Hills Ltd has offered budding Australian innovators and entrepreneurs funding, development and a path to market as the business focuses on next-gen technology solutions. 

Hills plans to become the pipeline for tech start-ups in Australia and to kick its project off, has called for ideas, projects and start-ups to be pitched to the company for funding, development and commercialisation at Hills’ Adelaide-based Innovation Centre. 

It’s a move that might appear left-field to a local audience but sheets home directly to comments Hills’ MD Ted Pretty made earlier in the year that have materialised as strong alliances with universities and the State Government in South Australia. At the time Pretty’s comments could have been interpreted as enthusiasm but clearly Hills is serious about this initiative and has been working on it for some time.

According to Pretty, when Hills’ management team “looked at where we make our money and where the growth is going to come from, it’s in the electronics and communication space. 

“So we said…let’s focus on those (areas of the business) that can generate growth – healthcare, education and security. And the trick is to innovate on top of that…we have to get moving and innovate or we won’t survive.  

“The reality of it is we have to partner, we can’t think we can do all this by ourselves,” Pretty said. “We need to partner with universities, to incubate new businesses alongside our existing business. There is a lot of ingenuity in Australia – the issue is getting it to market.” 

Hills' Leica Ison

According to Hills’ chief technology officer, Leica Ison, official ‘Pitch Day’ on November 12 would help identify the best talent and brightest ideas and bring their products or services to market. 

“Hills has always passionately believed and backed Australia’s innovation potential,” she said. “Through Pitch Day, we are looking to identify and support the very best talent that Australia has to offer. 

“Start-ups will be able to access funding, business assistance and the use of our  Digital Research and Commercialisation Centre in Adelaide to accelerate the development of their products and services. Ultimately, what we want to do is help foster a really vibrant start-up culture and grow a pipeline of technology-driven products and services.”

Meanwhile, South Australia's Innovation Minister Susan Close said support for home-grown entrepreneurs in the early stages of developing their ideas is essential for growing a new generation of businesses.

“The State Government’s support for the Hills Innovation Centre is about creating a platform for South Australians to pitch their ideas so they can take them to the next level of development,” she said. 

The Innovation Centre is already supporting its first major project – a new nurse call handset for the growing number of hospital patients and aged care residents living with arthritis, with a further three projects in the pipeline this year. 

Applications for Pitch Day open on Monday 8 September and close on 14 October 2014. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to attend the Hills Pitch Day in Adelaide on 12 November 2014, where they will be given the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a panel of commercial and academic experts. 

The University of South Australia is a key player in a partnership with Hills. The partnership, together with Flinders University, is seeing the ongoing development of 2 new innovation centres in South Australia underpinned by an $A5 million co-contribution from Hills and the State Government.

The 2 new Centres – the Lance Hill Design Centre (named after the inventor of the Hills hoist) and the Digital Research and Commercialisation Centre – will be showcases for smart collaboration in the State, engaging students, independent designers and innovators, researchers and businesses, to collaborate on projects, incubate new ideas and products, and commercialise new designs.

UniSA Vice Chancellor, Professor David Lloyd

At the partnership announcement in February 2014, UniSA Vice Chancellor, Professor David Lloyd, said the project was an example of how clever cities deliver innovation, increase their connectivity, and build capacity for the future.

“This project is an exemplar of how we need to approach business development in the State into the future,” Professor Lloyd said.

“The hallmarks of successful enterprises is that they develop strategic collaborations; harness talents across the spectrum from the theoretical to the practical; have a guiding notion of the problems that need to be solved, and a practical way to make good ideas a reality. This partnership ticks all those boxes.

“This partnership continues our long association with Hills, a South Australian company that has nurtured the careers of many of our graduates in design and engineering. It fosters important collaboration with Flinders University so that we can each bring our research strengths to the table.”

Meanwhile at the announcement in February, Ted Pretty said Hills was "delighted with the support we have had from the State Government and the enthusiasm showed by the universities in working with us."

He said 5 new permanent roles would be created immediately with the potential of material increases of up to 50 new staff as the new innovation centres mature.

“We hope the centres will also stimulate and indirectly support up to 30 additional local researchers and developers. We also plan to reinvest 50 per cent of after tax profits earned in the first 3 years on any IP developed in the centres up to the $2.5m committed by Government."

Hills is targeting its support towards projects that fit into the following priority areas: 

* Security and safety
* Automation and smart home
* Data analytics
* Communications and mobility
* Health and aged care or assisted living
* Lifestyle and well-being (wearable devices)