An innovator’s best friend
When UNSW Electrical Engineer Viriya Chittasy unleashed his inner inventor on a problem facing his young son, little did he know he was laying the groundwork to establish his own company.
You don’t need to talk to Viriya Chittasy for very long to realise he has a special knack for plugging gaps.
As a cadet with Ausgrid, Chittasy enjoyed the benefits of being sponsored through his Electrical Engineering degree at UNSW and immediate exposure, following his graduation in 2012, to a variety of fascinating projects. “In one project, we closed George Street [a main Sydney artery] to install fibre optic cables, which was quite amazing; but one of the most interesting things they gave me was responsibility for the billion-dollar revenue model. That was quite confronting at the time, but after a few months I had senior managers coming to me for advice. It was a great way to start my career.”
With a long-held ambition to start his own company, Chittasy found that day came much sooner than he imagined after some tinkering in his garage ultimately led to the establishment of Innovateur in 2015. “It all started with my frustration at my son’s sippy cup,” says Chittasy. “At home, we had this cupboard full of baby cups for different developmental stages, many of which were completely over-engineered. I came up with a solution that was simple and could be used for several stages of development.
Chittasy designed and prototyped the new cup, applied for a provisional patent, offered it for commercialisation and it wasn’t long before he was signing a licensing agreement with Dr. Brown’s, a big US baby product manufacturer. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I was surprised how accessible it was. I didn’t need a fancy logo or a massive team of experts around me; my strategy was to basically take the idea to the right level at which a company might show some interest in it,” explains Chittasy.
This got him thinking about the gap between an idea and its commercialisation so he and his business partner Kevin Dam started talking to innovators and companies. To test the water publicly, they decided to run a community invention hackathon. The Innovateur Weekend was aimed at helping industrial designers, inventors and entrepreneurs develop and launch a new consumer product in 48 hours. The success of the event came with demand for product development and commercialisation help which led to establishing Innovateur as a company in July 2015.
Chittasy and Dam then started laying the groundwork for Innovateur: “We did a lot of research to find what companies were looking for and what level of IP they were after. We soon realised that it’s not black and white, there’s a grey area where you won’t know if company is willing to take it on unless you ask them and just give it a crack,” he continues.
On the other side of the fence, they also started collecting data on PhDs with IP, inventors, spinoffs and start-ups. What they started to notice was that the success rate between them was almost the same. “We came across a lot of stories of people with a napkin sketch and a crude prototype having equal, if not more, success than many start-ups and some spinoffs. We found a lot of people trying to venture IP through a company, but not many people taking smaller steps and trying to give commercialisation a shot at an earlier stage,” he says.
I came up with a solution that was simple and could be used for several stages of development.
Viriya Chittasy, Partner, Innovateur
“Innovateur is about helping companies source and commercialise new IP from the community of innovators, so universities like UNSW, research institutions, SMEs, start-ups and inventors. During our first year of operation, we realised that the innovation ecosystem had some serious flaws. We witnessed companies investing poorly in R&D and failing to innovate, and a start-up culture creating an enormous supply of new ventures, many of which aren’t solving real problems, so we are working on a series of processes and resources to really help all innovators get their IP out there.”
Although the journey so far has been a fascinating one, Chittasy says that running his own business has come with a pretty steep learning curve. “It’s been eye-opening and a lot harder than I thought. It’s really taught me the value of patience. For instance, we recently spent quite a bit of money on marketing which didn’t work well. Then, on another occasion, simply sharing my thoughts with someone led to some pretty critical meetings. That’s a great example of how being patient and open can be much better than trying to be in control.”
Chittasy believes that engineers are in interesting times and the best way to face the future is to focus on what engineering is about at its core: problem solving. “No job is safe. I’ve seen people in jobs for 20-30 years as experts made redundant at the click of a finger. I think that’s why there is such a big move towards people becoming entrepreneurs,” he says.
Luckily for these entrepreneurs they now have Innovateur on hand to help them turn their ideas into a commercial reality.
Find out more
If you are interested in talking to Viriya more about his company or want to get involved, please contact him via email.