Boat launcher can help keep marriages afloat: inventor

Remote-controlled device avoids the hot water of loading and unloading vessels

Spend any time sitting at a boat ramp observing the bustle of boaties launching and retrieving their vessels and inevitably, excruciatingly, it won’t be long before something goes awry.

These boat scratching moments are the bane of any owner’s day, but they’re also the motivation behind a Kiwi innovation – the Balex Automatic Boat Loader.

A self-powered, remote controlled device for loading and unloading boats onto trailers, the ABL2500, made by Balex Marine in Tauranga, eliminates the need for manual winches, wet feet and, crucially, requires just one person to get a boat into and out of the water.

The first batch of finished units is due to ship to customers in spring. However, the story of how Balex got to this point began 10 years earlier in the garage of Tauranga realtor Lex Bacon.

Bacon, following a suggestion from his wife that inventing an automatic method of launching and retrieving boats would save many a marriage, spent years building early versions in his shed.

n 2013, mutual interests brought Bacon together with businessman Paul Symes who had just spent eight years in the Philippines building a CAD-based engineering company which he’d sold before returning to New Zealand.

A keen boatie and sailor, he brought his family to the Bay of Plenty and met Bacon and his fledgling automatic boat loader.

Sensing an opportunity to fold his hobbies and his penchant for investment into a single business, Balex Marine was founded in late 2013.

What followed was an intensive period of research and development in the hope of creating a product that Symes believes has the potential to become as commonplace as automatic garage doors.

“I spent the latter part of 2013 doing my own due diligence,” Symes says.

This involved employing product development consultancy Locus Research to conduct market research.

“By late December 2013 we’d brought all of those findings together and ultimately decided to develop, in 20 weeks, an advanced prototype as part of a market validation programme,” says Symes, who put up $300,000 to fund this first phase.

The finished prototype was showcased to the 2014 Auckland Boat Show’s 34,000 visitors.

With an advanced prototype and plenty of market validation under their belts, the company now needed capital.

Government-backed Callaghan Innovation provided about $100,000 to continue the R&D programme and after a successful pitch the Bay of Plenty-based early stage investment group the Enterprise Angels invested $700,000 to get the first boat loaders out the door.

During the Enterprise Angels’ due diligence process another key figure, Paul Yarrall, joined the team. The relationship clicked and in January 2015 Yarrall joined Balex’s board as sales director.

Even as the launch draws nearer, the company is busy preparing for a second, larger round of capital raising. This money will enable the company to set in motion its ambitious plans for a worldwide launch, beginning with Australia, then North America and Europe.

Produced in conjunction with the Angel Association of New Zealand.

Balex Marine
Remote controlled device for loading and unloading boats.
Developed an advanced prototype in 20 weeks.
Received $800,000 in funding and investment.
Planned to launch this spring.

As first published on NZHerald

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