Independent Perth computer store, Portacom is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week. Founded by Neil Hancock in 1983, it was the first Australian business to specialise in portable computing.

From humble beginnings in Hancock’s parents’ garage, Portacom has grown to become a trusted destination for all technology needs.

“I didn’t have any formal business training, so much of the business growth happened from trial and error, as well as our expertise in hardware, software, repairs and upgrades,” Hancock said.

“In addition, the growth of networking, the internet, email and cloud computing drove our team to constantly learn and evolve to continue our success. While customers have become more computer savvy, our depth of knowledge in our mobile computing specialisation still gives us an edge.”

Portacom began with a Sharp dealership when the brand was considered the leader in portable computing such as handheld devices, laptops and notebooks. Over the years, Portacom added other brands and custom-designed products.

“Portacom was the second business I started as a university student. All other engineering students were using a specific HP programable scientific calculator at the time. However, I didn’t want to conform and found a suitable alternative in the Sharp Pocket computers,” Hancock said.

“I also noticed some missing advanced maths software needed to enhance the Sharp pocket computer, so I decided to develop and sell it through the university bookshop. It was through these that Portacom began and grew.”

With a passion for curiosity and innovation, one of Hancock’s biggest milestones is being instrumental in developing the world’s first touch mouse.

“In the 1980s, Sharp had the PC-6220 notebook with a mountable modem installed above the keyboard but laptops generally lacked technology that would allow a mouse to be integrated into their designs. While attending COMDEX in Las Vegas, I came up with an idea to remodel the plastics where the modem went and design the electronics for a capacitive touch sensor used on full-size CRT monitors.”

He then partnered with Microtouch to develop a prototype called Touch-Mate, which was retrofitted into the Sharp notebook and displayed at COMDEX the following year.

While laptop touchpads have come a long way, the California Computer History Museum has interviewed and featured Hancock on its website and YouTube channel about his contributions to the invention.

Since then, Hancock and Portacom unlocked other achievements, including becoming Sharp’s Notebook Computer Dealer of the Year in 1997, Western Australia’s largest Sharp dealer in 1999, Sharp’s national computer and communication dealer of the year in 2000 and 2001 and NEC’s largest notebook computer dealer of the year in 2005.

Hancock was also part of the ‘40 under 40 in business’ in Western Australia in 2003 and was awarded the opportunity to complete his Masters in Leadership and Management.

Through almost 40 years, Portacom also faced challenges from the dot-com bust and global financial crisis to the Covid pandemic, testing the company’s resilience and forcing operations to halt for several months amid financial and supplier issues.

“The longer you’re in business, the higher the costs will hit you at a major point in time. This cost was not anticipated and was a true challenge to overcome,” Hancock said.

Portacom looks forward to continuing its legacy as a leading provider of mobile computing solutions and serving its customers for many years.

“Constant learning and my dedicated and loyal staff keep me on my toes. I truly marvel at the ups and downs of Portacom and am happy that we have survived while so many have not,” Hancock said.

Portacom has been a member of retail membership group, Leading Edge Retail since 2013, allowing the company to take advantage of unique products, competitive pricing and reliable business support.

“We became a Leading Edge Computer member in 2013 because of the people focused on growing your business. Having access to extended trading terms, as well as products and distributors I would not normally have access to, are some of the reasons we joined,” Hancock said.

“Running a small business could be lonely and isolating but being part of a large collective of like-minded people has allowed us to form friendships and connections, as well as network with other businesses and share ideas.”

Feature image: Neil Hancock with the Leading Edge head office team: Charles Davey, Tegan Le Page and Arvine Quizon.