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Accelerator pitch: Ben Harker of Montec Systems

2014_acceleratorpitch_benharker-816x399Can you pitch your genius business idea in the time it takes to get from the ground floor to the C-suite? Ben Harker, Founder of Montec Systems and on the Accelerate Cambridge programme (based at Cambridge Judge Business School), takes his turn.

Ben Harker

Ben Harker

The background

Staring at a crack in his kitchen wall, Ben Harker was inspired to create a system to monitor its movement. It took three years of solitary work in his garage – but his patented product, the Montec Crack Monitor, could now revolutionise how structural engineers work.

The brains

Ben Harker, whose varied career encompasses marine engineering, naval architecture, product design, computer aided drawing, joinery, electronics and design engineering.

The product

A low-power, low-cost and easy-to-use remote monitoring infrastructure able to gather data from many types of sensors where there is no mains power or internet connection. Once installed, the sensors send their data to a MBS (Montec Base Station) that forwards it on to a cloud base data server where customers can log in to view or download the sensor data. Alarms can be created if data values go above or below pre-set levels. There is currently a sensor for monitoring cracks in buildings and structures and a vibration sensor is undergoing final testing. Application areas include construction and the built environment, transport, utilities and agriculture.

The business case

It’s vital to keep an eye on cracks in buildings such as bridges, dams, and power stations. But at the moment, cracks are monitored visually. That means structural engineers spend a lot of time visiting sites and measuring by hand. It doesn’t give the whole picture, as cracks can expand and contract depending on numerous factors, like the weather. So there’s a real need for a way to constantly monitor crack movement using accurate, time-stamped data.

The timing

I originally had this idea several years ago. I was staring at a crack under my kitchen window (which is still there!) and wondered if there was an electronic way of measuring it. Since then, I’ve been working on developing, testing and perfecting the product, and it’s now nearly ready for market.

The strategy for growth

The product can have numerous other applications, such as monitoring vibration, temperature or humidity, and these are in development already. Further sensors will be added in response to customers’ needs. I also want to investigate putting data from different kinds of sensors together, in order to correlate, for example, crack movement and rainfall.

The Accelerator

Since I was accepted on to the Accelerator programme in Christmas 2013, everything has changed. It was such a boost, and my mentors have been great. It’s not just about the advice but also the encouragement – if you work alone, that kind of validation is so important. We also pitched for the fund and got £15,000. That money is for the final parts of the process – legal stuff, website, the first production run – that whole list of things that need to be in place. It’s incredibly exciting.