Jon Lindén, CEO Ekkono
The first week of November, Ekkono was awarded not only one, but three prestigious awards for our cutting-edge technology. Awards you think, why does that matter? Well, the real award is not always the actual award. Entrepreneurship is not a competition, but sometimes it’s the door to a customer you really desire. Then you should flex your muscles in a challenge to find out if there’s gold at the end of the rainbow.
First out was Husqvarna Group, who announced Ekkono as the winner of the very first edition of Sustainovate Open. Second, a first price in Bombardier’s Dragon’s Den, where Bombardier requested solutions for a more energy-efficient train driveline. The third acknowledgement came from Siemens who announced the winners of Siemens IIoT Challenge.
“It was a tremendous week for Ekkono. Building a company is of course not about winning awards, but about winning customers. Sometimes, however, you have to win awards to win customers. Especially when a pandemic puts a stick in the wheel for what used to be the normal way of getting in front of new leads”.
Startups and Innovation Awards – A Win-Win
We, like most other start-ups, normally look at challenges with some healthy skepticism. The scope is often too broad, it’s hard to compare apples and pears, it’s painful not to win, and the objective from the enterprises often seem to be polishing their innovative image by working with hot start-ups, or to get free consulting. Maybe a bit cynical, but honest.
Enter Covid. This had an indirect but instant impact on our perception of challenges. Because contacts are hard currency for start-ups. Prior to the first quarter of 2020, the natural way to find new leads were tradeshows and conferences. Poff. Gone. This is where you used to get a contact, an invitation to their HQ, a foot in the door, to work your way through the organization to cover the user buyer, the influencers and all the way passed the technology and financial buyers. Suddenly, challenges emerged as a great alternative to get that foot in the door. A ticket to ride. A voucher to prove yourself on the inside. Especially since every company with some self-respect put top-management people and key influencers on the jury.
When the world was hit by Covid in early 2020, Ekkono was entering a scaling phase, about to launch in new markets, attending trade shows all over the world. When all physical meeting platforms got cancelled, Ekkono immediately transferred sales and marketing activities 100% online, like everyone else. Trade shows and other events became virtual. And so did awards. Awards have been a way for organizations and enterprises to search for, and give attention to, new and innovative companies, products and services. The other way around, awards are a way for startups to get attention, become validated and potentially win a Proof of Concept (PoC) to prove yourself and your technology.
“What used to be a strategy for more established companies to get new ideas for free, has become a win-win. New, innovative companies like Ekkono get a platform for testing and validating offerings and technology, and most importantly, to get a foot in the door and access to the right people. The enterprises get access to people and ideas they don’t have in-house and who can take a different approach to speed, agility and risk. A PoC has the potential to lead to real business collaborations – otherwise it’s not a PoC but just kicking tires or showing off“.
For us, the award and the PoC is not an end in itself. A PoC should never be. It’s just a step on the way to the launch of new functionality, because that’s where the real value is. The award is a way for us to earn a seat at the table. And that’s where the real work begins. That allows us to add value beyond the immediate problem that was addressed in the challenge. Hopefully showing additional potential and putting the award challenge into a bigger business perspective and a roadmap towards mutual success.
The real award is when this is the beginning of a long-term relationship. We can never justify working on speculation for the award alone, but as the beginning of a customer journey it’s worth every second spent. This is the real award!
Busy Times Ahead
For Ekkono – closing a year which has drowned in a pandemic that has affected every person on the planet, not to mention every business – the coming months will be busier than ever. The PoC with Husqvarna Group, with the goal to revolutionize the garden owners’ best friend – the Automower – has already started. The project with Bombardier will explore Ekkono’s Edge Machine Learning software in the new, big and sustainable context on trains. And part of the price from Siemens IIoT Challenge is to present at Siemens Digital Enterprise SPS Dialog in the end of November.
“This past week’s attention certainly verifies us, both Ekkono as a team, building a virtual global tech company, and our technology. The fact that established, global companies appreciate what we do and choose to collaborate with us, is the best acknowledgment we can get to continue developing our solution to meet their needs. We invent for others and we know that what we do will have a big impact on a sustainable future. We have to extend the life and the relationship with already existing products by making them smarter, healthier and more sustainable. We will continue to create new solutions and business models for both new and existing applications, on our own and in collaboration with others”.
Let us be so blunt as to take this opportunity and make some recommendations to enterprises that are considering an innovation challenge;
- Don’t do open-ended challenges where we should try and understand your business and your issues. Your biggest asset is your domain expertise and customer dialogue.
- Bring real problems to solve. Either as challenges or in an interactive way.
Our best experience to date was with Siemens Energy. They selected a handful of companies to come in for half-a-day to do 7-minute pitches to small groups of everyone at R&D and Services. After the pitch, these people wrote down problems they think can be solved using our technology. The issues were categorized, and the most common issue was identified. The afternoon was spent together with some experts on the specific topic, developing a joint presentation of a solution, that was presented to everyone in a 5-minute presentation at the end of the day.
Besides addressing a real problem and using the domain expertise, this is an example of “giving is getting”. Enterprise-startup collaboration must be built on a partnership attitude. You must want to work together. As partners. But, don’t forget that at the end of the day, you, the enterprise, is the customer and must show that you’re willing to pay for what the startup has to offer.
But most importantly, I think the success of Siemens Energy’s approach lies in the involvement of the people that will benefit from this. Don’t do challenges in isolation. It’s a certain path to failure if an innovation department defines a PoC that is dropped in the lap of an R&D department that has not been involved in the process. People need to feel involvement and ownership. And in parallel there might be entirely different solutions that emerge outside the scope of challenge, which means that the award winner might not always be the biggest winner at the end of the day.