In a nutshell, what is Productize.it and how did the project come about?
Productize.it – The Lisbon Hardware Accelerator and powered by KIC InnoEnergy is a pre-acceleration program that will guide participants towards creating a business application based on their academic projects and research. This accelerator, divided into two rounds, will first help the participants evaluate the business applicability of their academic work and develop a value proposition and business model during the Productize.it weekend (June 3-5). The best teams will then move forward to an intensive Prototyping Bootcamp (July 16-23) where they will be provided with the tools and professional technical assistance needed to build a functional prototype. They will then present their product and business plan during a Demo Day, and the 3 best projects will be rewarded with 5000€ by CONTAR, 2000€ by EDP and 1000€ in cash.
We wanted to do this program because R&D transfer from PT Universities remains low, and normal accelerators are not well suited for cutting edge projects where return cycles exceed five years, so most of the projects invested in Portugal are transactional (marketplace for X) and without real R&D. We want to change that by injecting more and better deal flow into the ecosystem.
What are the main objectives of the event?
To productize knowledge, to make it into a tangible digital or physical product that can be used by people, and eventually be marketed. To help entrepreneurs and researchers transform their idea/thesis into a minimum viable product that they can start selling and showing investors, staring at our own DemoDay, July 26th.
Who is your ideal participant?
There are no ideal participants. He or she might be young or old, from engineering or from management, a startup junkie or a corporate suite, you really never know. I really think it is about the drive to do something, to correct a wrong. All great inventors have this bigger than life attitude to organize resources and direct them towards something meaningful. We really expect to have a good balance of participants with different backgrounds from engineers, designers and managers. I guess the big difference from our pre-accelerators to other similar programs, like Startup Weekend and Startup Pirates is that we pitch directly to researchers and master and PhDs, and we urge them to participate with their own thesis projects, even if they don’t have any other idea.
What influence do you think the mentors will have on the participants?
Good mentors play a critical role on any acceleration program, pretty much like good teachers can help you understand and grasp the concepts of a subject and seed in you, the urge to know more, good mentors will direct teams towards the right direction, and help them avoid mistakes. Product and hardware startups are still discovering their own versions of lean startup, so mistakes in hardware are plentiful and very expensive. In the words of one of our mentors, imagine you pay 100K€ each time you compile your code to see if it has bugs. In hardware if you make mistakes (almost always avoidable ones) you pay really hard. Mentors are there to stop you before you hit the wall.
What do you think is the potential for the hardware startup market in Portugal?
We’ve been on a roadshow in all Lisbon tech Universities, and talked with dozens of researchers, Master thesis and PhD students and they do not realize they are sitting on a gold mine. They need to take their work out of the lab, because if they productize it, they will start digging the gold up! So the potential is huge but, right now, it’s basically sitting idle and as a poor country we have the obligation to productize it and take it to market.
The themes of Productize.it are IoT, smart cities, energy, and clean tech. Who are the main worldwide players in these areas?
IoT, smart cities, energy, and clean tech, big data are macro trends, that we have identified as critical for Europe and where Portugal actually has an edge, for instance on clean energy. From May 7 to May 11 2016 Portugal was powered entirely by renewable electricity, and there are very few countries in the world that can even dream about it, so we are proud to be sponsored by KIC InnoEnergy, the european consortium for energy innovation in Europe, by EDP that is leading the renewable revolution, and by CONTAR a centennial industrial company still based in Lisbon, that manufactures state of the art Smart Electricity counters that are sold world-wide.
Do you think Portugal can become a big startup hub, competing with London and Berlin?
Since I’ve started dreaming about what ended up becoming Beta-i, almost 8 years ago, I always thought that comparing Portugal with countries that have 5 or 10 times our population and GDP is not reasonable. We should try to mimic the success cases of countries that are on the same weight league. I believe we should cherry-pick the best from countries like Denmark, Netherlands and Israel, in order to be competitive in the innovation economy. That said, Lisbon is a an amazing city for all kinds of startups.
PS: In October 20-21 we organize the Productized Conference because we believe in building world-class products – the majority of domestic enterprises still has an impregnated service culture, which leads them to work for the project, and not dominate the entire value chain, leaving marketing and strategic value in the hands of third parties. This is probably the biggest challenge we face the challenge of mentalities and culture in the Portuguese economy.