Energy and natural resources sector ripe for startup innovation

When it comes to innovation I often use the quote, sometimes attributed to Einstein, that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. I equally use my co-founder Aaron Carter’s quote: “The difference between an idea and innovation is the ability to execute.”


The Energy and Natural Resources sector is a giant industry with very specific characteristics, and very strict risk profiles. To foster change in ENR companies, you need to create fit-for-purpose, practical innovation that actually works. It’s about thinking differently, challenging the way things have always been done – and implementing proven new technologies or cross-pollinating credible existing technology from other industries.


Take for example the power of satellite imagery. Advances is this area (by the end of 2015, there will be over 40 high-resolution imagery satellites sending images to earth) are enabling new and exciting opportunities across a variety of industries.


Currently, the mining sector uses a combination of ground surveys and aerial fly-overs to determine the volumes of mining stockpiles on a monthly or more frequent basis. But in 2014, Sandpit Innovation partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop and launch mineRECON – a system which uses satellite imagery and intelligent analytics to replace these manual processes. By using regular space-based flyovers and advanced algorithms to automate this process, mineRECON provides a cheaper and safer alternative to current practice, helping mines to avoid costly and time intensive reconciliation processes which also have major health and safety risks.


The opportunities to use new technology to revolutionize how the mining industry works are not confined to space. When working with Sandpit clients, we came across a major problem they were experiencing in bulk handling – faulty conveyor rollers were causing costly delays – and huge maintenance costs. We worked side-by-side with engineering firm Lewis Engineering to create an automated solution. The result of that work is the Spidler, an award-winning automated robotic roller change-out device that provides a holistic asset management solution and can replace faulty conveyor rollers, while the conveyor continues operation.


Throughout my career I’ve had first-hand experience of how important it is to innovate to survive in the ENR industry. I started my career in aluminium smelting at Comalco’s Bell Bay in Tasmania – a low-margin business, which was very small on the world market scale but had a real fighting spirit to innovate and stay competitive. It was there I learned that if you sit still and don’t more forward, you’ll be quickly left behind.


While I was heading the business improvement department of Rio Tinto in Perth I saw the enormity of the opportunity – ENR is an industry in which even minor incremental efficiency can have massive bottom line impact.


It is this opportunity that led to the foundation of Sandpit Innovation – where our small team helps our clients to find competitive advantage through innovation, technology and product development. In the two and a half years since we launched we have secured four patents, and have another seven pending, we have registered five trademarks and commercialised three products. And we have only just scratched the surface.

That is why we are extremely excited about the opportunity to participate in KPMG’s Energise program. It is a fantastic opportunity to work with a team of expert mentors to improve our business model, to challenge how we do things to grow our startup.


It’s also an opportunity to collaborate with twelve major ENR industry players – to open new avenues for our existing products and to develop new ones. Most of all, the successful launch of a large-scale ENR accelerator proves the point that now more than ever is the time to disrupt the sector with new ways of thinking.


Sarah Coleman is the director and co-founder of Sandpit Innovation.

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