Despite being a relatively young company, Acklio has been making lot of noise in the Internet of Things and LPWAN sector. CEO Alexander Pelov talks to Kurrant Talent about what Acklio brings to the industry and what pain-points it addresses through its offering.
KT: Can you explain how interoperability between different LPWAN networks – whether LoRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IoT or LTE-M – will accelerate the adoption and deployment of IoT networks? In which region and industry vertical do you anticipate the biggest impact?
AP: Before Acklio, there were various technologies that were all defining their own way of sending data from one point to another. We solve this problem by bringing interoperability and enhanced security between the different IoT networks as well as the Internet. The purpose of our innovation is to make sure everything that works on the internet, and for industrial networks until now, also works for IoT networks. So, in simple words, we are converting LPWAN communication into a regular communication with a compression technology that enables IP protocol.
We anticipate the biggest short-term adoption to be in the smart metering sector as we are looking at millions of meters being deployed in the next five years over LoRaWAN networks, starting in Asia and South America. The acceleration of deployment by around two years will come from the multiple cost-saving factors that translate into an acceptable total cost of ownership for the utilities. With our software being installed at both ends – on the meter and on the core network – you do not need to redevelop a piece of software to provide the service to the utility.
As we are lowering the cost of developing and operating new services through IoT networks, the smart metering business case becomes economically viable, especially for remote locations and large volume deployments. In fact, the market is not ready for proprietary solutions. As Acklio’s technology is now an international standard, it will ultimately be integrated in all IoT networks, beyond smart metering.
KT: Acklio raised 2M€ in January 2020, how difficult was it to secure this initial funding?
AP: Well, as difficult as any initial funding with the added challenge that we are in the deep tech sector. We are developing core technologies that are further away from the end customer’s direct needs. Also, our area requires longer cycles of sales, long cycles of deployment, so longer cycle of investments overall. It does require finding investors that are knowledgeable and capable of understanding the potential of the technology and its impact in the medium and longer run. In addition to all the paperwork and business case demonstration required from any start-up, we also had to educate the potential investors.
But I have to say that I am extremely happy with the investors on the board as they are very supportive and believe in what we do. They are the perfect balance in not being too much involved in the day-to-day operations but still proactively providing advice and support.
KT: You have an academic and research background and before launching Acklio you were a PhD candidate and a lecturer for more than 10 years. What made you become an entrepreneur and what were the main challenges you faced having made the decision?
AP: Most people want to make some kind of impact on the world, in their own way. Initially, by going into research, I wanted to open up new horizons and advance science. I was working in an enriching and competitive environment at Telecom Bretagne in Academia, focusing on the IoT and smart energy.
When the LPWAN technologies started to emerge and become a focus here in France, we quickly anticipated all the interoperability issues that would exist further down the road. It all fell into place when I realised that many players that we talked to for research were interested in our ideas about how to solve interoperability issues with open and standards-based solutions but were not ready to invest, nor felt the urge.
I really wanted to see the solution becoming a reality quickly and not just a research paper. This was the final push I needed.
The main challenge was then making this transition from academia to a very different industrial world, with the necessary change of mindset. But I have felt very supported by the regional incubator, my advisory board and the local ecosystem.
It all comes down to what is our purpose in life and the motivation behind the person. Each and every one of us needs to feel accomplished and we can all do it at our own small level. For instance, I explain to Acklio’s developers how their piece of code is fitting into the big picture so they can better understand their contribution and impact. The same thing needs to happen between academia and industry. Academia should not be bound to do stuff only for industry purposes but should still be aware of research outcomes and how the industry could benefit from their studies.
KT: What are the main lessons learned so far in terms of team-building? Do you foresee the engineering and PhD profile of the team to become a challenge in the future for the growth of the company and its sales?
AP: In terms of team-building, I believe in leadership by example, being honest to yourself, and the importance of defining and sharing core values. I thought a lot about what would be the ideal team. While building it, it was important to me that we share a common denominator that came in the form of core values: openness, respect to each other, mutual trust and shared responsibility being the main ones.
To me, the team is like a living being that needs to be chosen wisely and taken care of on a daily basis. If you are only looking at the engineering problems, you could get carried away and forget about the team dynamic. Each time you are getting someone new on board, it is a challenge as every person matters and makes a difference and impacts the team dynamic. The challenge for me is not whether they have an engineering or a PhD background but whether they share the same values or not. If they do, then I believe that integration will be easy.
KT: Acklio is based in Rennes in Brittany, a French region that is rich in IT, telecommunications and IoT companies whether start-ups or larger groups. Why did you choose Rennes and what makes Brittany so attractive for IoT companies?
AP: Secure IC, Kerlink, Siradel are all Brittany-based companies. We created Acklio thanks to the local ecosystem and the companies already based in Brittany. Thanks to them, I identified that there was a problem to solve. To me, there is no better place to be: we have great support from the local and regional government, lots of IoT trained engineers, the sea is one hour away from our office and the natural environment is fabulous. Also, I like the fact that we have big companies around whom we can work with as well as a start-up ecosystem to partner with.
KT: Your team at Acklio includes 20 engineers and seven different nationalities. What does it bring to the team and how does it fit in your company strategy?
AP: We are, indeed, a very international team. We also have five non-engineers. First, I have to say that this is extremely enriching. From the beginning, we had three nationalities. It just happened. It was not designed as a company strategy but after the first and second nationality, we realised that it became a strong and attractive aspect of the company. This diversity brings perspective on how things can be done differently in other countries. We are challenged on things that we never questioned before.
KT: What makes Acklio special as a workplace? Have you put in place any innovative management practices or initiatives that are working particularly well?
AP: I wanted to have a positive impact on society and become an example of a deep tech start-up that is great to work for and is based in a nice place to live. I wanted it to be a place where people would feel appreciated. So, I decided to use a management methodology to help us scale which is called “Fly the Nest”. The purpose is to align the whole team and lay solid foundations by running sprints on all company projects – whether engineering, sales or HR or finance.
Everybody is encouraged to take responsibility beyond their area of competency and lead a cross-functional project. A developer can drive a sales project – he will not conduct the sale but lead the project and ensure lead time and follow-up. All results are shared during bi-weekly meetings. This is a great way to uncover talents and generate commitment.
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