No lack of ideas among entrepreneurs
Let me introduce you to Oscar. He's a four and a half year old boy with cerebral palsy, the middle child of three and cute as a button.
Cerebral palsy is the result of damage to the motor control centres in the brain, and in Oscar's case affects his ability to walk and talk.
He has a walker that enables him to move around on normal surfaces, but when on the beach near his home at Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland, he was left stranded and frustrated on the sand while the other children played around him.
That got his entrepreneurial dad, Grant Straker, thinking.
Straker and his wife, Merryn, have an 11-year-old software company, Straker Interactive, which they recently morphed into a translations company.
They discovered they made better money flogging translation services worldwide via their unique pay-per-hour business model than by trying to flog the software that made it easier for other people to do translations.
They say their innovative technology means they can offer translations - in around 100 languages - for about half the price of their competitors and a lot faster. One recent job alone for US-based email marketer MailChimp involved 68 languages. Some 90 per cent of sales are generated online from clients globally.
They're hoping their new business model will see the private company hit $3 million revenue this year and they're aiming to reach $10m by this time next year, providing they can source new investment to help them grow.
But back to Oscar. Despite his business going gangbusters, Straker tired of watching his son's speechless frustration on the beach and decided to use the entrepreneurial skills he'd honed over the past decade to build him an all-terrain walker. And once entrepreneurs have an idea, you're hard pressed to stop them.
Inspiration also came from Christchurch-based Yikes Bike founder Grant Ryan, who spoke at last year's annual Morgo conference for entrepreneurs about the joys of physically building a good idea from the ground up.
The tools went flying in Straker's basement garage (though his wife won't let him buy power tools because he leaves them lying around).
A wooden prototype emerged based on three-wheeled child buggies that could easily manoeuvre over sand. A mate welded a metal version, but the prototype with three big tyres of equal size tipped backwards. Back to the basement.
Out came a new prototype. This one tipped sideways. Back to the basement.
Out came a four-wheel design that had two big wheels at the front and two smaller wheels at the back providing direction. It worked - so well that Oscar prefers it to his government-supplied one because it goes faster on all surfaces.
Three months after Straker disappeared into the basement they had a new walker that's lightweight, folds in half so it can be easily carried around, and fits a canvas seat on front when Oscar gets too tired to walk anymore.
Straker has since built a couple more for other cerebral palsy children, including a friend of Oscar's who lives with his solo mum on a farm at Waipukurau and had found it difficult getting around the paddocks.
Straker may have come up with a clever idea, but lacks the time and money, given how fast his own company is growing, to do much more with it. He wants to focus on his core business so they can afford costly stem cell treatment for Oscar in the US.
Rather than have the prototype walker languish in the basement though, Straker would dearly love another entrepreneurial type to take it on and build more walkers that could be sold to families at a discounted rate through the Cerebral Palsy Society. There's a lot more Oscars out there.
- © Fairfax NZ News