home Disrupt the Disrupters Bridging the old and new economies – Interview with Nick Curtis AM

Bridging the old and new economies – Interview with Nick Curtis AM

Margot Cairnes interviews entrepreneur and innovator Nick Curtis AM on how to create a vision for a business that inspires and motivates its people. Nick can be described as a “serial entrepreneur” and market disrupter, whose business interests bridge the divide between the old economy and the new digital economy.

Nick’s joint interest in mining and health, combined with his constant curiosity about technology and trends has led him to use his entrepreneurial talents in two very different ventures. Firstly, Nick is a co-founder of digital startup E-Nome. E-Nome is using blockchain technology to revolutionise the management of health and medical records. E-Nome aims to empower the health service consumer by letting them aggregate all their medical history on their own mobile device whilst preserving full privacy.

Nick is also the CEO of BBI Pty Ltd. BBI is currently developing 50 integrated port and rail infrastructure projects in the Pilbara WA. As a market disrupter he has been asked to chair the World Economic Forum’s Global Growth Companies committee which decides which companies have the potential to become leaders in the global economy.

Along the way Nick has been Chairman of St Vincent Health Network Sydney, Director of the Garvan Institute and is currently Chairman of St Vincent’s Campus Research Council.

How to shape a Business

Nick believes that the nature of the business is less important than the capacity to create a vision for the business behind which you harness people’s energy. “Entrepreneurs take a blank canvass and stretch it out into an opportunity that ultimately delivers an outcome. To do this you must understand the framework of the industry in which you operate.”

The framework in mining and hi-tech are different. Mining is a long-term play, as Nick has experienced, “Once you have committed, failure is extremely expensive. You can’t change the route of a railway line. You have to get it right first up. The lead time, planning and expense involved is immense”.

In hi-tech you must have agility to change on the fly as you combine consumer interactions and feedback with the design process. The barriers to entry are lower and tolerance to correct things is high. The key to success is knowing what problem you are solving. “When we started E-Nome we had a great concept – a great tool without an application .We eventually worked out the precise problem we were in business to solve.”

Straddling two worlds

Nick sees mining as a “linear world – as you move from concept to design to production– a world of fact versus intuition.” The digital world is a combination of fact based engineering layered into a more conceptual world that is very agile and can change quickly.

While it takes $6 billion to finance a BBI range of projects, E-Nome, which will deliver to consumers on their mobile application all their medical records, will only cost a couple of million to get to proof of concept. While there is order in the digital economy, it is a world in which change is inherent as opposed to mining where change is resisted.

Customer relationships and change

To ensure the success of your venture, Nick emphasises watching macro trends. In the mineral space, there is dynamic change all the time. In particular, economic circumstances change constantly. The price of commodities fluctuates daily, new markets open and close, technology changes and costs vary constantly.

In E-Nome change is in consumers expectations. A current societal trend is consumer empowerment (particularly of the young) to own their personal data. This is a growing trend in the medical world. Nick believes there is a sizeable challenge to the hierarchical medical model, where the empowered patient has access to information and is part of the treatment decision. This is being driven by unprecedented technological change and innovation in healthcare,

To survive in that changing world healthcare providers must know, “Who is our customer and how does our customer think?”

How hard has it been?

Nick advises aspiring entrepreneurs and startups, “It’s harder than you think at the beginning, it takes longer and is more expensive, and you probably make less money than you wanted. This is the same in both mining and hi-tech industries. The defining success feature that will get you through is resilience and passion for the journey”.

Nick believes that business leaders and executives do three things – they shape the business, they support the business and they safeguard the business. Unfortunately, Australian leaders and their organisations overly focus on safeguarding. Companies that are overly risk averse will not change or take advantage of new and emerging trends.

Risk aversion constrains brain power. “We need to see failure as learning and embrace it, put innovative people into key positions, empower them, provide political support and not restrict them with a lot of process”.

Margot Cairnes

Margot Cairnes is fascinated by digital disruption. An expert in rapid complex discontinuous change Margot helps individuals, teams, whole companies and communities harness the energy of change. Margot suggests that if you aren’t being disrupted you will soon be disrupted. The only sensible way to deal with change is to create it.