As any entrepreneur will tell you, business ideas can pop up when you least expect it. Eoin Byrne, founder of Perth start up Scancam, is no different.
Stopping to fill up with fuel late one evening Eoin noticed the attendant writing down the licence plate of every vehicle arriving at the petrol station. He couldn’t believe this was standard practice, with attendants manually keeping records in case vehicles drive off without paying. Eoin immediately saw an opportunity and realised the potential to create a better system.
Sharing his idea with friend Anthony Schmidt, Scancam was soon born. As Anthony, Scancam’s CEO explains, “Scancam is a fuel theft deterrent and prevention system. We work with fuel retailers to reduce losses from driver thefts through licence plate recognition using cameras mounted in petrol stations. We cross check the data to a database of offenders. If there is a match the staff are informed via an iPad console within seconds and can prevent a potential theft by requesting pre-payment.”
After Eoin and Anthony’s initial brainstorming session, it didn’t take long for the two friends to get started on their project. “We started off buying a few cameras and putting them up in the driveway,” Anthony says. “We then moved on to testing with Lego petrol stations before finally installing cameras into a real petrol station to observe the way vehicles move – this was one of the biggest challenges.”
From there, they still had to create the final product – what the end user experience would be. “It took us six months to write the system into a document we call our ‘bible’. We took this to developers and they coded it up from there.”
Whilst software can be difficult to patent, it was their process and how they combined all the different components that was unique and innovative. Eoin and Anthony knew they needed the secure their innovation.
“Our core product, our bible, is our IP”, Anthony says. “Protecting it is vital.” Mark Pullen, a patent and trade mark attorney at Watermark was recommended by a friend and they have worked with him from day one.
“Mark basically put all the pieces of the puzzle together to help draft our patent and what we are actually protecting. It was a very good process and it was extremely beneficial to work with someone who is extremely experienced in the field. They’ve got to look at both the art in identifying what the IP is and how to protect that, which can be quite tricky”.
Anthony’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to always seek out objective advice. “From the outset we sought feedback on everything we do and every decision we make. When you are close to a project you can be a bit emotional and not always make objective business decisions.”
When is comes to IP, Anthony is quick to point out that that while every dollar is precious for a start up, it pays to seek advice from a professional to explore your options and invest in protecting your IP. “It is worth the initial up front costs. If you don’t secure your IP, it could cost you more down the track and hurt your business.”
Recently coming to the end of their R&D phase, Scancam have now launched nationally with their product available to petrol stations throughout Australia. What’s next for this Perth duo? With their sights set on the UK market this inspiring local start up is set to go global!