The internet of things (#iot) is a world-wide trend for the application of cheap hardware in everyday objects to provide novel digitally-enabled services. From sensors in your homes to self-driving cars, the revolution was spearheaded in the the UK, host to the second largest dedicated meetup.com group (an informal gathering) in the world.
But how do we increase the #iot’s impact on the UK economy when the IT & Communications sector only makes up 0.02% of GDP? How do we grow a Silicon Valley type go-getter attitude to an emerging, exciting and challenging field during an era of Brexit? How do we create a culture of innovation at the intersection of product design, engineering, web development and marketing?
We believe this requires a completely new way of training potential entrepreneurs and introducing them to 4 different disciplines in an accessible, affordable and flexible way.
Who is it for?
A survey conducted in April 2017 shows that most people getting involved intros sector are between 35-60. This means that they have had a career for a period of time and are considering building their own product and perhaps building a company. These are often highly qualified software engineers or professionals with a reasonable level of education and existing lifestyle, perhaps even with children. This presents us with challenges in growing a field of practice. The first being that these professionals are far less likely to actually start a business anew, burdened with mortgages and often a family to support financially. They are also, naturally, more risk-averse, unable to take much time to retrain, but looking to learn on the side, through remote learning on online Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and others.
In fact the startups which have had the most ‘dynamo’ have been set up by retired or near-retirement professionals (OliTool, Kemuri) or recent graduate students (SamLabs). These are the two categories of potential entrepreneurs which are the least served by the current #iot incubators and accelerators in the UK. Students often do not have enough experience to plan a connected product adequately. Professionals in their 50s and 60s are looking for a new breath of life at a point where their family obligations are shifting and they are looking to keep busy later in life as the promise of a retirement looms heavily. The third underserved category of people potentially interested in starting an #iot business are people with little technical or creative education. Having a good idea is not only the remit of the educated. We feel that a good idea for connected products should be encouraged, no matter who has it, no matter what their culture, education or background.
Current models and their challenges
Our experience mentoring startups in this space has led us to believe that most teams will take years to develop a product that is market-ready. Programs that offer teams or founders only 2-3 months of support find that there is too much information to communicate that the teams are unable to absorb until the point at which that information is relevant (which could be months away). Many teams will suffer in their development from the pressures of a few months where product development is put aside for the abstract support around high growth marketing and financial structuring. Neither of these mechanisms are useful if the product cannot be prototyped, proven to work, IP identified and manufacturing partners established. Too little time and too much information in short.
This is why we are developing CAST an internet of things business support program that would allow budding entrepreneurs at any stage to be assessed and offered a long-term affordable and tailored support program.
This program is based on some basic principles and concepts:
- The program must be flexible to accommodate whatever time a participant may have for the development of their idea. Early stage ideas may be ‘10% projects’ that someone is working on at the same time as having a job.
- The program is primarily about offering a bespoke and structured long-term support and networking.
- The program must offer some basic advantages, but must primarily be a service participants pay for.
- The program must be affordable.
- The program must be able to run over the course of 2 years before assessing its impact on the teams.
- A willing participant(s) can apply with an idea and whatever stage they are at (see Assessment Grid below) online, filling in a basic form with a few questions that allow the program to assess them.
- Once assessed, they are offered a free desk for a max. 1 year period which they can choose to use or not. This flexibility around desk space allows a participant at stage 1-2 to have access to enough physical resources to build up confidence and a network.
- They are offered a tailored schedule of free networking activities and affordable workshops and seminars which they can sign up to (for eg. £30/seminar) and are offered on a rotation every month and free mentoring. This will ensure that the participant is taking part in seminars which they are interested in and not that they feel obligated / forced to join. This will help the program assess the speed of development and the appetite of a participant. It will also help the program introduce relevant content over a long period of time, as the needs of each are assessed.
- After the first year, they are asked to pay a minimal fee for their desk (no more than £300/mo) or they can give it away while still attending the program of workshops/seminars.
- The participant never really ‘ends’ the program, they simply develop until they feel confident enough to move on. As they may stop needing the support, they simply become alumni who will be informed of ongoing networking events and the new participants coming through.
These are the different stages at which people may find themselves when they are initially assessed.
|Stage #||What do you have||What are you missing|
|0||No idea what the internet of things is||A primer on what it is, who is building what and why it’s exciting. This could be offered as a pre-event to the monthly meetup.|
|1||An idea written down on paper||A functional prototype, final design for manufacture, manufacturing plan, supply chain partners, marketing plan & assets, network of partners and potential investors, financial plans, Gantt chart, BoM.|
|2||A non-prototype (using Arduino, RPi or similar)||Final design for manufacture, manufacturing plan, supply chain partners, marketing plan & assets, network of partners and potential investors, financial plans, Gantt chart, BoM.|
|3||A design ready for manufacture||Manufacturing plan, supply chain partners, marketing plan & assets, network of partners and potential investors, financial plans, Gantt chart.|
|4||A market ready product||Marketing plan & assets, network of partners and potential investors, financial plans, Gantt chart.|
|5||A financed and market ready product||Marketing plan & assets, network of partners, financial planning.|
Program of seminars/workshops
A program of seminars and workshops may include types of workshops already offered across the UK in more general business support programs but many will be specific to #iot ideas. This is also a perfect opportunity to invite lecturers from across the UK’s manufacturing and creative industries to conduct these workshops, helping participants build up partnerships directly.
|Materials||Product design limitations (plastics, wood, metal), costs, timelines.|
|Admin (UK)||Starting a business structure in the UK (Companies House, VAT, corporation tax)|
|Admin (US)||Starting a business in the US (EIN, Delaware company incorporation)|
|IP||Patents, design patents, trademarks|
|Investment||Taking investment (convertible notes, equity)|
|Embedded Software (firmware)||What to consider, cost, time of development, who to work with in the UK|
|Software||What options (DIY or work with middleware partner). How to build cross-platform products (mobile, tablet, desktop)|
|Marketing||How to build a marketing plan, how to execute it. How to build up a crowdfunding campaign, what timelines, what level of support, what to put on the page.|
|PR||How to build up a network of potential PR partners for awareness to be increased over any important event (Christmas, a tradeshow, CES)|
|BoM||How to build up a Bill of Materials? Why? For whom.|
|Retailers & Wholesalers||How to work with retailers, warehousing, demand, payments.|
|Technical options||Bluetooth LE, WiFi, GSM, LoRa (costs, who to buy from, adv and disadv of each)|
|Supply Chain||How to design your supply chain? Hidden costs, timelines, gantt charts|
|User research||How to conduct early stage user research with your prototypes, how to ask questions, which questions to ask, how to craft a questionnaire.|
|Assembly||Where to assemble your product, here, when to move to China? How is it costed?|
We would like to start running CAST in 2018.
If you’d like to support this program please get in touch.
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