In 1983, while he was a young banker working in Sydney’s growing financial markets, Adam Lyle joined the NSW Entrepreneurs Workshop. His first project was a stair-wheelchair.
While financially the chair went nowhere, his interest in innovation and entrepreneurship has not waned since that time.
For 15 years Mr Lyle has been based in Asia, first in Taiwan and then for the past decade in Singapore.
A couple of weeks ago on February 18, he was judging the Design Singapore Council Designathon 2017, a hackathon aimed at creating applications for people persons with various disabilities.
“One of the entrants was a prototype enabling wheelchairs to travel easily over sand, and another a hover-board attached to a manual chair to make it automated,” he tells InnovationAus.com. “So 33 years later, it’s kind of back to where the journey started”.
The Designathon was one of the regular hackathons conducted by Padang & Co, a company that Mr Lyle co-founded.
It came at the end of a busy week during which the company launched LEVEL3, its new co-working facility venture with Unilever Foundry, the arm of the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant set up to engage with startups.
Unsurprisingly, LEVEL3 is on the 3rd floor of Unilever’s headquarters
“LEVEL3 builds on our existing relationship with Unilever in recent years where we have been helping the group to identify start-ups in Asia that might be worthwhile partners for them to build pilots with and scale ,” Mr Lyle says.
The partners have described LEVEL3 as a new generation in co-working spaces, a longer-term facility that is part of an ecosystem where startups can get direct access to one of the world’s largest consumer goods groups.
“LEVEL3 not only provides the physical space that startups need, but will also manage a calendar of organised events – including fireside chats with entrepreneurs and industry leaders, networking events and mentoring programs by Unilever and even for Unilever employees,” the group said in a statement.
LEVEL3 has so far attracted 15 start-ups from around Asia and the US.
Mr Lyle reckons it’s a great opportunity for any Australian companies who are working in marketingtech, adtech and products & ingredients, new business model innovation and social impact.
“Singapore is a great place for Aussie companies to set up and expand to the rest of Asia. Austrade’s Landing Pad provides a short term ‘look and see,’ while LEVEL3 provides an ongoing space to be based for those interested in using it as a springboard to work with Unilever, its partners and other start ups as they scale across Asia,” he said.
Mr Lyle got his first taste of Asia – and a vast new world of business opportunities available for Australians and Australian businesses in 2001 when he spent “a lot of time in Malaysia” consulting to telecoms on customer segmentation.
Mr Lyle gained his telecoms chops during a three year stint at then startup telecommunications group Optus from 1993-1996 before spending the next three years running Ticketek ahead of its sale into dotcom era digital conglomerate eCorp.
A year after his Malaysian stint he went to Taiwan for a four week consultancy gig and stayed for four years, consulting to local banks and finance houses on “balanced scorecard” implementation before joining Quest Worldwide an English-Australian change management company.
After the global financial crisis Quest decided to shut its office; Lyle was offered a full time senior job back in Sydney which he describes as “a great offer for someone in their mid 50s who had left Oz as a consultant.”
“But I decided that I didn’t want to be in Sydney reading in the press about the Asian Century and saying to myself that I should have stayed,” he said. “I figured I had unfinished business in Asia but had a long term plan of working a bridge between Asia and Australia.”
Mr Lyle began a sustainability consultancy drawing on change management principles combined with an office assessment tool, but admits, “people liked the tool but didn’t want to pay, it really should have been an app”
In Singapore, he met Briton Daryl Arnold founder of Newton Circus Pte Ltd, who pitched his vision for doing good is good business.
“I invested a small amount in Newton Circus which funded the first major hackathon in Singapore – UP Singapore – UP stands for urban prototyping. 300 people joined over two weekends. I actually attended and formed a team built an app, ClimateRight and we came second. I was hooked.”
After Newton Circus ran five hackathons, Mr Lyle was convinced to join the company full time, drawing on his management consulting and training experience to take the product into the corporate market.
“I didn’t want to head it up and we found our third co-founder Derrick Chiang, a Singaporean in Australia who had help build Daryl’s previous business in China,” he says.
In October 2013 the three entrepreneurs incorporated all of Newton Circus’ open innovation activities under the name of Padang & Co with Chiang as CEO and Lyle as Executive Chairman.
Padang is a Malay word meaning open field, plus the padang is the iconic field at the centre of Singapore.
“We have done 36 hackathons and 12 data challenges since then,” Mr Lyle says.
“What I love about the innovation space is that it is all about the future and is naturally optimistic. It often involves young people not restricted in their thinking … bold thinkers.
“And let’s face it, if any time in recent history needs bold thinkers, now is that time. There are too many people turning inwards. We want to look out, and go new places.”
He believes Australian technology companies should, too.