13. 07. 2018
7 KEY LEARNINGS FROM A STARTUP THAT IS 2 YEARS AHEAD OF THE MARKET PARTICIPATING IN AN EU PROJECT
BY IGNASI FONTANALS, OPTICITS
In Barcelona we have the 4YFN (Four Years From Now, the startup business platform of Mobile World Congress Barcelona), the Smart City Expo and the Resilience Week. They all talk about entrepreneurship, sustainability, technology, quantum computing… But after 2 years of experience as entrepreneur member of the EU RESCCUE project, I must say that we are “2 Years Ahead Of The Market” (2YAOTM), sailing across the ocean of real entrepreneurship to provoke a paradigm shift in cities.
In 2015 we launched the first version of our web-based resilience tool to build resilience in cities, following the statement of one of the LinkedIn founders “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”. So, we were early for sure; with an innovative product that some might argue was too raw. However, it offered immediate value when bringing city stakeholders together to visualize and rationalize the complex relationships between infrastructures and services. We put a lot of passion to this first version, but the agile and lean methodologies gave us the capacity to change our course while we were at the same time building our boat from what a good British fellow calls “Ignasi’s moving balls”…
We were looking at the EU H2020 programs and we got involved in an inspiring innovation action (IA) proposal call with large corporations, cities and multilaterals. This is the origin of the RESCCUE project, which became real thanks to a tremendous team and a compelling concept integrating our approach. Our tiny boat was now part of a fleet in the framework of the EU innovation, which “fuels economic growth, creates the jobs of tomorrow and tackles the societal challenges of our time”.
Let me share some sailing experiences…
As all entrepreneurs, we are pushing to be ahead of the market launching innovative and disruptive products. As all entrepreneurs, we are in a tiny boat in the sea where different storms (cash, finance, legal, market fit, product development, partners, team building…) hit and we need the capacity to bounce back when any kind of impact knocks. So one of the most important challenges for an entrepreneur is to start sailing across the ocean while launching a product not too early and not too late. Being part of something bigger can help us in this competitive environment. This is precisely what EU funded projects are doing: bringing together large corporations, public bodies and universities to start building ecosystems with satellite startups across all sectors, to sail across the ocean and also to transform their organizations and add more value.
7 key learnings about Entrepreneurship and Resilience in an EU project
So again, 2 years ahead of the market, we started the validation of our existing product. Now we can share some lessons we learnt about bringing to the market new tools on City Resilience as a part of a big consortium of an EU-funded project:
- EU projects based on large consortiums with large organizations can use agile and lean methods inspired by startup members, which just ask for protection in case of storm. They are a special type of SMEs, not research organizations, or departments of large corporations. They need to “strengthen support for young and fast-growing innovative companies” with fast validation, financial help and that everyone understands that 1 year for an EU project is 1 month for an early-stage startup.
- Large corporations, cities and multilaterals can really help validate a product and a business model, but they need a real vision of the market future. We all agree that Go-To-Market strategies for cities need to be long term and not glossy sales pitched that fail to address urban problems. However, all new solutions need an economic viable model both short and long term to sustain its social impact. This requires a different view of the traditional public procurement process and going beyond the “you are doing business with the public goods and services”. Here (and everywhere) we need some political will.
- The market of Resilience is an icebreaker for the Smart Cities market. Resilience, Smart City and Climate Change should be linked to technology application and work in close collaboration fostering a holistic approach.
- Existing EU projects results on resilience are not being used by the market as the producers of these results need more support and economic incentives to launch the existing products instead of conducting more research.
- Large corporations can use EU projects as a source of ideas and IP creation with the help of startups and researchers, but we need to improve the mechanisms to avoid weakening unintentionally startups due to their near-monopoly positions in the market. If you are an urban startup, you must be sure you are ready to interact in this market scenario.
- Startups should be able to learn how to match in this complex ecosystem, squeezing the EU opportunities, explaining the benefits to present and future investors and understanding what researchers do and how a large corporation is organized. Even if the big ones say they are being inspired by startup methodologies, running 70,000 people will never be the same as managing 7 folks in an office with a bunch of uncertainties at the end of each month.
- There is room to build private impact investment in startups already participating in EU consortiums, with a tremendous leverage of the invested money over the social impact results.
Let’s help (really help) the entrepreneurship using the EU tools. The challenge, not easy for the big ones, is to find productive fair relationships between the big and the small, the solid and the fragile, the complex and the simple… And be able to create [impact and disruptive] business models for a Resilience shift in the market both sharing the new added value between all stakeholders and respecting the role of each part.
Continuing 2YAOTM requires effort and passion, but also a high degree of risk, since the urban resilience market players are currently at the step of “Where is the next business model?”. We, at OptiCits, being at 2YAOTM definetely know where to go. Let’s talk if you share our vision and you are willing to contribute to fuel our startup development.
 The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses ( Ries 2011)
 OptiCits was preparing a SME Instrument phase II that offers Europe’s brightest and boldest entrepreneurs the chance to step forward and request funding for breakthrough ideas with the potential to create entirely new markets or revolutionise existing ones.
 Horizon 2020 Interim Evaluation: Maximising the Impact of EU Research and Innovation (2018)
 Open Data Infrastructure for City Resilience (2018 Resurgence, UNISDR and others)
 Factsheet and reactions of the Members of the High Level Group chaired by Pascal Lamy (European Commission, 2018)
 Trends in Urban Resilience (UN Habitat, 2017)
 Smart Cities:Digital solutions for a more liveable future, (MCKinsey Global Institute, 2018 )
 Economie du Bien Commun (Tirol, 2016)
 A Smart City Must Learn To Be Resilient Too (Business Today, 2015)
 Getting real about Resilience(EY, 100 Resilient Cities, 2017)
 In 2018 OptiCits is looking for cities and organizations willing to host a pilot with its tool and business model and has open a finance round for impact investors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information