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Friday, April 06, 2018

Innovating for the industry is sexy! And Kolektor Labs knows how to do it

A smart move of the multinational corporation Kolektor that intends to ensure a sustainable source of growth is the foundation of Kolektor Labs. It’s a typical startup, lean and agile development environment with five key fields – artificial intelligence, robotics, AR & VR, simulation technologies, and digital platforms. It’s led by a PhD startupper Marko Thaler, who wishes to ensure fast and maximally effective development of smart digital solutions for the industry. Thaler otherwise emphasizes that Kolektor Labs isn’t a “mom hotel”, even though it actually relieves startups of everything that they deal with when they need to do everything but lack time for the essential – product development and testing, and fast market breakthrough. And if until now, you thought that industry cannot be particularly sexy for startups, read this interview, meet the team in charge of collaboration with startups at PODIM, and find out if you’re made from the real stuff, capable of adapting your knowledge or existing solutions to the use in industry 4.0. and smart factories of the future!
 
The Kolektor group is a globally established player in highly specialized industrial manufacture. What is the idea behind the foundation of Kolektor Labs and how is it connected to the parent group?

The basic idea of Kolektor Labs is to create new companies, technologies and products that will ensure growth to the Kolektor group for the next ten years. It’s a typical startup development environment, based on five pillars – artificial intelligence, robotics, AR and VR, simulation technologies, and digital platforms. On it, we will effectively connect digital technologies with exponential growth and the rich domain knowledge of Kolektor, and offer the market smart digital solutions for the industry 4.0. If industry doesn’t seem all that sexy to startups at the glance, it is actually very interesting! It has enormous potential for improvements, the market is incredibly large and more easily accessible, there is enough capital financing.
 
When you mention a more easily accessible market, you’re probably also thinking of Kolektor’s wide network of companies and branches across the world?

Of course. Kolektor has 35 companies in Europe, USA and Asia, and 5,000 employees. It’s the ultimate playground for extremely quickly verifying the basic hypotheses and testing new solutions. Within the group, we have practically all different types of manufacture, so we can very quickly discover what will function and what won’t.
 
Is there danger that your plans will be spoiled by long sales cycles, otherwise typical for the corporate environment?

There are always specific dynamics for individual industries. But if we come to solutions and can quickly prove how they work, what kinds of advantages and savings they bring, and that they are simple to implement, then the sales cycles can be significantly shorter than they usually are in big established companies with a decision hierarchy. Here, I’d like to emphasize that more than 95% of what will be developed in Kolektor Labs is intended for the external market, because that is the only way for us to reach an increase in revenue and growth of the entire group.
 
You probably aren’t the only one with those thoughts. Do you know what the standpoint towards the mentioned challenge is in industrial giants such as Siemens, Bosch?

Similarly as to how Kolektor acted in the past, namely finding a certain niche, specialized market for its products and becoming number one, two or three, a similar story happens today. Kolektor Labs solutions will be dedicated mostly to small and medium-sized companies, because the big players’ solutions focus on big clients, while the market is undernourished in solutions for small and medium-sized companies, which also face the challenges brought by the megatrend of digitalization and industry 4.0. Factories in fact still have a lot of roles and tasks that are manual, for which you need a pen and paper, a lot of people are needed for them and they’re repetitive. That is why one of our main focuses is artificial intelligence, opening completely new opportunities for digitalization and automatization, and improving processes for easier and faster decision-making.
 
How would you summarize the key advantages that startups can get by collaborating or working within Kolektor Labs?

I think the key advantage is that it’s an ultimate platform with help of which we can, in an extremely short time, develop solutions that actually address a certain burning problem and that have a high use value for customers. We decrease investments risks and increase the developmental effectiveness and possibilities for success, because we can quickly carry out a large number of iterations, the development cycles don’t run empty … At the same time, startups have access to technologies, information, domain knowledge and the ultimate test environment in which they can collaborate with key potential customers. As a startupper I know where founders lose a lot of their time and energy, which is why the support of Kolektor’s central services – HR, legal, marketing, sales, procurement, logistics, administration, finances, IT … is also very important.
 
You actually eliminate the typical startup pains and risks and ensure all the necessary resources – financial, technological, recruitment …


Yes, maybe everything does sound more like a “mom hotel” of sorts, but we are in fact the optimal environment for everyone who wishes to put 100% of their focus on what they’re best at, and gain support from those who are the best in their fields. We fundamentally work as a well-organized and well-financed startup. Our key success indicators are the acquired knowledge and risk management ability, and we’re only interested in top staff – amongst existing Kolektor colleagues as well as all external ones with whom we have contact points for collaboration.
 
How can you actually recruit personnel for such a demanding project, which will apparently be one of the key activities of an otherwise globally successful corporation?

We will look globally, only Slovenia or the region are not enough. We will enable telecommuting, we are establishing connections with the ecosystem and we are entering partnerships with educational institutions and programme providers, for example Udacity or Coursera. We will have our own contests, competitions …
 
What are the possible forms of collaboration with Kolektor Labs? Are you interested only in equity investments or are you also open to other collaboration possibilities?

Individuals and teams can collaborate with Kolektor Lbs, and it is not necessary for them to already be formed as a company. It can be a completely traditional project form of collaboration without equity connections, or an investment from the fund, where Kolektor provides the suitable capital and enters the company as an owner. Usually in this case, a tighter connection and promise can be established, because it’s a smaller risk as far as sharing Kolektor’s domain knowledge is concerned. And as the third type of collaboration, I’d like to point out that startups, individuals or teams can join us in our digital labs, where we will be developing people’s competencies, technology, and know-how. At the start, we will set up five of them – the main lab will be in the field of artificial intelligence, followed by robotics and autonomous systems as well as virtual and augmented reality. These three are more applied. Then there are two labs – one for simulation technologies and the other for the digital platform, but they are more connected to the optimal development of new technologies and the digital infrastructure itself.
 
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Get in touch with Kolektor Labs!

If you are interested in solving the biggest industry problems, we invite you to get in touch with the Kolektor Labs team, at PODIM or beforehand. Write to Marko Thaler at marko.thaler@kolektor.com, and you can find more information about Kolektor’s activities in investing in startups at http://www.kolektorstartup.com.