Xplor is BHP’s unique accelerator designed for innovative explorers with early-stage exploration concepts needed to unlock future critical minerals resources. The six-month program immerses participants in a customised curriculum focused on business, operational, and technical optimisation. Throughout Xplor, participants are connected to BHP’s expert teams and industry networks, with an open opportunity to form longstanding relationships.

BHP Xplor is the first accelerator program of its kind to hit the minerals exploration industry and after successfully completing its inaugural cycle with its first cohort in June 2023, the program is back and on the hunt for its next group of explorers.

Ask Todd Ross, Managing Director of junior explorer, Nordic Nickel what he thinks of BHP’s accelerator program, Xplor, and the answer is clear.

“Before Xplor, we were a junior with an idea,” he says. “After Xplor, we’ve had the confidence to know our concept is real. It’s a unique opportunity that’s allowed us to accelerate our programs and bring the minerals the world needs to market as soon as possible.”

Nordic Nickel are a nickel sulphide explorer recently listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, focused on projects in the central Lapland Greenstone Belt area of Finland. 

“The world is relying upon the junior exploration space to find the next deposits for the energy transition,” says Ross. “However, as an industry, junior explorers don’t always have the chance to interact or communicate well together, but BHP has given us the platform to do that through this program.”

Collaboration lies at the heart of BHP Xplor. It’s designed for explorers who are ready to come together within a new approach, in an immersive environment and fast-track their ideas.  It’s also the first one like it to arrive in the minerals exploration sector.

“Xplor is truly one of a kind,” says Dr. Sonia Scarselli, VP for exploration and Xplor at BHP. “We’ve effectively added a new dimension to the world of minerals exploration by taking the accelerator business model and re-engineering it to be fit to accelerate the discoveries of much needed critical minerals.”

For BHP, Xplor provides more access to early-stage exploration prospects around the world.

Scarselli adds, “Through Xplor, we’re able to broaden our reach, expand our pool of ideas, build new relationships, and drive a pipeline of new opportunities that can shape BHP’s future growth portfolio”.

Another member of the 2023 cohort is Fabian Baker, the Managing Director of Kingsrose Mining, a junior explorer targeting nickel, copper and platinum group elements in Norway and Finland.

In Baker’s view, the traditional junior exploration model hasn’t always yielded quality exploration. He says the support of expert backers like BHP can make a big difference.

“BHP’s Xplor team have been exceptional,” says Baker. “They’ve understood what’s important and what’s not, helping us accelerate to the most critical answers as quickly as possible. It’s been a great process.”

With the program designed to create disruptive results in exploration by identifying new concepts, leveraging new data, and testing opportunities at a much faster pace, Kingsrose Mining have built what they believe is Norway’s largest geological database.  Xplor has also enabled Baker and his team to focus on creating a more holistic business that’s set up for success.

“By answering a lot of questions that validated our idea, we’ve now refined a strategy that we’re confident to take forward,” says Baker.

It’s a belief echoed by Kingsrose Mining’s Head of Exploration, Andrew Tunningley.

“Before Xplor, we had the concept. After Xplor, we’ve developed that concept into a tangible project.”

BHP Xplor Program Lead, Charlee Johnson and the 2023 Xplor Cohort

One of the unique program aspects is access to technical and business support allowing participants to accelerate their exploration opportunities and manage the challenges of fundraising.

There’s also a US$500,000 equity-free grant to support and fast-track exploration work for the duration of the program. This grant, combined with the program’s networking access and unique curriculum, enables explorers to focus on their concepts even further.

“The funding allowed us to continue investigating what data is out there so we can put together our programs and ideas,” says Tutume Metals Managing Director, Ross McGowan.

Tutume Metals is a private, junior exploration company in Africa searching for new magmatic nickel and copper systems. By participating in Xplor, they gained the confidence needed to go out and explore. 

“Confidence is really important in exploration,” says McGowan. “You can never be guaranteed of a discovery, but confidence in the team, approach and data is critical to what we do.”

“Xplor has allowed us to solidify our ideas and how we think about exploring. That’s key.”

