Technology Achievement Inspired by the Arts: Arcitecta’s Jason Lohrey receives the 2022 Pearcey Victorian Entrepreneur Award
Announcement posted by Pearcey Foundation 21 Sep 2022
The Pearcey Foundation today announced Jason Lohrey, founder and CEO of Arcitecta, as the recipient of the 2022 Pearcey Victorian Entrepreneur Award. The award was presented at an event in Melbourne that also featured the 2022 Pearcey Oration, which was given by The Honourable Ed Husic MP, Federal Minister for Industry and Science.
Jason founded the data management software company Arcitecta in 1998, recognising that access to the broadest sets of data would provide the foundation for identifying patterns and making new discoveries. Arcitecta’s data management platform Mediaflux has formed the foundation for managing the simplest, and the most complex data, for individuals through to large teams of people at global enterprises. Arcitecta has been a strategic partner for the Australian Department of Defence for 12 years, managing much of Australia’s geospatial data across the country. Arcitecta’s software manages research data for Australia’s top universities and at one of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies, Novartis.
Jordan Green, Chair – Victorian Committee, Pearcey Foundation: “Jason epitomises the purpose of the Pearcey Foundation, to promote and recognise Australian technologists who lead the world with their innovations, attract the respect and admiration of their teams, and contribute selflessly to improving our community for a better future for all. The technology Jason makes available through his company Arcitecta comprises unique and uniquely valuable innovations that launch software capabilities in whole new directions.”
“The fact that Jason bootstrapped his vision faces down the popular and misguided myth that success requires venture capital. He has managed to achieve global leadership that outstrips the corporate gorillas of the software world. I can’t wait to see what happens next as Jason continues to innovate, disrupt, inspire, and explode the envelope of what’s possible.”
“Software making is performance art, and like any art there is an audience. We need an audience, whether that is one or many. You know the audience is appreciative when they declare, ‘this is a game-changer’,” said Mr Lohrey.
Jason is an interesting combination of software maker, artist, and entrepreneur. He has a degree in Quantum Physics and Computer Science augmented with Fine Arts.
Rather uniquely for the IT industry, the origins for Jason’s inspiration were from the arts as much as from science and technology.
Two key events shaped Jason’s and Arcitecta’s future direction.
In 1986, Jason accidentally deleted 80,000 words of his aunt’s manuscript – that same aunt who won the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award (acclaimed Tasmanian author Amanda Lohrey for her novel The Labyrinth). This unsavoury event was the seed for a mission to create systems that would not lose data. In 2002, Jason spent two weeks in an artists’ studio at Bundanon on the NSW South Coast, once the home of painter Arthur Boyd. The studio provided a place of reflection that emboldened him to take on a project that had no known end-point - a system that would set the bar for managing data at scale and underpin decades of products for managing data. Surrounded by writers, sculptors, painters and choreographers, Jason penned the first lines of the Mediaflux platform.
“I cannot overstate the importance of having space and time for reflection in creative environments as an incubator for innovation. I will be forever thankful to the Bundanon Trust for allowing me, a technologist, to be present in a place for artists – a place of inception for a global technology enterprise,” said Mr Lohrey.
“I fully understand that cross-disciplinary and respectful collaboration significantly improves creativity and innovation. It is a model that we are exploring and will amplify in the coming decades.”
Then he took a big risk, stepping away from a well-paid consulting job to zero income for an indeterminate period. Jason had faith in his ability to create innovative software technology and a belief that creating something that was needed would in turn result in customers and revenue. This is the anti-pattern for most technology endeavours – a fact which he was told many times over the ensuing years.
In 2021, Arcitecta was invited to participate in the global Data Mover Challenge – a competition seeking to find novel ways of moving data around the world across high-latency networks. Rather than use the week of competition to configure, tune and demonstrate software that was developed over the months and years prior, Jason used that week to write the entire parallel networking pipeline from scratch and then configure, tune, refine, demonstrate, and document the approaches – Arcitecta was awarded the “Most Complete Solution” and “Best Software Architecture” at Supercomputing Asia in March 2022 – and a new product, Mediaflux Livewire, was born.
“Arcitecta has solved the problem of the lost manuscript. It is a step change, underpinned by decades of research and development – Arcitecta will reveal that technology in the coming months as we plot pathways beyond early-adopter customers to the global backup market,” said Mr Lohrey.
Jason has a thirty-plus-year vision to create software systems that optimise the management of vast amounts of data. When he started twenty years ago, Jason was confident that the market would intersect with that vision – an intersection that took over a decade to occur. That was a period that allowed the creation of a system that was completely written from first principles in preparation for a multi-decade enterprise.
When he sought venture capital funding (in Australia), he was told that such funding would be forthcoming if he had enterprise customers. So, what was the point of venture funding? None. He decided to succeed without any external help.
Jason worked from home for the first six years, connecting the company telephone number to the fax machine so as not to be disturbed. He and his wife lived off relatively modest savings and significantly reduced their standard of living. Three years into that six-year period saw the birth of twin girls. With no regular income and with massive amounts of software still to write, the question was: do you give up and go back to working for someone else, or do you continue on? He continued on.
