Queenstown tech firm takes off

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When Prime Minister John Key walked in the door of Shotover Camera Systems late last year, general manager Brad Hurndell reckons he wasn’t expecting to find what he encountered in Queenstown.

Staff were working on high-performance aerial camera systems for the motion picture and broadcast industries, surrounded by movie posters on the walls.

Those blockbuster movies – the likes of The Hobbit, X-Men, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Guardians of the Galaxy and Transformers – all used the company’s technology to capture aerial footage.

“We’re not an everyday consumer product. For people that know what it is and need to use it, we’re the best in the world,” Hurndell says.

Shotover Camera Systems, which developed the world’s first gyro-stabilised camera system for shooting aerial footage in ultra high-definition, was founded by John Coyle in Queenstown 2009.

Hurndell, who has been with the business since its inception, says developing a prototype took about 18 months and, from there, the K1 system was launched. The F1, a smaller system, was recently released.

In 2012, the business was acquired by California-based Helinet Aviation Services, an international provider of aviation services to the broadcasting, government, law enforcement, medical, motion-picture and transportation industries.

Engineering facilities were retained in Queenstown where 22 staff now work. The investors have brought a customer-focused point of view to the company, Hurndell says.

A former aircraft technician who then gained an engineering degree at Canterbury University, Hurndell was drawn to the business as it was highly technical, challenging and “different”.

“I’m challenged and interested in really tricky engineering problems. This seemed to fit that criteria,” he says.

It remains a challenging role, working for a fantastic company in an amazing location, with a great lifestyle. Many of the parts required are made in New Zealand, while others are bought from all over the world.

The products are assembled and tested in Queenstown before being shipped out.

Local helicopter companies and the television and film industry have been very supportive.

It’s easy to test equipment and the resort is also a great location for giving customers demonstrations.

The only drawback has been finding the right premises, as Queenstown is not really a manufacturing hub. When it comes to staff, getting the right people can be challenging.

When it was a smaller company, no-one knew about it but, as it gets bigger, Hurndell is hoping people will seek it out.

The company has been largely under the radar. There’s little time for self-promotion when it has been focusing on growth.

It’s “pretty committed” to being in Queenstown for the foreseeable future, he says.

Several new products are being worked on, the exact direction of which has not been determined, but that’s potentially another step forward for the company.

There is a focus on K1 and F1 and continuing to innovate and develop them.

While there is some competition in various markets the company entered, the tide is “definitely shifting” and Shotover Camera Systems is becoming the preferred system globally. That’s exciting and the future is “looking fantastic”, he says.

Otago Daily Times