Red Ox Copper’s Managing Director Mark Dugmore agrees. The company is based in Australia and specialises in generating grassroots, greenfield conceptual plays with the potential for tier 1 ore deposits. They used their grant to gather more information, which generated new targets in their data set.  Dugmore also valued the access to BHP’s experts.

“From day one, we started running and haven’t stopped,” says Dugmore. “Xplor made us re-evaluate the way we looked at exploration and our concept. It also gave us access to the right people…we were doing masterclasses in things that I had read about but never had the time or money to do.”

It’s this mix of technical, operational, and business activities that’s given BHP Xplor participants distinctive insights into running an exploration business.

BHP’s Head of Innovation Delivery, Michelle Thomas and the 2023 Xplor Cohort

“While the masterclasses helped define our technical risks and focus on our exploration programs,” says Nordic Nickel’s Ross, “we also looked at the non-technical risks of running a junior exploration company.”

“I was excited to understand how a large organisation like BHP would approach a mineral system and exploration. For us, as a junior company, to learn how they approach things and get their support early on, has been a fantastic opportunity.”

By giving participants insights into BHP’s frameworks, BHP Xplor has helped participants find the best ways to improve their understanding of the exploration concepts to enable acceleration to discovery.

The 2023 cohort also connected with BHP’s teams and industry networks.

“Business and leadership coaching is not something we conventionally think about in collaboration with a major company like BHP,” says Tutume Metals’ McGowan. “It’s certainly added a lot to our thinking and our approach.”

Professor Jim Mungall’s main goal while in the program was to fill gaps in his knowledge, particularly around the operational and management aspects of running an exploration business. He’s the President and CEO of Bronzite Exploration Corp, an early-stage exploration company looking for copper deposits in the Canadian arctic.

He wasn’t disappointed.

“The most senior BHP people would come in and chat and be very open, answering questions about how BHP operates. Everyone was willing to share their ideas and experiences and it was very helpful.”

Another 2023 Xplor cohort member is Mike Jones, Managing Director of Impact Minerals. They’ve been working on a concept for copper in Australia and he says one of the big surprises of the program was the level of support offered by BHP to participants. 

“It was progressively revealed like a magic trick,” he says.  “It felt like a ‘mini-MBA’ for minerals exploration.”

That’s a common theme across the 2023 BHP Xplor cohort.

“Having the support of a large organisation like BHP is phenomenal,” says Nordic Nickel’s Ross. “It’s what got us so excited about it.”

His Exploration Manager, Juho Haverinen agrees.

“We started this journey very open-minded,” says Haverinen. “We weren’t looking for much more than the conversations and what possibilities this could provide us, but it’s opened up a whole new world.”

“You’re surrounded by these brilliant people, and you feel humble as if your work is already respected in a way that you’ve never really experienced. That’s life changing.”

For Fabian Baker of Kingsrose Mining, it was about making important connections that he didn’t previously have.

“I was surrounded by people with a wealth of different experiences in commodities, work and life,” says Baker.  “That was really valuable.”

With the 2023 program now complete, the search is on for the next group of explorers for BHP Xplor’s 2024 cohort.

For Red Ox Copper’s Dugmore, it’s a rare opportunity for any participant.

“Twenty years ago, the concept of doing grassroots exploration, greenfield exploration and backing small groups like ours was a no-no for the big explorers,” he says. “However, BHP realised the new copper and nickel discoveries of the world would have to come from new ideas and groups like ours.  I really like that approach.”

It’s a concept that resonates with Todd Ross.

“At the end of the day, we’re all treasure hunters looking to make a discovery and test a thesis,” says Ross. “From the perspective of junior companies talking to major companies, it’s something that’s never been done before. Hopefully, it leads to new partnerships and new ways of doing things because it’s a great opportunity.”

And that’s how BHP’s Xplor is disrupting minerals exploration. Are you ready to Xplor?

Applications for the 2024 BHP Xplor program open on 23 August and close 11 October 2023. To apply, click here.

 To learn more about BHP Xplor, visit www.bhp.com/xplor.