Small Business: Reaping rewards of R&D thrust

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David Brebners's company Unlimited Realities develops touch screen software. Photo / Richard Robinson
David Brebners's company Unlimited Realities develops touch screen software. Photo / Richard Robinson

For some New Zealand businesses, investing in research and development is not optional. It is the only way to survive in a constantly changing market.

Palmerston North-based Unlimited Realities is a software development company that spends more than 30 per cent of revenue on R&D. It develops products under two key brands: UMAJIN, with the soon to launch UMAJIN App Builder; and Fingertapps, for apps that enable collaborative creativity and learning. The apps sell through OEMs and on the Microsoft Windows store.

More than 25 million Fingertapps apps have shipped, powered by the core Unlimited Realities touch screen technology for Windows systems.

With its 3D, gesture and multi-touch capabilities, Fingertapps has won contracts with global technology companies that has seen many of its applications preinstalled on Dell, Sony, Acer, Asus and HP computers.

The business won the contract to do the touch suite for Dell worldwide in 2009.

"Dell and the Fingertapps touch suite we created were the only consumer multi-touch solution to ship with Windows Vista," says company founder David Brebner.

"On the back of that, we won the contract to provide the core infrastructure for all of Dell's consumer machines." This was called the "Dell Stage".

Brebner, the company's CEO, launched Unlimited Realities in 1996. He works closely with co-founder and brother Russell, who focuses on new product development.

The company has 18 staff and spends a large chunk of revenue on R&D.

"It's the nature of the business. We are working on technology before it has shipped to consumers and building apps which do things no one has done before. There are always new challenges to take on.

"Everyone can contribute. R&D is saying 'how can we apply this in ways people have not considered and commercialise it?'."

Despite the slowdown in the consumer Windows market, the company has continued to launch touch and gestural apps built on the UMAJIN platform, such as Kung Pow Kevin, a rhythm action game.

In 2003, the government awarded Unlimited Realities a $300,000 R&D grant, which the company matched.

"We appointed three industry experts to act as a referee panel - we thought it a good setup from which to do our own R&D.

"From there we launched our first products and customer applications using the original UMAJIN engine."

These days, Brebner is advised by a board that includes chair Sam Knowles and Christina Domecq.

In December this year, the subscription-based UMAJIN App Builder will be launched.

"It will be not just for Windows, but for Android and iOS too," says Brebner. "We believe it will be quite disruptive."

He plans a San Francisco office to support the launch.

- NZ Herald

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