In-brief: The Internet of Things makes unique demands on entrepreneurs. Among them: passion, and a good business plan, says Cisco’s Marc Blackmer.
I love the Internet of Things! Why? The IoT literally and figuratively opens us to a new world of possibility. The combination of increasing connectivity, online collaboration and the open source movement significantly lowers the barrier to entry for those driven to make their imprint on the world.
Typically, I focus on the security aspect of the IoT, but one commonality across the IoT are the entrepreneurs. Without them, there would be no IoT – secure or otherwise – so I’d like to take a look at a case study that I think will benefit all entrepreneurs.
Cisco sponsors the Innovation Grand Challenge at the IoT World Forum each as well as sponsoring other programs such as DevNet hackathons in conjunction with Cisco Live! As you can imagine, we get to meet and work with many talented, creative people around the world, and one such team that caught my attention was Green City Solutions, based in Dresden, Germany. I’m writing about them because I believe they have brought together three key components of which all entrepreneurs should take note:
- Passion for what they do
- A collaborative team based on multiple disciplines
- A viable, adaptable business plan.
Let’s drill down on each of these three, key elements of successful IoT entrepreneurs:
Passion – Let’s face it, you can’t fake passion. Period. Passion is obvious and contagious. You’re potential investors and customers will know if you are sincerely working to make a change in the world, or if you’re trying to cash in on a trend.
Collaboration Across Disciplines – The romantic idea of the lone visionary toiling away in his basement toward that “Eureka!” moment is a fallacy. Innovation really happens when individuals with different backgrounds and strengths collaborate and lend their respective expertise to solving a problem.
A viable and adaptable business plan – The reality in business is that you’re dealing with, well, reality. When you and your passionate band of collaborators take your idea to your market, you will encounter any number of adverse conditions that you hadn’t anticipated. I guarantee you that you will have to go through a few major re-designs of your concept when you starting pitching it to your market. The key is to be flexible enough to adapt to the market demands without losing sight of what your original vision. You’ll have to ask yourself repeatedly what you’re willing to change and what is non-negotiable. You can still be true to your passion while finding alternate paths to success.
Putting it all Together in the Real World: Green City Solutions
Co-founders Dénes Honus (CEO) and Liang Wu (CIO) both had personal experience with air pollution problems and its attendant health problems before they met at the University of Dresden. A recent report from the World Health Organization cited air pollution as being responsible for nearly 2/3 of the 12.6 million health-related deaths in 2012 worldwide.
Dénes, Liang, and co-founders/classmates Peter Sänger (COO) and Victor Splittgerber (CTO), knew that air pollution is a man-made problem and that it is within our power to change, so Green City Solutions was created out of a desire to make that change. But, how?
Peter’s background as a horticulturist with strong experience in biological components included projects funded by the University of Dresden. It focused on a special kind of moss and its ability to reduce air pollution. The moss hosts a certain bacterium that digests air pollution, and when the bacterium dies, the moss consumes the bacteria. The University halted the research due to the need for large areas and perfect conditions of the moss for the solution to work. Green City Solutions has solved these problems with the vertical system, which augments the plants with an automated maintenance system resulting in two patents securing intellectual property for the Green City Solutions team.
Cool. Now What?
Dénes and Victor then put their architecture and mechanical engineering backgrounds to work. The team designed structures on which the moss could live but that were also meant to be look more like a useable art installation than simply a wall of moss. The placement of the installations is based on analysis air pollution sources and wind patterns so that they can filter the air most effectively while providing an attractive installation in public spaces.
You may be wondering at this point, what the IoT angle is? Well, it’s front and center in Green City Solutions’ business model. Their installations are chock full of sensors, which means the installations are customizable data analysis and advertising platforms.
The data collected is of great interest to many. For example, municipalities want to use the installations to provide services such as public Wi-Fi; insurance companies want to better understand the health risks in different cities; and real estate developers see the aesthetic benefit the installations bring to their properties.
By creating a revenue-generating IoT platform that appeals to multiple market segments, Green City Solutions has found a sustainable way to support their passion for the benefit of the communities where they are installed and demand is growing rapidly.
It’s as Easy as 1-2-3
No, it’s not that easy! When I met with Dénes recently at the Cisco Innovation Center in Berlin, he described to me the amount of energy it takes to be an entrepreneur, the emotional roller coaster that is a start-up business, and how many times he’s had to admit he’s wrong and adapt. Of course, the beaming smile on his face as he described his challenges told another story.
Joining the entrepreneur ranks is not for everyone, but it’s not impossible. Those who are passionate about their ideas, who are willing to collaborate, and who are shrewd enough to adapt will be the best positioned to succeed in this IoT revolution.