Q&A: The buddies harnessing AI to make high-risk jobs safer

This week we chat to Daniel Pace and Shane Acorn, co-founders of Invicta Prospects Group. After careers spent conducting dangerous and complex military training and operations, the pair came together to create an Artificial Intelligence-driven software platform designed to make activities safer for organisations such as the Australian Defence Force, Police Forces and Emergency Services. Their current suite of applications manages shooting, parachuting, fast-roping, diving and explosive demolitions.

ISB: What was the motivation behind you establishing your software business?

DP: It all started one day at work when we were involved in planning a military activity and the process seemed to be taking considerably longer than it should. Shane and I had a brief discussion about how great it would be if military planning and data capture could be achieved via electronic means, as opposed to the paper based systems we had become so accustomed to over our careers. We spent some more time later that week discussing the higher-level benefits of using technology in place of what were very time consuming, manual procedures, and quickly realised that we were in a position to effect positive change. That decision ultimately led us to start the business and to build Buddy Suite AI.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?

SA: Initially the biggest challenge was juggling full time service within the Navy and then Special Operations with establishing the business and getting the idea off the ground. We spent many hours chatting on the phone and sitting in front of the computer and whiteboard into the early hours of the morning, after a 12-hour workday, as we developed the idea and strategised making it a reality.

Since leaving the military and moving into the business full time, our biggest challenge has been prioritising opportunities as they present. We have been fortunate enough to gain really promising traction with a number of different organisations concurrently throughout 2020 and we’ve needed to make an asserted effort to ensure we effectively prioritise those opportunities, whilst still maintaining and building relationships with all our potential customers.

ISB: How did your experience in the Navy and high-risk operations you carried out help you prepare for running your own business?

SA: Our military background taught us two main lessons. The first is the value of teamwork, which has played a major role in our success to date. The second is the importance of adopting a “never give up” mentality. Start-ups are hard and we’re under no illusion just how hard we need to work to ensure the success of the business, but we also understand that preparation is key to success. We make it a point to be the two most prepared people in any meeting room.

ISB: Please tell us a little about the organisations that have taken up the platform, and the activities they use it to train their teams in.

DP: We’re currently in discussions with a number of branches of the Australian Defence Force as well as domestic police agencies and two foreign military units. We’re also at the final stage of securing funding from the Defence Innovation Hub – a fantastic federal government initiative with a strong focus on supporting Australian SMEs by funding innovative, Defence-related technologies through to full commercialisation and introduction into service.

Our software – Buddy Suite AI – is designed to manage training and operational activities at the tactical level, whilst using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide cognitive decision support to commanders, improving safety and also assisting with administrative decision making.

ISB: What is your vision for the venture in the next couple of years?

DP: Our company vision is “to use AI to protect human life” and our mission is “to be the leading provider of AI-driven risk management and decision support for military, law enforcement and emergency services”, both of which we feel are achievable in the very near future.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on this journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

SA: Surround yourself with winners and never get comfortable. Take the time to make sure your team are 100 per cent aligned to the company’s vision, and that they wholeheartedly believe in what you are trying to achieve. We have a phenomenal team all of whom go out of their way to support and help Dan and I as founders beyond the requirements of their individual roles. This is crucial to the early success of any start-up and we feel truly fortunate and excited about what we’re going to achieve together as a team.