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In focus: Justin Strharsky, Founder of Unearthed accelerator

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We spoke to former Silicon Valley entrepreneur Justin Strharsky, the founder of the unique resources start-up ecosystem Unearthed accelerator in Perth, Western Australia.

''The Unearthed Accelerator will help fifty startups in the next five years with seed capital, connections to customers, and the best mentors in industry.''

Justin Strharsky, Founder of Unearthed

Perth’s status as a global resources hub with innovative, entrepreneurial expertise and spirit have fostered a world class mining and resources technology sector. Sixty percent of global mining software is in fact created in Western Australia.                                         
From huge multinationals such as Rio Tinto pioneering remote controlled tech such as unmanned trains and mine operations to award winning small innovators like Newton Labs creating Internet of Things (IOT) technology, saving mining companies in productivity and efficiency gains. 

Mining, oil and gas industries across the globe are utilising Perth’s supercomputers. The Pawsey supercomputer, for example is the most powerful computer for IOT big data analysis in the southern hemisphere. 

Tell us a bit about the ‘Unearthed accelerator’ and its prime focus?

The global resources industry faces $1 trillion of economic impact from disruptive technologies by 2025. We believe that technology startups will drive much of this change. They have the right structure, methodology, and tools to quickly test hypotheses about new technologies and business models in a market. They are able to fail fast and often, this occurs on the way to finding what works. They are the most efficient and cost-effective way to bring new products to market.

The Unearthed Accelerator will help fifty startups in the next five years with seed capital, connections to customers, and the best mentors in industry.

Tell us about some exciting new technology you’ve seen through your accelerator program which is bound to disrupt the Australian resources industry.

We have seen lots of new technologies emerging from the Unearthed programs, as well as lots of existing technologies applied to the resources industry in new ways.  Some major themes are sensors, predictive analytics, and signal processing. In fact, the vast majority of these technologies won't be disruptive to the industry - they will contribute to the efficiency and competitiveness of the companies that adopt them.  We do expect to encounter the rare disruptive innovation emerging from the Unearthed programs. These, on the other hand, although they will leverage new technology, will be disruptive because of novel business models.

What competitive advantage does WA have in the resources tech start-up sector?

Australia in general, and WA in particular, has a density of industry customers, projects, and researchers. We have a history of building a previous generation of software and technology tools for the industry. We have the leadership and expertise of this previous generation of entrepreneurs as guides and mentors.

However, research from StartupWA and others shows that our entrepreneurs are largely ignoring the incredible opportunities in the sector. Many are building businesses focused on smaller (by contribution to GDP) sectors with more international competition. If we want to retain our competitive advantage and truly become the resources innovation hub of the world, we will have to act decisively to attract talented technologists and entrepreneurs.

What big plans/initiatives will Unearthed be involved in during 2017?

Our efforts in 2017 will be focused on expanding our international community of innovators, and on bringing the best teams here to Australia where we can assist them to scale their technology companies. We'll be running hackathons and online competitions around the world to connect top technical talent with industry challenges.  We'll also begin providing select startups with capital and mentorship so that they can quickly bring their new products to market.

Have there been any overseas success stories out of the program?

Absolutely.  We've created opportunities for innovators in many countries to showcase their talents and technologies to industry.  Most recently, at our week-long hardware hackathon Shield-X, 19 teams participated from 9 countries: Australia, China, Sweden, Estonia, Zambia, Canada, the US, Chile, and Germany.

Tell us a bit about the Hackathons that you run all around the world?

Our hackathons connect the resources sector challenges to talented innovators around the world. We've seen over 200 teams and technology prototypes at our hackathons.  Some of the solutions developed have already made a significant impact to the bottom line of our industry partners.

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