7 years, 8 months ago
#MakerMonday with Raph Crouan
We spoke to the founder of Startupbootcamp IoT | Connected Devices about his new IoT accelerator.
With a background as a strategic and analytical International Senior Marketing and Sales Director in tech, Raph found himself working with Apple for around twelve years spearheading ground-breaking innovation and products internationally. After leaving three years ago, he’s now back in the entrepreneurial saddle and is leading the new Startupbootcamp IoT | Connected Devices accelerator for Consumer and Industrial IoT hardware startups. With one week left to apply, we caught up with Raph to find out what he looks for in an IoT startup, the Internet of Useless Things and the role of accelerators.
Q: Tell us about Startupbootcamp.
A: Startupbootcamp is a global accelerator that’s backed by many corporate partners. We now have around thirteen to fourteen current accelerators around the world, ranging from Singapore to Miami, with an aggressive plan of expansion again this year in various other locations, South America, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South Africa and India.
One of the key specialities of Startupbootcamp is focusing on verticals, we have a set of various different verticals we're looking into, for example fintech, insurtech, e-commerce and we’ve just launched a programme around foodtech in Rome, which is very exciting.
Q: And your focus is IoT and Connected Devices?
A: That’s right, we decided quite early that there was no way we could address IoT in one single programme so we split that across four different programmes. The first two we’re pivoting out of existing programmes in Amsterdam and Berlin: a smart city branding bus in Amsterdam and then smart transportation and energy in Berlin. We also have our big data product which is a smart data platform in Barcelona. I am specifically working on the hardware piece, with a twist. We're not just looking at the consumer (your usual suspects around wearables, smart homes, assisted living and security), but also at a very different type of IoT product because we're also looking at industry, so smart manufacturing, smart retail, smart energy and smart ordering.
Q: What drew you into IoT?
A: What's not interesting about IoT? It will be the core of every single technology evolution for the next twenty years, and potentially the biggest impact on industry, so of course I’m interested in it. I’ve always been known to be one of the tech guys in my group of friends and have an opinion on every new technology that's coming out. IoT for me is a field full of opportunity in terms of getting people connected even further. What's interesting is the impact that IoT can have, both economically speaking but also socially and potentially even medically. That's a very interesting field.
Q: A lot of people define the Internet of Things in different ways. What would be your definition?
A: I don't think there is one definition, from historical definition of connections, down to the latest geekiest definition possible. For me, anything that can be connected and have some sort of UX that defines the capture of the data that you get out is a potential IoT device. It's about getting as much data as possible and leveraging that data that you get through small devices which are packed with sensors and are now a fraction of the price of what they used to be.
Q: At Startupbootcamp, you have a great balance of mentorship to funding, would you say that mentorship is more important or just as important as the funding side?
A: Definitely more important. Our key view of this is that people matter more than the rest. It's all about the people, this is why we are travelling the world when we go and select startups for a programme. As you can tell, I’ve lost my voice because I’ve been a plane for the last month and a half, around the world literally, from Asia to the US to Tel Aviv last week to Vienna and I’m going to be in Dubai next week and so on. It's a non stop exercise to meet the right people and meet the founders because talent doesn't exist just around the corner. You have to actually go and meet those people and what really makes a difference is not the idea that they have, it's their ability to execute that idea. It's down to the people in the team. Similarly, when it comes to accelerating the startup, what really matters is the connections that we can give them, the expertise of the mentors, the relevancy of that expertise based on the specific vertical that you're looking at, and that's the core benefit of being in Startupbootcamp. Funding is obviously needed to some extent to accelerate and scale your company, but if you have the wrong people helping you, or in the team, you're not going to go very far however much money you get.
Q: Aside from founders and looking at the team, what else excites you about the startups who apply?
A: The first thing is that we don't take single founders. We need a minimum of two. In an ideal world, they would have complementary skills. Then we look at what stage they are at as we’re looking for seed stage companies with a working prototype because that's the stage where we can actually help. If it's before that, particularly in the hardware world, it can take five to six years to get to a point where it's actually relevant.
Apart from this, we are looking at specific verticals as I said earlier. Those two sets of verticals, the Consumer side and the Industrial side, make it quite compelling and exciting because you have a real diversity of company types we can look at, all from different sources. On the Consumer side there are a set that are part of the startup ecosystem, you can see them in every trade show. On the other Industrial though there’s a completely different type of company because most of them are going to be spun out of industrial groups, maybe development groups, so it's a lot harder to find them. That's what makes it exciting. In terms of criteria, particularly for those, we don't want to have an idea stage when it comes to R&D because that's really far away from any potential for commercial application. We're looking at something that's a lot more tangible, a lot more present, and that's where we're pretty clear on the selection process.
