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Export Award For Niche Software

MAY 8 2003

Export Award For Niche Software - Motivated To Succeed

Christchurch, May 8, 2003 -- Niche Software, a multi-million dollar Christchurch company that originated from a student’s desire to develop a product for repetitive strain injury prevention and rehabilitation after he was struck by the condition, has won a Trade New Zealand Export Award.

Co-founder and Technical Director Dr Robert van Nobelen says Niche Software has developed a set of software tools designed to maximise the health and productivity of computer users.

The company’s flagship product is WorkPace, a breaks and exercise software package that monitors computer use and reminds users when to take micropauses, rest breaks and leads them through regular stretches and exercise. WorkPace enables companies to analyse computer use, meet regulatory health and safety requirements and reduce the risks of computer-related injuries, such as repetitive strain injury (RSI, also known as occupational overuse syndrome or OOS).

The company was started in 1995 when Dr van Nobelen and co-founder Dr Kevin Taylor saw the potential of commercialising the software program they had developed to help people afflicted with OOS. Their first sale was made two years later.

“Our original motivation in developing WorkPace was the personal experiences of Kevin’s own battle with OOS when he was a PhD student,” explains Dr van Nobelen. “He was looking for a product to help him take regular breaks when using the computer, but there was nothing available. We developed the program and then found other people were interested in it.”

Dr van Nobelen says that initially the company focused on the domestic market, but saw potential to export through the large number of downloads of its trial version from its web site.

He says Niche Software now has more than 750,000 users around the world, and a blue-chip international client list including the likes of Shell Oil, BP, Philips, Ericsson, KPMG, and the Australian and Dutch Governments.

“Because work-related musculoskeletal disorders from computer use are now the most significant and costly work-related injury in western countries, we’ve found an increasing interest by larger companies in finding ways to mitigate, monitor and regulate the effects of computer use on their employees.

“Companies want to be able to meet regulatory requirements, reduce insurance costs and avoid litigation. In the USA, it’s been estimated that musculoskeletal disorders such as RSI account for US$30 billion in work injuries and lost work time each year.”

Today Niche Software has 14 staff. Almost all its sales are offshore, with major export markets The Netherlands, UK and USA. The company sells licences to use its software through distributors, over the internet and via direct marketing from its Christchurch office.

“Selling our software to large clients is not straightforward,” says Dr van Nobelen. “The concept of installing a monitoring, breaks and exercise tool on every desktop across the organisation is a new idea for many.

“We’ve found the sales process to be as much about educating clients and providing them with valuable health and safety advice as selling software to them.”

To strengthen its position in the market, Niche Software is working to build a reputation amongst international research and health and safety consultants as experts and innovators in its field by being involved directly in research in the office ergonomics and computer use.

Dr van Nobelen says the company’s success is partly the result of a willingness to enter non-traditional markets such as The Netherlands where legislation has created a strong demand for a product such as WorkPace.

He says the company has also responded to market demand by establishing one of the few multi platform, multilingual software packages of this nature.

“Our most obvious competitive advantage lies in the quality of our products. We’ve taken a lot of customer feedback into account in our products, they are very good design, look good and work well.”

Trade New Zealand Account Manager Cate Hlavac congratulated Niche Software on its Export Award win, saying the company is at the cutting edge of an emerging market.

“Niche Software is a leader in its field and is investing considerably in ongoing research and development to maintain its position and increase its product range and revenue further. The company has a number of competitive advantages, including smart use of technology, high expertise and a proven sales process.”

Dr van Nobelen says Niche Software’s focus is on becoming a world leader in providing a product that may become an almost mandatory requirement on every computer desktop in the future – similar to virus software.

“In the long term, we are aiming to produce an integrated suite of products which provide tools for maximizing general health and productivity within an organisation.”

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About the Trade New Zealand Export Awards:
The Trade New Zealand Export Awards, sponsored by DHL Worldwide Express, recognise outstanding achievement and growth by New Zealand exporters in international markets. Winners become contenders for the Exporter of the Year in their sector category, and category winners (with the exception of the Emerging Exporter Category) then vie for the Supreme Exporter of the Year Award, announced at an annual dinner on 12 June 2003 in Christchurch.

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