Gekko Systems has come a long way since 1995, when the Australian Government assisted Elizabeth Lewis Gray and her husband with a $70,000 grant for 50 per cent of the funds required to research, develop and partly commercialise a gravity separation device that improves gold mining yields.
"Had we not received that grant, we would not have started the business," says Lewis-Gray, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director.
In 1995, Gekko Systems employed one part-time staff member and had an estimated annual turnover of $55,000. Today the company employs 100 staff and has an annual turnover of nearly $40 million. Given that new mining technology takes an average of 15–20 years to be accepted by the market place, continued strong growth is expected.
Gekko Systems began as a single technology business but now specialises in designing and manufacturing minerals processing solutions that boost productivity, and reduce the environmental footprint and costs for mining companies worldwide, particularly those in the gold sector. More recently, systems have also been installed for the recovery of polymetallics – silver, tin and zinc – and coal.
The company is based in the historic gold mining town of Ballarat in Victoria but has always had a global focus. It operates offices in Johannesburg, Perth, Santiago and Vancouver, and has 400 units installed in 40 countries.
"We have been the beneficiary of government support at many significant steps in our 15-year history, and in nearly every case the support enabled and encouraged us to take a bigger, more ambitious step than we would have on our own," Lewis-Gray says.
The company's first assistance was a dollar-for-dollar R&D Start Grant for the development of the InLine Pressure Jig.
"During our early ventures into the export market we accessed Austrade's Export Market Development Grants Scheme – this grant encouraged us to attend overseas trade shows and importantly helped us to set up our first international office in South Africa in 2000," she says.
"In 1999, when we realised that mining companies wanted a 'real' company to buy from, we raised capital through the Innovation Investment Fund (IIF) program to help us invest in professional staff, smart offices and manufacturing premises.
"Having external investors and a proper board structure proved to be critical to improving our corporate professionalism and provided much-needed support and advice. A successful trade sale by IIF Fund Manager Amwin to a high profile business angel from the mining technology and services sector added new expertise that has helped the business develop its systems and flourish."
In 2004, Gekko was awarded a $1.2 million R&D Start Grant to miniaturise and modularise its gold processing system for operation underground. This project has a 10-year time frame but has already returned many multiples of the investment in export sales.
"Our long-term goal is to be regarded as the premium supplier of technologically advanced solutions for mineral processing in the gold mining industry," Lewis-Gray says.
Gekko's close technical relationships with senior companies in the mining sector including Australia's largest gold producer Newcrest Mining, indicate that Gekko is on track to achieve its aim.
Gekko Systems has also benefited from the R&D Tax Concession and received assistance offsetting duties for goods being exported into overseas markets through the Austrade TradeStart program.
In recognition of her experience and success in business development, Elizabeth Lewis-Gray was appointed to the Industry Research and Development Board on 15 December 2005.