Dr Jackson Yin’s kit home business pivoted online during lockdown, thanks to a $50,000 Business Victoria innovation grant.
As far as self-made businesspeople go, Jackson Yin’s the real deal.
It’s been a heady 25-year career ride for the Campbellfield engineer who started out with next to nothing.
“When I arrived in Australia in 1996 from Guilin in South China as a 24-year-old post-graduate engineering student, all I had was $700 and a suitcase,” he recalls. “I struggled to find affordable accommodation.”
Bills mounted, the future was unclear.
But Jackson didn’t give up.
Working from a garage in Mount Waverley, he and friend Michael Zeng – a graduate engineer from Shanghai – got busy experimenting with prefabricated home prototypes in a hyper-focused bid to create a sustainable income stream.
The pair eventually hit paydirt.
In 2014 they launched iBuild selling kit homes and modular buildings, some of which can be easily assembled in just a few hours and cost under $100,000.
Their products proved better value than European or US kit home competitors, and it wasn’t long before their designs began winning awards for withstanding living and working conditions in almost any location, including cyclone zones.
All iBuild residential products meet the 6-star energy rating and maximise recyclable materials such as the steel frames and timber cladding. Flat packs mean optimised loads and fewer transports, which reduces emissions further.
From the UN to Reservoir Railway Station
Today, iBuild have 20 employees working on design, engineering, project management and manufacturing at their Mulgrave head office and Campbellfield engineering hub, creating over 100 kit homes and modular buildings a year for residential, commercial and government projects.
Clients include every state and territory in Australia plus Pacific and African countries such as Tonga, the Cook Islands and Senegal.
“We’ve delivered hundreds of homes to people who may otherwise not be able to afford them,” Jackson says. “It’s a great feeling that I can do my part to help improve housing affordability.”
And help in international emergencies, too.
During the 2016 Ebola crisis in West Africa, iBuild worked with the United Nations World Food Programme, supplying flat packs that could be erected immediately to serve as temporary buildings. The company remains on the UN’s prefab building suppliers panel and responds to tender invitations as they arise.
Meanwhile, in the commercial arena iBuild have delivered, in partnership with head contractor John Holland, the new Reservoir Railway Station – the first train station in Australia to be awarded a 5-Star Green Star As Built rating by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). The project also achieved a ‘leading’ rating, the highest scoring level awarded by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA).
Grant boosts online hits
When the pandemic dented iBuild orders, a Business Victoria Technology, Adoption and Innovation (TAIP) grant Technology Adoption and Innovation Program – offered to help Victorian SMEs adopt and develop digital innovations – proved a saviour.
“Lockdown forced our ‘open for inspections’ into hibernation,” explains Jackson, “but the $50,000 grant in May 2020 helped us launch 3D virtual kit home showrooms and new apps, improving productivity and competitiveness.”
The response from their innovative digital presence has been solid.
As an example, Senegalese construction company Frametek, working on behalf of a German foreign aid project, discovered iBuild via Google search and placed a large order of kit homes to become bespoke villas tailored to the West African climate and environment.
Says Frametek’s Damien Blanke, “We chose iBuild as a supplier because of its clear and transparent website, value, and because of the security of dealing with an Australian company.”
Jackson couldn’t be happier: “We’re thrilled 11 prefab homes will be made in Melbourne and shipped to Senegal. It’s opened up a new market, with the potential of opening up other African nations.”
Training the next generation
Jackson’s keeping busy mentoring too, hosting interns across engineering, IT, business and the arts from eight Victorian universities through his iBuild Internship program. “We’ve contributed to the skills and employability of at least 100 Victorian students in the past year alone, creating long-lasting social and cultural impact, as well as a talent pipeline for new employee recruits.”
His company is also conducting an R&D project with Monash University to develop a building assembly system using lightweight, durable, fibre-reinforced composites to create houses in remote regions with harsh climates.
As for the future, Jackson has one firm goal in mind: to be the best in the business. “We want to become Australia’s leading supplier of kit homes and prefabricated buildings that are stronger, smarter, faster and more affordable.”