By Erik Steeb
I spent my early days in the tech industry running sales, marketing, and business development groups at Intel. The vision at the time was “a billion connected computers.” A billion ain’t all that much these days, but at the time, the internet was nascent, Sun Microsystems still ruled enterprise computing, and digital music meant your music was on a CD.
Intel’s goal wasn’t the number, but rather the opportunities that would come from such a connected world. While we (Intel) were great at bringing innovative new core technologies to market, it took the creative drive of software & internet startups to really put those innovations to work. Intel recognized the strategic value of engaging startups, and put Intel Capital and the business units to work to help them gain quick access to capital and markets. And other than that little bubble issue, the economic value created around connecting the world has been tremendous.
I’ve been involved with cleantech startups for a decade, and the issue of access to capital and markets remains. Today, the startup environment has no shortage of co-location spaces, maker spaces, accelerators, incubators, economic development groups, and more to help at various stages of a company’s lifecycle. Unfortunately, coordination between these groups is rare, and startups are left to chart their own course. To succeed, access to a great network is critical and coordination across players makes a big impact.
As a result of a multi-year grant from the US Department of Energy, LACI has partnered with Prospect Silicon Valley and the Cleantech Open on the “Tech in Transit Challenge,” a coordinated program aimed at linking early-stage entrepreneurs in the transportation sector with industry heavyweights to speed innovative technologies to market.
The Challenge seeks innovations in the areas of connected vehicles, advanced vehicle technologies, and transportation management systems. Tech in Transit is designed as an ongoing engagement between industry leaders and the startups developing great new technologies for the market. Participating companies go through two phases. The first — Development — is focused on refining the business model, engaging the industry partners on customer discovery and technology validation, and prepping for strategic investor engagement.
Those companies that garner interest among the industry partners then work with LACI and ProspectSV in the Market Engagement phase where we focus on securing investment, pilot demonstrations, market trials, and supply chain integration.
What makes the Tech in Transit Challenge remarkable is the breadth of transportation industry partners involved. The nine partners include Autodesk, Cisco, Continental, Denso, Ericsson, Honda, Hyundai, Siemens, and Toyota. These industry partners lead their markets in new tech deployment, have strategic venture groups actively investing in early-stage companies, engage in market trials and, as a group, represent more than half a trillion $US in annual revenue.
The Tech in Transit network and programmatic engagement is an opportunity that early stage entrepreneurs in the sector won’t want to miss. Nowhere else is such comprehensive support from innovation to market adoption offered. Between leading business incubators and accelerators and the support of transportation industry titans, the Tech in Transit Challenge gives entrepreneurs a roadmap to market success.
I’m really enthusiastic about the opportunities that will come of this collaboration. By bringing entrepreneurs and industry leaders together in one program, we’re de-risking the process and speeding new innovations to the transportation sector.
About the Author: Erik Steeb runs Portfolio Company and Advisory programs at LACI, and also leads the organization’s satellite incubation expansion program. In addition to his work with LACI, Erik is on the boards of the Western Division of the Cleantech Open and the First Look West (FLOW) DOE University Competition. Through these roles, Erik works with more than 100 early stage companies each year, honing their business strategies, connecting them with investors, customers, business partners, and advisors. Prior to his move to cleantech, he held corporate senior management roles in marketing, sales, and business development.