Prospect Mining Studio, a partnership between Vimson Group and Newlab, applies transformative technologies to solve major challenges in the mining industry. Prospect supports mining companies, investors, entrepreneurs, and researchers as they build, pilot, and scale technologies with a focus on sustainable and socially responsible solutions. The Studio aims to catalyze innovation by establishing partnerships between mining industry leaders and innovators from startup and academic research communities.
To that end, on December 3rd, 2020, Prospect Mining Studio virtually brought together over 60 participants from around the world, including the Vimson Group’s executive team, mining companies such as Sibanye Stillwater, BHP, AngloAmerican, Tata Steel, India Cements, Thriveni, Agnico Eagle, OEMs, and cutting-edge entrepreneurs in order to ideate on mining challenges and share insights into concepts and operating environments where new pilots could take place. Mining companies served as the problem owners during breakout sessions focused on specific topic areas in mining, introducing their challenges and specific pain points to inform ideation from the startups. Startups introduced their solutions and discussed the feasibility and impact of a potential new collaboration with the mining companies in their session.
The Virtual Summit began with opening remarks from Vimson and Newlab, followed by a plenary session by Roby Stancel, Partner at VCI Consulting and Senior Advisor to Prospect Mining Studio, who facilitated the Summit and led the group through various ideation sessions before the attendees split up into their respective breakout sessions. The breakout groups focused on the following topics:
- Integrating Ore Information from Ground to Market
- From Better Sensors to Better Efficiency
- Turning Tailings Positive (Base Metals, Iron Ore)
- Turning Tailings Positive (Gold, PGMs)
- Turning Tailings Positive (Efficiencies in Bulks)
- Workforce Wellbeing
Following welcoming remarks, the Summit shifted to two spark talks focused on the opportunities and challenges related to collaboration in the mining industry. The group heard from both sides of this equation. The first presentation came from Carl Weatherell, Executive Director & CEO of Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC). Carl outlined the goals of CMIC, which include working with major mining players worldwide to move toward zero waste mining. CMIC strives to bring miners together to develop disruptive technologies and innovations that will reduce waste, lower costs and mitigate environmental impacts across all aspects of mining, with the ultimate goal of building a more resilient industry.
The second presentation came from Benedikt Kirchgässler, Founder & CEO of CyanoGuard, a startup accepted to Prospect Mining Studio’s inaugural cohort in 2020, that combines chemical sensing technology with a cloud-based data visualization and analysis solution, enabling holistic monitoring & optimization of cyanide usage in gold leaching processes. Benedikt spoke from his experience building relationships with mining companies as an early stage startup and the pitfalls they’ve faced in securing their first customers. Benedikt listed five main considerations for a technology startup to take into account in order to gain traction in the mining industry:
- The mining industry is a small, well connected community
- The industry has established structures
- There are long development and sales cycles associated with securing customers
- Deploying pilots is essential
- No one in the mining industry wants to be first
To address these obstacles, Benedikt recommended that startups build strong relationships with mining companies from the outset, team up with established players to build momentum, manage expectations around project budgets and timelines, test on site as early and as often as possible, and establish a flagship customer base. These key challenges are, by design, what the Prospect Mining Studio solves for, by creating new opportunities for startups and mining companies to discuss solutions and validate new technologies.
Throughout the Summit, participants utilized virtual, collaborative Mural whiteboards, allowing attendees to add ideas and insights onto digital “stickies.” For the group ideation exercises, participants were asked to respond to two universal questions: “What issues do you see when mining houses and startups collaborate?” And “What do you hope to learn from your counterparts today?”
A variety of themes were revealed relating to risk tolerances, cultural differences, and needs of each stakeholder, in addition to challenges around differing project scales, time frames and budget cycles, risk aversion, and a general hesitation around “being first” to try new technologies. The mining houses participating added that startups may not have a clear contextual understanding of the mining sector and how it operates, adding that “Non-mining start-ups really don’t appreciate the scale of mining” and even “if the proposed solution is right for the mining house, startups may not be able to provide on the scale needed.”
For the latter portion of the Summit, participants were divided into breakout groups relevant to their expertise. Key solutions that were discussed included: Applying chemical, physical and biological processes to aid and advance the valorization of tailings storage facilities (we split the groups into iron ore/ base metals, gold/ PGMs and cement/ bulks), improving operational efficiency with better sensors, precise ore analysis and integration from exploration to mining and processing to the sale and marketing of material, and harnessing technology to improve occupational and environmental safety in mining operations.
Over the course of the Virtual Summit, startups were able to receive direct voice-of-industry feedback from the mining companies, who were given the opportunity to present key challenges to their entrepreneurial counterparts. Stakeholders from both groups had the opportunity to work in a truly collaborative environment and engage in a peer-to-peer manner. The participants invited to take part in the workshop represent the caliber of stakeholders who are interested in a collaborative approach to applying entrepreneurship, frontier technology, and industry expertise to address issues related to worker safety, energy efficiency, water and tailings management, continuous mining processes, and data and logistics optimization.
Prospect Mining Studio plans to carry these ideas forward as inspiration for projects in 2021 and will continue to work to bring innovators together with industry players to align around strategic opportunities, in order to drive real value and sustainability to the industry. The connections made during the Summit represent the starting point for fruitful collaboration and opportunities to apply transformative technologies to the mining industry’s most pressing challenges.