Our Small Business Star this week is Dan Riley, founder and managing director of Spearhead Interactive. Launched in February 2013, Spearhead are an award-winning Real-time 3D, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality software development company; repurposing games technology to create engaging, interactive and purposeful software solutions for businesses, educators and governments, typically using 3D CAD data.

Dan has worked in the field of 3D animation and visualisation for nine years. Before launching his own business, funding it with his own savings and a fellowship from Digital City, Dan worked within the research and development division of Teesside University. It was here that he began to explore the potential of online 3D environments and virtual worlds for corporate and educational use.

1. Identify business opportunities through research

Spearhead was realised after spending more than four years (2007-2011) operating at the forefront of the virtual worlds industry with my co-founder, Paul Li, as part of an academic tenure at Teesside University. During this time, I was fortunate enough to have research papers published, was invited to speak at international conferences. I also had the opportunity of being involved in securing funding, as well as the planning, design and development for several large projects up to the value of £1million.

In 2010, Paul and I identified a shift towards the use of rendering engines traditionally used to develop entertainment software, combined with the potentially unlimited number of uses for the technology across virtually every sector, globally. This spawned the initial concept for Spearhead back in August 2012. The technology had matured as predicted and, through Spearhead, we’re now placing ourselves at the forefront of an industry in which we do not merely operate, but are actively defining.

2. Understand and master your market

We’re able to stand out due to our unique understanding of the power of technology that comes from the academic study of the meaning and theory that underpins it, as well as the development process. This provides us with a significant advantage over any competitors and enables us to be extremely forward thinking and highly innovative.

We’re unaware of any other business operating holistically across all markets and sectors at the level that we are. Uniquely, we’re developing solutions which are applicable to any process – whether it exists or whether it doesn’t. This is a completely new proposition for a technology that has the potential to be highly disruptive to a number of core sectors and industries across the world.

3. Innovation helps you to stay one step ahead

We’re built on a foundation of new technology and innovation. Aside from re-purposing the latest in rendering engine software and investing in emerging technology that has not yet been released (we have funded multiple Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowd-funding projects), we’re in the unique position whereby we’re utilising the tools at our disposal to create highly innovative new technology products of our own.

We’re proud to be either partnered with, or in conversation with eighteen different VR hardware manufacturers, as well as larger organisations such as Sony, Samsung and Siemens in developing the landscape for the next era of business software and consumer experiences. We’re beginning conversations with these world-class companies about using their hardware and platforms to distribute and access our real-time software.

4. Create conditions to facilitate your aims  

With a mission and a plan in place to expand and scale rapidly into a multi-national business by 2017, we continually strive to ensure our working environment is conducive to innovation and collaboration across the development team and supplement this with a non-bureaucratic management structure which promotes the sharing of ideas across the company.

For us, it’s not simply a case of connecting the dots when it comes to new technology, but bringing the dots close enough together so they can be connected. This is our unique talent, the ability to look at technology in different ways to meet specific challenges and objectives to provide the best possible solutions for our clients and their users through our software and the implementation of any required hardware.

5. Cement yourself as thought leaders

We work very hard to promote the business across many different channels and are active members of several networking groups to connect with business and government. We attend regular events, exhibit our software both in the UK and abroad and are increasingly being asked to speak at events

We’ re also highly active across social media, with live Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn pages passing our messages out to more than 700 people. We engage with people around the world every Sunday by running a #SpearheadSunday campaign. Anyone can ask a tech-related question using the hashtag and we’ll respond with solutions and answers.

All of these activities help us to grow and expand our profile as thought leaders and digital specialists working at the forefront of the emerging real-time 3D sector. We do this through maximising exposure to our software; developing demo applications and publishing content we feel is useful, entertains, informs and engages our audience.

6. A dedicated team underpins the business

We’ve fought for everything. With no outside investment, large capital injections or funding. We’re a high-risk company, operating in an entirely new sector where markets have not yet been established and organisations are oblivious to the technology. Despite this, we’re able to offer services that support multiple businesses from many different sectors and clients are validating our assumptions by paying for our services. This is truly a testament to the dedication, commitment and resolution which is shown by the entire team on a daily basis.

The proudest achievement to date, particularly at a personal level, has been seeing how the team has matured and stepped up to meet every challenge our start-up has faced. We’re not an ordinary business and working at Spearhead is not an ordinary job. Whilst we expect a great deal from our employees, collaboration and respect underpin everything we do. Watching individuals come together and turn the mere concept and idea of Spearhead into a reality is more than an achievement. For me, it is a true privilege.

7. Celebrate the little wins and appreciate what you’ve achieved

Enjoy every moment – your highs can be huge, but your lows can also be crippling. Remember your initial motivations, surround yourself with mentors and peers and try to take a minute every now and again to celebrate the little wins and appreciate what you’ve achieved.

Find out more about Dan and Spearhead by visiting: http://spearheadinteractive.com/

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.