CHH offshoot rebrands for US push

Like Kiwi rockers Shihad, a Carter Holt Harvey e-business offshoot has had to change its name to make it big in the US.

Like Kiwi rockers Shihad, a Carter Holt Harvey e-business offshoot has had to change its name to make it big in the US.

Velocit-e has changed its name to Straightedge as it plans a major push into the US for its virtual reality-based software. The business, which grew out of CHH's wood products division, has also refocused and restructured its operations as it plans to list on the stock exchange's NCM market later this month.

Velocit-e was created last August to provide consulting on e-business strategy and internet, intranet and extranet solutions. But, says general manager Darren Wallbank, Straightedge will focus on developing and marketing software solutions for the building and design industries, which it believes offers the greatest growth potential.

Wallbank says the company could not gain intellectual property protection under the Velocit-e name.

"I said we would make the change now before we put any investment into the US market. It's purely about protecting the trade name and [intellectual property]. My role is getting this development up and running and penetrating these overseas markets," he says.

In the restructuring, sales and support roles where rejigged but overall staffing, at 25, remains a couple up on last August.

Straightedge has three main products, which are mainly used in store kiosks. Virtual Worlds is a 3D room-planning software package which lets customers create a "photo-realistic" view of their proposed bathroom or kitchen. It was developed over a year by CHH/Velocit-e staff and launched in November 2001. It is used by the Plumbing World retail chain.

Biz-e Builder is a virtual reality tool for building projects aimed at DIYers. It is intended to complement Virtual Worlds and was launched last October. It was trialled at Pakuranga Hardware House late last year and is due for a nationwide rollout starting this month. It lets users "pick and click" their way from an idea to a fully specified design for exterior DIY projects, including barns, carports, retaining walls, fencing, pergolas, garden furniture and decks.

The third product -- Tadpole -- is a "more technical" database reporting system used in stress-grounded timber mills.

Wallbank says the products have sold well in New Zealand, but this year the firm plans to pilot Biz-e Builder and Virtual Worlds in major US and Australian chains. The company has had a staff member based in Minneapolis for two months and Wallbank has visited the US three times in the past year, with a fourth trip imminent.

Wallbank expects staffing levels to increase under current plans to 55, an increase of 30, with a similar increase in turnover to "several million".

Tony Dowds, CHH incubator manager for new ventures, says the firm aims to raise $600,000 over 1.2 million shares to create a new Straightedge Ltd. The firm is presently owned 75% by CHH and 25% by Auckland businessmen Marc Potter of Lek Management Consulting and Performance Printing Group. The share offering would dilute their shareholdings to 30% and 10% respectively.

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