Mark Engelhardt tells us how his software company has been doubling business year on year
Australian Mark Engelhardt decided to set up his software company in the UK rather than in his homeland. He tells Startups.co.uk why he chose to do this and what motivated him to launch SEAMS.
Since its formation in 2002 SEAMS has grown continually, doubling its business each year, achieving a turnover of £1.3 million in 2004. However, Engelhardt’s outlook contrasts with that of many business founders.
“My goal wasn’t to be an entrepreneur, so I’ve never really looked at this community for inspiration, he says. “My goal is to produce the best decision support technology in the world and deliver it for the good of the clients.
“To want to be an entrepreneur first, and then wonder what you want to deliver might be putting the cart before the horse.”
His company has developed software (entitled WiLCO) that he says will help utilities companies manage their assets better and deliver better service to their customers. Engelhardt believes in his product and has high ambitions.
“Our primary focus is on making WiLCO the pre-eminent decision technology in the world.”
He has got off to a good start, netting contracts from some of the water industry’s biggest players such as, Scottish Water, Severn Trent and United Utilities. This, however, has not been easy.
“In all industries we have approached, the main challenges are cultural issues. Technology generally replaces what was done before. This requires change in respect of new ways of doing things, new business processes and ‘living’ with new technology.
“For most organisations this represents a major undertaking, which the business benefits of the technology must overcome. This increases time to sale, which is always a challenge for a small company.”
He now wants to extend his business to other utility and says that WiLCO is up to the job.
“WiLCO can be deployed across a range of sectors, including water, rail, gas and electricity.”
“There is a large gap in every industry with regard to the improving of decisions. Increasingly both private and public institutions have to improve their decisions and are made more accountable through more rigorous auditing.”
The future looks good for the business, however for a while Englehardt’s future looked to be in doubt when his application for permanent residency in the UK failed.
However, he applied to the Home Office to join the ‘Innovators Scheme’ that allows foreign entrepreneurs to set up base in this country provided it that creates jobs for at least two British nationals.
Had it not been for this then it is possible that WiLCO may never have seen the light of day.
“The scheme enabled me to stay in the UK during the process of setting up and starting the company. Without the scheme I would have to leave the country and set it up from overseas. This would have been too expensive and inevitably led to me doing something else.”
Engelhardt has designed his product with the UK specifically in mind and doesn’t think that it would work back home.
He explains: “The technology was created due to the requirements of a privatised utility industry – which is not the case in Australia. Finally the impact of limited infrastructural resources has a greater impact on everyday life here in the UK.”
Another challenge that Enghelhardt faced was one that so many first time entrepreneurs face – funding.
“The challenge facing the business in the early days was funding.
“Spinning out of a university, our companies received support in the form of warm fuzzy feelings. However, these quickly disappear when the cold reality of business comes knocking.
“Initially, my business partner (Pete Skipworth) and I funded the project ourselves. Once established and proven we were able to get grants through the regional funds. More recently we have had investment from SYIF.”
Engelhardt appears to see himself more as a scientist than a businessman, however he sees the gulf between the two groups as being unhealthy.
“Any scientist who manages to take ideas and make them into successful products and services should be an inspiration to us all. It’s a rare thing to be able to bridge the gap or survive in both worlds.
“It’s too rare, and points to the fact that the scientific and business community need to make efforts to understand each other better.”
Engelhardt has some straightforward advice for anyone who might be considering a route into business themselves.
“Focus on the three E’s – energy, expertise and enterprise. Energy like enthusiasm is infectious – energise others as well as yourself. And make sure the energy has the duration to drive through bad times as well as good.
“In terms of expertise – recognise your own, where it needs to improve, and where you need others. For any technology entrepreneurs – don’t be too proud. Your value might not be in business, or communication.
“Try your best at these things and work to improve and make yourself and more rounded entrepreneur. But have the good sense to bring in people who are expert in these areas.”