Friday, June 20, 2008

Intresto - Intelligent Rearrangement of Stone

In our ongoing coverage of startups coming out of Australia and interviews with CEO's, Media Personalities, Philanthropists, and VC’s, today we showcase an exciting venture and story of an entrepreneur from building industry, Malcom Lambert founder of Intresto - Software for Intelligent Rearrangement of Stones

I did an email based interview with Malcom to explore his thoughts on the progress of his venture and new emerging trends. This is what he has to say:

• What is the name of your venture/company?
Intresto Pty Ltd. The name is derived from “intelligent rearrangement of stone”, something people have been doing for thousands of years but only now do we have the computing power and computer science techniques to allow software to take over the difficult part of the procedure which is the 3d geometric shape fitting of irregular objects.

• Please tell us about your venture/company?
A self-funded tech start-up company developing software for use in the construction industry.

• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
I am the sole owner and director. I worked for some years as an atmospheric physicist with the Australian Antartcic Division where I gained experience with the measurement and analysis of geophysical properties. I then built a house in Tasmania, party out of irregular pieces of stone, and realised there's a problem builders have had for thousands of years and only now do we have the tools to solve that problem. So I set about to develop software which could mimic the way a stone mason builds a drystone wall.

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
Studied physics at UNSW then worked in Narrabri, Antarctica, Tasmania and Germany as an atmospheric physicist before changing careers to inventor/entrepreneur.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
Company incorporated in January 2007 and the project is still in the R&D phase.

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
The main objective is to use computational power rather than industrial power to help build durable structures from locally sourced raw material. To do this Intresto is developing software which will automatically fit together a collection of irregular polyhedra into a regular shape according to general rules of structural stability. The software, interfaced with appropriate scanning hardware, will increase the viability of unprocessed stone as a building material. Unprocessed stone has been extracted from a quarry after blasting but hasn't be subject to any sort of cutting, grinding or heat treatment. It is a very low embodied energy material meaning very low levels of energy are required to produce it. Used as a building material its production results in about 1/10 the greenhouse gas emissions compared to processed and manufactured products such as dimension stone, concrete and brick. The production of just one product, concrete, accounts for 5% of the world\'s greenhouse gas emissions. If unprocessed stone can be used instead of concrete in the construction of sea walls, river levees, landscaping, houses, etc. then it will play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

• What services it provides it for consumer or customers?
The aim is to provide designers and architects with a tool which will make it easier for them to specify a very low embodied energy building material. The software will allow builders to use a cheap, in-situ building material in a wide range of projects. The software will also allow engineers to design and analyse large civil engineering structures constructed from unprocessed blocks of stone each weighing many tonnes.

• What type of customers you are targeting?
Civil engineers, architects, building and landscape designers, builders, coastal protection authorities and the back-yard landscape artist.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
The manufacturers of building products such as concrete blocks and bricks. These are often very large companies which have the difficulty of differentiating their products due to the low-tech nature of their industry.

What are the main technologies used behind this venture?
Proprierty software developed by Intresto and a purpose-built 3D scanner using opto-electronics componentry.

• What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
“Blender” open source 3D graphics and animation package. Takes a while to learn how to drive it but it's free and great for producing animated clips to demonstrate potential uses of emerging technologies.

• Are you using lot of open source tool sets for this?
Yes, in particular the Java development tools. Also open source applications like the Gimp and Open Office which are good to keep costs down when starting up.

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
Java based application is being developed to enable the software to be used across platforms.

• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
About once per month in the Sydney CBD I meet with other tech start-up entrepreneurs at the informal Open Coffee meetup group.

• What’s your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
It's easy to start but if I wasn't self-funded for a while I would find it very tough to keep going. Might have to ask me in a couple of years how tough it is to be successful.

• What government resources have you used to help your business? And have they made an impact?

Have you sought any funding? I often use the government subsidised seminars and workshops at the local Business Enterprise Centres which are very good for people new to the world of business. I have made one unsuccessful R&D grant application but will apply again.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation and the telecom industry?
Definitely reintroduce a broad-based R&D grants scheme to replace Commercial Ready which was scrapped in the recent budget.

• How many business partners you have?

• Any women business partners?

• Any external funding – from VC, Govt, Self funded?
Self funded.

• Do you have any business advisor/mentor?

Thanks Malcom for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, tech trends check this out and our coverage on interviews can be found here

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