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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

IoT Challenge at Iskratel – The best solution will become a candidate for an investment and have access to 1+ million users!

Startups, heads up! Iskratel, the leading European provider of ICT solutions, will announce its IoT Challenge at this year’s PODIM Conference. The Challenge will give you the opportunity for an investment and a testing range with more than a million users! “We wish to collaborate with startups to get ideas for new, interesting solutions in the field of IoT platforms and smart homes,” explains Damjan Slapar, executive director for products and generic solutions and Iskratel board member who is responsible for investments and collaborations with startups. The multinational, offering solutions for telecommunication operators and providers of services for digitalization of transport, public safety, and energy, implemented four investments in hardware startups last year through its Iskratel Startup Fund. They are also planning a similar tempo in the future, acting as a long-term strategic partner that offers startups comprehensive infrastructure and know-how, including support in development, testing and market penetration. And before you meet the Iskratel team at PODIM, think about whether you have an idea, solution or knowledge up your sleeve that will help you shine at their IoT Challenge!
 
Tell us a bit more about the planned IoT Challenge that you will announce at PODIM. Why IoT and where did you get the idea for it?

The idea for the IoT Startup Challenge originates from the fact that among other things, Iskratel also has a very strong CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) programme. Plainly said, these are modems with more than a million users, therefore ensuring an incredible testing range. The entire project has been imagined as an intensive two-month programme of collaboration with startups here, in Kranj, where we would get ideas for new, interesting solutions for IoT platforms and smart homes.
 
For everyone interested in participating at your IoT Challenge, could you maybe list some actual use cases?

There are a lot of those and I don’t wish to limit anyone who’s coming to our IoT Challenge with my own directions. Well, if I try to illustrate a use case for smart homes after all, that could, for example, be a command to turn on the guest Wi-Fi when we get visitors. Then there are all possible wireless devices that can be operated for turning lights and thermostats on and off, raising and lowering blinds, shutters … But what I find more important than listing some use cases is that the teams with the best solutions will actually get the opportunity to access currently more than a million users, whereby our annual growth in this field reaches approximately 300,000 modems.
 
Definitely impressive numbers. But how are you planning on upgrading the best ideas?

After two months of working together, we will carefully review all the solutions and prepare a concluding DEMO Day, where the best idea will get the opportunity to receive an investment by our corporate investment fund Iskratel Startup.
 
In last year’s conversation for PODIM you announced that you are planning on closing four to five investments in 2017, and you’ve also achieved this. Can you give us a quick run-down of your portfolio companies?


That’s right. We’ve inspected and talked to more than 150 startups. Gotoky was our first investment and today, they are on the brink of manufacturing and delivering the first 2000 items, including Kickstarter supporters and the first commercial clients. As far as other investments are concerned, I’d like to mention that we perform as a very flexible investor – we enter some projects with equity, with others we arrange for a convertible loan. After the Gotoky team, which received our equity investment at the beginning of last year, we’ve also supported the smart safe bag called Safy Bag, which includes a motion sensor, alarm, battery for charging smartphones and a quality strap that is difficult to cut through with usual tools.
 
Did you enter the project Safy Bag with equity or did you authorize a convertible loan? And why was a smart bag interesting for you?

Safy Bag is a good solution for the safety of people and things, which is also one of the fields that’s very interesting for us. At the same time, it also has EMS (electronics manufacturing services) potential right here in Iskratel. They approached us in the prototype stage, they already had some traction on the market, and we’ve agreed on a convertible loan. Because there is no deeper compatibility with our core programmes, we will not convert it into equity.
 
Which were the other two investments?

The third startup, receiving a convertible loan, was Stork, developing the product and application Baby Stork for solving infertility problems. We liked that they were solving a pressing problem, and they also had EMS potential. Unfortunately, the story did not conclude successfully, mostly because the team fell apart. Sadly, this also happens in startup systems, but I still think that they had a very interesting product. Our fourth investment was Implera. They have their own technology of electric vehicle chargers, and we entered the company with an equity investment, and recently even helped them choose a sales director. The main reason behind this investment wasn’t the EMS potential, even though we will be able to manufacture certain electronic components for them, but rather their big global market potential.
 
You dedicated about five million euros to the Iskratel Startup fund. How much resources have you already spent and what are your investment plans for the future?

If I sum up our current investments and the internal engagement of the employees, these values are nearing a million EUR. There are quite some funds still available, then. Currently, we’re in contact with about 15 startups that we regularly monitor, advise them for free, guide them and help them. That’s because we’ve tackled the startup programme very seriously. We meticulously study every collaboration proposition, and every team that comes to us for a discussion is listened to by at least seven or eight of our experts, meaning colleagues in leadership positions from various company segments. We also have set goals – at least three to five investments per year. Amongst the 15 startups that we’re closely tracking, there are definitely a couple that have investment potential. Then there is the previously mentioned Iskratel IoT Challenge, where an investment is planned for the winner. And of course, we continue to remain close partners of the ecosystem, at events such as the PODIM Conference, and all other opportunities for finding good teams and ideas in the entire area of the Adriatic region.
 
And you continue to remain an investor that brings smart money … Or as you said in last year’s PODIM interview – a problem that a startup would spend a month solving you can arrange with one phone call in Iskratel …

Correct. I would like startups to take to heart that a corporate investor looks at collaborations with them in a truly long-term and strategic way. It is in our interest that we collaborate well, that we don’t stick our noses into business models, culture, if we see that startups work well and function as a team. That we don’t act as someone who only supports the project financially, but that we’re available with all our know-how and the complete infrastructure – from development, testing and manufacture to sales, marketing, logistics, procurement, IT, staffing, legal issues and everything else that startups also need. Sometimes it sounds strange when I keep repeating that it is not difficult to get money for good ideas and good teams. Money is a hygienist. Implementation is a significantly bigger challenge.
 
Your activities in collaborating with startups are probably also reflected in changes in your company?

In the past year and a half, Iskratel has completely transformed and passed from a traditional waterfall way of working to advanced lean and agile approaches. That was actually necessary for us due to the conditions on the market, which demand us to be significantly more adaptable. Besides this, we have distributed development groups in four locations across the world, where another level of agility is necessary. We would like to introduce bi-modality, which enables corporations to create certain typical startup development environments and design working groups that can even be dislocated from the parent company. With Kickstarter projects of our startups, we are gaining valuable new experience, and if I go a step further in how activities from the world of startups can spill into the corporate environment, let me mention that we started thinking about and researching possibilities for our own ICO campaign. We have a huge community of users, which is the foundation, we have intensive R&D activity, and we have great knowledge of the field, which improves our chances of success from the very start.
 
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Get in touch with Iskratel!

If you wish to present your innovative idea to Iskratel or meet with them at the PODIM Conference, give notice to Roman Kužnar (roman.kuznar@rcikt.com), head of Iskratel’s startup programme and director of Iskratel’s business incubator RC IKT, or visit their website at www.iskratelstartup.com and submit your offer through the contact form.
 
For more information about Iskratel, visit the company website at www.iskratel.com and follow posts on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/iskratel.
 
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More information on how to collaborate with Iskratel