other than red meat to put on the dinner table. 

At the time though, chickens were sold whole only in butcher stores, often hanging in the butcher’s shop window with the feathers still on.  She had the idea to commercialise the farming of chickens.  She established giant sheds hundreds of metres long and bought hundreds of thousands of day old chicks from breeding co-ops which she also set up. 

She developed specialised food and feeding stations for them, automatic drip watering systems, and thermostatically controlled heating systems and then raised the chicks until they were 16 weeks old.  They were then sent away for processing, where they were killed, de feathered, and cut up and delivered on foam trays to supermarkets right around the country. 

She established Australia’s very first mass production supply of cut up chicken meat.  What is remarkable is that she did this as a Woman in the early 60’s at a time where essentially only men conducted business at this level, let alone negotiated and received bank loans to the scale she did. 

She negotiated millions of dollars in loans with little to no collateral, she set up a whole supply chain having had no experience in chicken farming and production, and she changed the way Australians bought and ate chicken meat. 

Even more remarkable is that she wrote and spoke 8 languages with English being her least proficient language. 

After several very successful years she sold her production facility and invested in property in Victoria and Queensland.  Her chicken business still exists today, albeit a more modernised facility, and is one of the largest poultry businesses in the country. 

Growing up with a Grandmother who was able to achieve anything she wanted simply because she believed in herself has shown me that literally anything is possible for any of my endeavours too. 

www.specialty.com.au



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