Tales from the Incubator
Eric Chung shares his recipe for start-up success
Take two UNSW Computer Engineering graduates with part-time jobs and full-time ambitions. Add evenings, weekends and toss in some great ideas. Pop in the Incubator and simmer, then test on some clients. Stir in feedback and serve. Reap the rewards, then repeat.
This is roughly how it went for Eric Chung and Ricky Chen, who partnered straight out of UNSW on their first start-up company called MineDash. “The journey to this point has been a bit of a daisy chain, where the last product pays for the development of the next,” Eric says. “That’s how we’ve been able to do it without needing to take any loans or investment.”
From footballing robots to accident prevention
Their headline MineDash product was software that could pinpoint the exact location of workers in a mine. After winning major contracts, they were able to quit their jobs and look for other business opportunities. It wasn’t long before one came knocking.
“We were introduced to the manager of a lumber sawmill who had a problem he wanted us to look at,” Eric says. "The manager described a close call where someone got their arm stuck and dragged into the machinery. Luckily they weren’t seriously hurt, but it was a scare.”
Eric and Ricky conceived the idea of installing cameras to monitor the saw operator. If the operator moved too close to the saw, the camera would connect to the hydraulics and turn the saw off. “The reason we had to use cameras as opposed to a laser curtain was because the software needed to differentiate between objects that were allowed to go into the saw (i.e. trees) and objects that weren’t (i.e. people),” Eric says.
“The great thing about that product was that we were able to directly apply the skills that we picked up at UNSW while on the student-led RoboCup football team, rUNSWift. The robots required a lot of vision processing so they could detect the other robots, detect the ball and detect the goal. So we used similar vision-processing software to improve safety in the sawmill.”
Forging new partnerships
After his start-up success and an expanding interest in the business side, Eric returned to UNSW in 2008 to undertake his Masters at the AGSM. By the time he had finished, he gained something that was at least as valuable as the resulting qualification: he met his new business partner. Dr Peter Cronin joined with Eric, Ricky and their other new business partner, Chris Proctor, in 2011 to found healthcare consulting start-up Prospection, which has offices in ATP Innovations, a technology business incubator.
Plucking concepts from the fountain of ideas
Prospection sources most of its data through a contract with the Federal Government. When it first got hold of the data, Eric says they were excited by a “fountain of ideas” … but then they got realistic. “We had that initial excitement of, ‘Man, there are so many opportunities, so many ideas!’ and then we actually went, ‘What should we do? What will our clients actually want?’” What followed was extensive market research and rounds of consultation with potential clients in the pharmaceutical industry.
“It took about six months to get our first prototype up and from there it’s just been iterative,” he says. “With every product we’ve developed, we’ve worked really hard to get to know our customers, understand what they want and service them really well by adding relevant features.”
Since its launch in 2012, flagship platform PharmDash has thrust Prospection to the forefront of pharmaceutical script-data analysis. It is now the market leader, working with more than 30 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Australia.
“PharmDash is a data-analytics tool that analyses trends and patterns in how a patient behaves,” Eric says. “More specifically, it analyses what drugs a patient’s taking, how they progress through different treatments, and how the drugs help them treat their disease.”
Where to from here?
Prospection’s mission is to use data to improve Australian health. Eric says it will continue to make products for its existing clients as well as expand into other healthcare areas.
“My personal aim is to know the challenges our clients’ face so well that we can always be one step ahead of them,” he says. “I want to continue to create products that make clients say, ‘Great! That’s exactly what I need to do my job!”