Q: And what’s the desired outcome for the startups who go through Startupbootcamp?
A: Each of them has a different expectation and will have a different need, but at the core of it, when you're an early stage startup, you will need at least two very specific things. The first is visibility to get access to a vast network of supporters. That could be industrial players, it could be large scale entities as well as small players to help you for a very specific task. When it comes to our programme in particular one of the key issues that most of the hardware companies are facing is supply chain and manufacturing and of course we solve that by having key partners in place to support them in getting access to manufacturers, both in Europe and in Asia.
The second thing is access to funding and by having such a large network of investors that we rely on and trust we can do a good job. We can very quickly fast track that access to capital. We're one phone call away to having a meeting with a partner in any VC firm in Europe by now and that's something that clearly is a tremendous help for the startups.
Q: One thing we haven’t spoken about is the product being created, is what they are actually making important?
A: Of course, but more in terms of whether there’s any market for that particular product. Looking past whether a product is ‘fun’, the first question we ask is whether the market they’re targeting is too small or niche. We’re lucky to be in an age and time where crowdfunding is a good exercise to get an understanding of whether any type of merchandise has traction in the market, particularly in consumer products.
Q: Interesting point about crowdfunding, but it’s not just upto the consumers. Do you think that accelerators have an important role to play in the curation of the successful startups who will make the tech of the future? Do we really need more BBQs that tweet you?
A: You're talking about the Internet of Useless Things, right? We clearly do our share of supporting or not in a similar way, so I guess we can potentially influence that. The problem is the market of accelerators itself has been completely exploding and being overused and abused, as a word anyway, which is damaging the reputation of what an accelerator can do. On the large scale of things it's actually pushing companies that probably shouldn't be pushed at all, because they need to find a way to be relevant. My view is our role is to make sure that we can support a company, a good company, and help them scale very quickly. That's the role of an accelerator to me. Startupbootcamp was created with two promises: one, we don't want to be investors ourselves. We rely on a group of investors around the world to do that job. Two, we are firm believers in verticals and ecosystems, that's the reason why we have only vertical programmes so far. We want to build an ecosystem around the programmes with the right startups. We never invented anything around fintech in London, we’re just one of the key fintech accelerators in London, the same as in Singapore and we partner with the government over there to have a real impact on the existing ecosystems, supporting it, raising it and making it drive. I guess we do shape the future a bit in that sense, but it would be a bit presumptuous of us to think that we have that much of a role.
Q: So getting personal, could you tell us about what IoT products you've got in your house or about your person?
A: Yes, of course, I’ve got a fitness tracker, one that I’m really happy to have. I’ve tested many different ones, but I still have with me today the first version of the Misfit that actually the CEO gave to me about three years ago now. It's still working tremendously well. I love it because it's small, it goes under the shirt, it’s fully waterproof so I don't have to take it off to shower or anything, and it's got about six months on the battery. It does what I want.
I have a set of products at home, some smart plugs. I don't have a smart thermostat because I rent and I wouldn't want to put a big hole in the wall but I have seen my share of those. I also have a smart lock, Sherlock, which lets me open my doors remotely.
Q: What’s next for the Startupbootcamp?
A: I want to make sure that we get the startups happy when they have completed the programme. One thing that haunts me everyday is the idea that we build up something that’s useless and wasted the startups time. That's the opposite of what I want to create. One of the things that we’re very careful about during the selection process is due diligence being done on the economics of the company, but more than that, I want to talk to the founders and say: “Listen, do you think we can help you? Is that something you really want to do because this is going to be committing, you're going to have to be with us for three months, which doesn't sound long but it's going to be intense and I wouldn't want you to come here if you felt that I can't help you. Are you at the right stage and do you think that what we can offer between funding and support, access to the network, mentors, are those people that are going to help your company to scale? If so then do please join us and if not, let me know. Let's not waste time.”That's my dream. To have companies who say yes has definitely helped us and allowed us to go to a market that we wouldn't dreamed of doing in less than two years and we've done that in three months.
Q: What would you tell the IoT startups that might be reading this?
A: If you feel you're relevant to our programme and think we can help you then please do apply. We're closing applications on June 13th so you have one week! In any case, we want to make sure that there's as many startups as possible looking into the programme and of course we'll have next year as well, spread the word to anyone who might be interested.