Sharpening up to woo US national security

By Mark Peart, National Business Review, 5 May 2006.

From kooky to GQ the floral shirts are out for one of New Zealand's most promising program developers.

The owners of an award-winning software program that aids decision-making by ranking user preferences is trying to crack the growing US homeland security market. Dunedin- based 1000minds (formerly Point*Wizard) is the developer of a point-and-click software programme (NBR, September 30, 2005) which is based on a combination of selected criteria and answers to specific questions.

Owned by Paul Hansen, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Otago, and Franz Ombler, a Wellington information technology specialist, 1000minds has approached the Chesapeake Innovation Centre (CC) in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. CIC is a business incubator and technology commercialization hub whose focus includes the development of firms specialising in homeland security technology. CIC has been developing partnerships with federal agencies, universities, and key corporations in the US as it seeks to develop new companies in the homeland security, defence, communications and IT sectors.

Dr Hansen said the CIC was funded mainly by large companies associated with the US military and aerospace industries 'the world's biggest spy agency, the US National Security Agency, is one of the funding partners.

"They (CIC) partner up outside IP (intellectual property) such as ours with American companies that could have a use for it. We're in there and on their hooks and they're assessing us and trying to decide whether there’s a fit there.

“Whether it wines off or not, you just can't tell." 1000minds' track record is mainly in diagnosing or prioritizing patients for health treatment, which was the catalyst for Dr Hansen developing the program in the first place. He's been interested for nearly a decade in refining New Zealand's healthcare points prioritization system to make it more accurate and fairer.

The amiable Dr Hansen was well known on the Otago University campus for his long hair and floral shirts — unconventional garb for a leading economist and former senior Treasury analyst. But the commercialization game has had an effect on his appearance. The long hair has been cut and the shirts are more mainstream, all part of the steep commercial learning curve he's on.

Having smart technology is one thing, but looking smart can also help in wooing business partners. Across the Atlantic, 1000minds is trying to interest the UK's National Health Service in its software, because of the NHS's similarity to the New Zealand public health system, including troublesome waiting list management issues.

"The thing I’m learning is that you don't know what's going to happen, but you've just got to keep things in the pipeline," Dr Hansen said. He said he and Mr Ombler would definitely license the program at some point. “There are so many different possible applications that we’ll license the technology for a particular application while maintaining our interest in areas we want to continue in.

The company has secured two New Zealand patents this year and has begun a three to four year process to secure patents in the US, Canada, and Australia.

"There won’t be much change out of 100 grand for the patent process so we've really had to decide: are we in this seriously, or not? We are."