Planet Innovation, a Melbourne-based commercialization consultancy and manufacturer, has topped The Australian Financial Review Most Innovative Companies list for the second year in a row.
Planet Innovation topped the rankings, which are judged and compiled by innovation consultancy Inventium, for the culture that produced two inventions from its Box Hill factory – Nplex, a portable diagnostics device, and Zen Thermostat, a connected thermostat that Telstra (as well as several US telcos) integrates into its smart home offering.
It pipped Ivy Collage, an online education provider that developed a proprietary algorithm to predict students’ progression and graduation rates; and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, whose CommBank Property app was named best internal innovation.
Planet Innovation was born as a commercialisation consultancy after its founders – managing director Stuart Elliott and his three executive directors, Sam Lanyon, Troy O’Callaghan and Eduardo Vom – previously founded cancer diagnostics manufacturer Vision Biosystems, whose parent Vision Systems sold to US conglomerate Danaher Corporation for $815 million in 2006.
The pivot into manufacturing began two years ago and was given impetus by a 2015 fundraising that raised $8 million from the likes of Macquarie founder Allan Moss and food magnate Roy Manassen.
Inventium director Amantha Imber defines innovation as “change that adds value”, and Mr Elliott said that chimed with Planet Innovation’s approach.
“We’re not a research organisation, but our skill is looking at a jigsaw puzzle of existing technology – some we’ve generated ourselves, some we’ve licensed in – and putting it together in a commercially-focused way,” he said.
Asia source of parts
Planet Innovation gets all its products’ parts manufactured in Asia, but assembles them at Box Hill and assures they meet regulatory compliance standards.
“Apple became the biggest company in the world by combining three things it didn’t invent – the mobile phone, the digital camera and digital music player – in a way that met customer need,” Mr Elliot said.
Nplex claims to be able to diagnose contagious diseases such as HIV, without the need for a lab. The Nplex is also able to report the exact geographic location of all positive tests for infectious diseases, meaning countries and NGOs can act much faster in the treatment and containment of devastating epidemics and pandemics.
Mr Elliott said the technology was embedded in the portable diagnostics solution of several US companies, which “did not want to reveal to shareholders the fact they had outsourced innovation to us”.
US sales have driven growth in Planet Innovation’s manufacturing division from zero to $10 million turnover in two years, in the context of overall turnover doubling to $35 million in just the 12 months to June 30, 2016. Headcount has doubled in the last year to 184.
The Zen Thermostat was a product of Planet Innovation’s “Eureka Club” internal grant program.
“We gave one of our designers and one of our electronic engineers a few tens of thousands of dollars to get started,” Mr Elliott said.
“Under that program we fund ideas enough to get them to a value inflection point – sometimes it’s a prototype, sometimes it’s repurposing existing technology, where that money is spent on airfares to go and talk to customers.”