Arcitecta gained its first customer in 2003 – the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratories (now the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness). It was an introduction by a colleague who was undertaking a consulting project with them. They had a small amount of money ($6000) remaining in the project but were interested in the product that was being created. There is a rule that your first customer is the most important of all, which is why he embraced the opportunity even though the amount offered was miniscule in comparison to the worth of the product and the ensuing effort.
A few years later, the next customer (Weta Digital – now Wētā FX – the New Zealand digital visual effects company that has revolutionised film production) arose though a relationship with Silicon Graphics. Since then, Arcitecta has out-competed the world’s best-known data and data storage companies to deliver solutions in some of the most demanding environments in satellite imaging, defence, life-sciences, research, and media and entertainment.
When Jason first met the Defence Imaging and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) at the Australian Department of Defence in 2008 – now the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO) –
DIGO had around 16,000 CDs and catalogues maintained in spreadsheets. Arcitecta software has transformed the management and use of geospatial data across defence – Mediaflux underpins many systems of national importance.
In 2014, Jason created a subsidiary company in the United States, managing the entire set up remotely from Australia. That experience has well-equipped Arcitecta for operating unaffected in a COVID world. This year, Arcitecta established another subsidiary company in Germany.
Arcitecta has never had external funding, other than assistance through the Australian Government with R&D Tax Incentives and, in recent years, Austrade's Export Market Development Grants. Even though investment was initially sought, self-determination has such advantages that Jason would not change the journey. In fact, the journey itself is the challenge.
Jason places great value on first-principles computer science. In 2010, he wrote a NoSQL database engine (XODB) because there was no other database engine that was fast enough to handle the requisite scale. That database is globally unique – it has an incredibly small footprint for trillions of objects. It combines object, spatial and time-series in the one database engine. Arcitecta has also created its own implementations of popular file system protocols, including NFS and SMB, developing every line of code, rather than leveraging existing bodies of work.
Jason also has a triple bottom line (social, environmental, and financial) at the core of the culture at Arcitecta. Arcitecta contributes significant resources to collaborative research through the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Programs, as well as in-kind and collaboration with Australian universities and the Australian research community. Arcitecta supports multiple programs refugees, children in out-of-home care, and trauma and torture survivors, and Jason is in the early stages of designing a collaborative project with the Yorta Yorta people in Victoria – a privileged intersection of 60,000 years of indigenous culture with contemporary data management and data self-determination.
Coming full circle on the combination of arts and technology, Jason instils a philosophy for creativity combined with scientific rigour to anyone that will listen – that we can create anything we can conceive of if we have enough insight, resilience, and perseverance. Jason is a founder for an organisation that celebrates ‘Hidden Champions’ – privately-held, founder-led and innovative companies. He is working with Grant Petty from Blackmagic Design (and 2020 Pearcey Victorian and National Entrepreneur Award recipient) and the Victorian Government to bring together Victoria’s Hidden Champions over the coming months.
For more information about previous Pearcey Victorian Entrepreneur Award recipients, go to https://pearcey.org.au/vic.
Other State Awards
Australia Capital Territory Awards: nominations are now open for the ACT Awards, which will be held in Canberra on 3 November 2022. Nominations can be submitted at https://www.pearcey.org.au/awards/nominations/state-nomination-form.
NSW Awards: the NSW Awards will be held in Sydney on 31 October 2022. Nominations can be submitted at https://www.pearcey.org.au/awards/nominations/state-nomination-form.
Queensland Awards: nominations are closing soon for the QLD Awards, which will be presented on 18 October 2022. More information about the event, and a link to the booking page can be found at https://www.pearcey.org.au/awards/state/qld.
South Australian Awards: the SA Awards will be held on 22 October 2022. Nominations can be submitted at https://www.pearcey.org.au/awards/nominations/state-nomination-form.
Tasmanian Awards: held in conjunction with the national awards, the Tasmanian Awards are on 11 November 2022. Nominations can be submitted at https://www.pearcey.org.au/awards/nominations/state-nomination-form.
The 2022 Western Australian Pearcey Award was presented to Global Drone Solutions’ Mahmood Hussein as part of the 31st WAITTA Incite Awards on Friday 12 August 2022. More information here: https://prwire.com.au/pr/104607/global-drone-solutions-mahmood-hussein-top-gun-in-western-australian-pearcey-awards.
National Pearcey Awards
The recipients of the prestigious 2022 Pearcey National Awards – including the Pearcey Medal, Hall of Fame and National Entrepreneur Award – will be announced at an event in Hobart on Friday 11 November. Registration details are still to be finalised.
About the Pearcey Foundation
The Pearcey Foundation Inc. is a non-profit organisation established in 1998 to raise the profile of the Australian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and profession. It was created in the memory of one of the greatest pioneers of the Australian ICT industry, Dr Trevor Pearcey. By celebrating the heroes in our industry, past, present and future, the Foundation is looking to attract and encourage young Australians into this most exciting of global, high technology sectors of our nation.
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