We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Poulton, CEO of the Community for Ballarat, on his involvement with the creation of the GeVentor. He spoke with us about the collaboration within the Ballarat community, the role he took in the early design days of the GeVentor, and Ballarat’s future as a med-tech hub.
- Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Michael Poulton, CEO of the Committee for Ballarat. We are an organization that focuses on the long-term prospects within Ballarat from a social, environmental, and economic perspective. We help gather support and funding for projects that will help create growth and allow the city of Ballarat to thrive for generations to come.
- What was your part in the creation of the GeVentor?
One of our partners, Ballarat Health Services, approached us with concern that during the initial breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional Victorian and local Ballarat hospitals were going to be completely overwhelmed and lacking necessary medical equipment. The worry was that they were not going to keep up with the projected capacity of patients that needed to be in the ICU. BHS wanted to know if it was possible to locally source ventilators that could be used in pop-up hospitals if needed.
I reached out to Gekko and to Sandy and Elizabeth to see what they could get done, hoping that if they weren’t able to put the ventilators together, they at least knew someone who could. Elizabeth told me she would take care of it, and less than 5 days later Sandy brought me to his house to show the working prototype of the GeVentor he had built. I knew that I had struck gold.
- Why did you choose Gekko to approach about creating a ventilator?
I knew that Gekko is an extremely agile innovation company with their hands in many different industrial jars, ranging from sustainability to mining. Their ability to adapt goes hand in hand with Elizabeth’s desire to be in many different innovative spaces, and Sandy’s love for building “cool stuff”. Gekko has been a longtime member of the Ballarat community, so I knew that they would be up for the challenge of helping it.
- How important was local collaboration on this project?
After a discussion with Sandy and Elizabeth, we knew we needed to create a ventilator that was not just for use in an ICU that sits on a stand, but something that can be portable and robust to save lives in almost any situation, like an ambulance or a tented hospital. The government was initially hesitant to fund the project as Gekko, who are predominantly known to making mining equipment, had no prior experience creating medical devices. We knew we couldn’t do it alone.
This part is still amazing to me – we received help from all different types of local groups, companies, and individuals that came together for a common denominator: the growth and safety of Ballarat. Within 24 hours, we received over 200,000 dollars in donations from various different local outlets. Without support from companies like Buninyong Community Bank, RunwayHQ and their 3D printing services, Doug Paxton, Mark Yates and all the other contributors to the initial funding and building of the GeVentor, we would not be here today.
Once Australia had come over the initial hump of COVID-19, we as a community knew that Gekko had created a product that was not only innovative, but can be used beyond the pandemic.
- Do you see a future in which Ballarat becomes a medical technology hub?
Definitely. The size of the town is just right. If Ballarat was too big, collaboration like we had on a community level would not have been possible, and if Ballarat was too small, the specialized medical expertise would not have been there. In larger cities like Melbourne, companies are battling to create competitive advantages, which in turn hinders communication and innovation within the tech industry. Ballarat has 2 hospitals and 6 universities with medical training facilities, so there is a beautiful synergy of medical research and development, with each entity motivated to share with eachother. This gives us a unique level of expertise that not a lot of towns have.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just one more thing; it all started with Gekko’s reputation as a company. Gekko has a history of being able to design innovative machines in many different sectors of mining and sustainability. With the initial skepticism of the Australian government that a mining company would be able to create a life-saving device for Regional Victoria, it just goes to show how confident the community was in Gekko. I hope we as a community can continue to collaborate with Gekko in the future.