When building a deep tech company that breaks new ground based on disruptive technology, there are many steps on the way to make the business fly. You know from the beginning there will be numerous bumps on the road – it is a part of the journey – but what happens when a global pandemic gets in the way of the roadmap?
Parts of the Ekkono Team surfing in Varberg
When more and more things get connected, machine learning has become a crucial method for making the devices self-learning and predictive. With more than 80 billion devices being connected in just another three years, IoT (Internet of things) hold a tremendous potential for every spectrum of life, from industrial development to consumer behavior. Ekkono does edge machine learning, which adds another dimension to AI and IoT when we put the intelligence at the edge, onboard each and every device.
Early on the transformation
Since Ekkono was founded 2016, the staff has grown from four founders to 23 people working at the offices in Varberg, Borås and Gothenburg, or remotely from their home offices in Stockholm, Malmö, Karlskrona, Madrid and Frankfurt. Ekkono was born virtual as the four founders all live in different places. And as a tech company it comes naturally to use online tools for collaboration. However, when Corona, or Covid-19, hit the world in March it changed the ball game for everyone.
– We could see something coming already in February when they cancelled MWC in Barcelona. The same week we participated at Embedded World in Nuremberg and did the “Corona Bump” elbow shake with everyone at the show floor. We all know the story from there. We sat down early on and brainstormed about how to tackle this situation that no one had seen before in modern time, says Jon Lindén, CEO of Ekkono Solutions.
Virtual fika breaks to interact
An immediate impact was that tradeshows and conferences cancelled. This is where we educate customers and meet new prospects. The brainstorming session gave birth to the virtual #openfika webinars. The Swedes have introduced “fika”, meaning “coffee break”, as an institution around the world. The tradition has spread through Swedish businesses and is a common practice at workplaces in Sweden, where also customer meetings always start with a cup of coffee. As a digital substitution to these informal and more formal ways of interacting with customers and other stakeholders, the first Ekkono #openfika webinars was held in late March and has been hosted on a regular basis ever since. One or two Ekkono experts present a relevant and trending topic in the industry of IoT, embedded software and machine learning, and then open up for questions and discussion. As an extension, a short white paper on the subject is published afterwards and the webinar can be replayed on Ekkono’s YouTube channel.
– We believe that ‘giving is getting’, which is why we happily share our insights and knowledge. As a disruptor, thought leadership is a pillar in our corporate strategy. The #openfika is a suitable format for web conferences as they give people, working from home, a good reason to take a short inspirational break. It seems we were right, and our digital marketing strategy has resulted in not only rewarding discussions on hot topics, but also generated new customer prospects, Jon continues.
Speaking of new customers; Not being able to showcase Ekkono’s unique technology on the originally planned tradeshows of course has had an impact on the ambition to go from a startup to a scaleup, which was an objective for 2020 before Corona hit the world. Since most of Ekkono’s customers are large industrial corporations, many projects have been paused or postponed.
– Most large corporations were not prepared to have their employees work from home. The pace went down, round-trip times on emails went up, and some things, even when working with software, are hard to do without access to the physical products. The uncertainty of how long and to what extent the pandemic will have an impact, caused most companies to cut investments in new projects. However, our exhortation to the big companies is to do the opposite during the crises. Now, more than ever before, should they innovate to speed up the development of new products and services to stand out against the competition. Sweden has always ranked high in measures of innovation and let’s not lose speed when we need it the most. Collaborations between startups and large companies are crucial for innovation.
Awards for recognition and validation
Everyone with an eye on Ekkono has seen recognition through different awards during the spring. Accenture’s innovation award, The Blue Tulip Award, chose Ekkono as one of ten finalists in the category “Living & Working”. In April, Ekkono was on Red Herring’s Top 100 list of Europe’s most promising companies, and in May the German Design Council elected Ekkono as “Gold Winner” at the German Innovation Awards 2020.
– Getting awards is an important validation that what we do stands out in a positive way. It’s also a crucial market indicator as these awards look for future winners. It builds credibility, which is crucial when working with multi-national corporate customers. We also got accepted to Plug and Play Japan’s acceleration program as one of 18 innovative companies from all over the world with the mission to transform the future of mobility. These programs became more important as the possibility to directly meet new customers disappeared with Corona. And I’m extra happy that it’s in Japan as we see a great potential there and expect Japan to come out of the Corona crises ahead of Europe. The fact is the we just last week won our first Japanese customer! Our first customer ever that we’ve never met in person, which shows that our software business model works even in Corona times.
Sustainable focus from start to finish
Besides the financial benefits, Ekkono’s edge machine learning software has a gigantic sustainable impact on industrial and automotive industries. To realize the true potential of IoT it requires smart automation, and machine learning is the way to automate these connected things.
– In everything we do, we have a sustainable mindset from start to finish. We assess every customer project based on its impact on the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We even help our customers realize potential in their products they didn’t know about. We spend significant R&D resources on making our technology the most energy-efficient in the world since billions of times small gains equals big impact. We even have a PhD doing research specifically on energy-efficient machine learning algorithms. We are currently in the middle of a world-wide energy transformation where we can make a difference with our technology. Through more energy-efficient operations of connected devices, we not only get better and smarter devices, but also a better global environment. A global environment that I hope can benefit from the positive effects of the Corona crises, with clean air and water in big cities and evidence to the feasibility of remote collaboration with less travel. I hope this finally pushes sustainability from nice-to-have to must-have!