There’s often a large gap between science and business, but by successfully being able to hold hands in both camps, AbacusBio has expanded internationally beyond its southern origins.
The Dunedin-based agribusiness consulting and new business development specialists recently set up an Australian office in Hamilton, Victoria, and about 30% of its business now comes from overseas dealings.
AbacusBio has expanded beyond an initial team of four 10 years ago to 20 fulltime staff, and even during the recession has managed to grow its business.
“We’re very applied,” says its managing director, Neville Jopson. “We’re about taking science and technology and making it work in businesses.”
The company has grown from an animal genetics focus, and now concentrates on consultancy, including projects and farm, along with an IT/software component and other strategic areas such as science management and R&D projects for others. A quantitative genetics understanding and application also underpins its operations.
“We’ve got width and depth,” Jopson says, in a company type that has no Australasian equivalent.
Such cross-disciplinary skills assisted AbacusBio in developing a ‘Hoofprint’ carbon footprint web-based tool for sheep farmers along with longtime client the Alliance Group. Alliance branded products will be able to use the information as part of its products’ story, and the information will feed into that required as the Emissions Trading Scheme kicks in for agriculture in 2015.
Similarly, Abacus has delivered a farmer-oriented meat quality booklet, based on its own designed and analysed trials, for the Southland-based food and meat processor.
A large part of the company’s growth and success has come from identifying, and employing the right kind of people while recognising that by nature, scientists tend to be risk adverse. People who can make a transition from doing what are often bulk-funded projects, to having to charge for their time aren’t necessarily that thick on the ground.
“It works for some, for others, they’re come and made a contribution, and moved on,” Jopson says. Once new people are onboard, particularly as the firm is based in a city that is sometimes challenged to retain its good young talent, AbacusBio works to incentivise then to stay.
One way is place a consultant in an overseas project for 3-6 months, and enable them to do some travelling at the same time. Some of those international gigs involve carrying out comparatively small science projects at large overseas institutions – taking up the slack as Jopson termed it, “and then saying goodbye.” This includes projects at the Scottish College of Agriculture and another for the Irish Cattle Breeder’s Association.
The employment of new talent will sometimes happen with no obvious role for the person, but these days there’s confidence their skills will overlap with, and extend and provide opportunities for new and existing clients.
How to manage growth, which mostly will need to happen overseas, and perhaps in northern NZ, and retain the Abacus culture of bridging the science-to-business gap, is a challenge Jopson realises the company still has to cross.
There is consultancy potential in the forestry area, and the addition of Kevin Smith in Australia brings plant breeding skills into the mix.
The goal for AbacusBio, quite possibly already achieved, is to be a known brand over and above its individuals.
“We have thought about how big we should go, but we haven’t got an answer,” he says. “If there are opportunities, we’re open minded, we have room for more people.”