23 February 2015

Local leaders - Mitchell Harmer (SignOnSite)

| Amy M
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Mitchell Harmer SignOnSite

On a construction site, there are few things more important than ensuring that workers are safe. Canberra entrepreneur Mitchell Harmer and the team at SignOnSite have developed a smartphone app with the potential to save lives during a work site evacuation or building collapse.

Mitchell cofounded SignOnSite with Peter Marshall, David Linsell and Alexandria Garlan in 2013. The aim was to allow workers to sign on and off construction sites using their smartphones, but after consultation with industry it became clear that the platform could do much more than manage sign on processes. It could also keep workers safe in the event of an emergency.

“Traditionally, if there’s an emergency on site and you need to evacuate, a siren blasts and you hope that everyone hears. With SignOnSite, the warning is delivered straight to the individual,” Mitchell explains.

“We’re also working on a feature that tracks where people in the building are located to make it easier for rescue teams to find trapped workers. If someone is knocked unconscious, their phone will tell people that they’re on level five, in room 105, so emergency responders know where to go.”

This feature will be available in 2015, and Mitchell says the SignOnSite team is working closely with ACT Emergency Services and the construction industry to ensure that it performs as required.

He says that the construction industry is more innovative than you may think.

“The construction industry is actually ahead of its time when it comes to the level of outsourcing and productivity through people management. Where it falls behind is processes, but technology has now caught up and is allowing the industry to take the next step, which is where we come in.”

While Mitchell’s understanding of the construction industry is extensive, this wasn’t always the case. Prior to developing SignOnSite, he had no construction experience. Instead of viewing this as a disadvantage, Mitchell says it allowed him to offer a fresh perspective.

“If you’re hungry for knowledge, you can find ways to solve problems in any industry. I’m able to develop innovative products for the construction industry because I’m curious and see things in a different way compared to those who have been in the industry for years,” he says.

On the topic of different perspectives, Mitchell also says that aspiring entrepreneurs shouldn’t feel pressured to find a mentor immediately.

“There’s a lot that needs to happen for a startup to work, and if you don’t understand what you need from a mentor, or how they can help, then you risk bring on a mentor at the wrong stage.

“If you’re trying to work out how to get your first customer, you probably don’t need someone with a PhD from ANU as a mentor. You need a hustler, which is a completely different skill set,” he says.

He says that aspiring entrepreneurs may be better off learning from the experiences of others, particularly those involved in the local startup ecosystem, rather than relying on others to make critical business decisions.

“You can’t depend on other people to make your decisions for you, but you can learn from how they make decisions.”

Mitchell, who is a committee member at InnovationACT, says that another benefit of connecting with like-minded groups in Canberra is that it provides a common ground to discuss ideas.

“InnovationACT is an easy stepping stone into the startup ecosystem in Canberra. And while everyone knows everyone, there’s more to the community than that. Compared to Sydney, Melbourne or Perth, the relationships you build in Canberra seem more authentic. It’s not just about handing out business cards. Personally, I’m always trying to add value, and that’s an innate quality in a lot of people in Canberra.”


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