When we first started Moment Ventures, we crafted our investment thesis around The Infrastructure of Everything, a part of which involves the movement to bring IT connectivity to age old industries built around physical networks.
The Era of the Empowered Worker Has Arrived
One type of company that we began to investigate is something we call People-Based Platforms, and we developed a conviction around the powerful implication of a more empowered workforce: What could you do to disrupt an industry if you could bundle highly skilled labor with purpose-built IoT devices or remote connected equipment to create a radically improved service over a legacy process that was formed decades ago based on physical connectivity?
We’ve met with a number of super interesting entrepreneurs who have done just that for industries you might not have thought of at first glance, but they’re all targeting multi billion dollar opportunities in markets that already exist today.
Meet Validere. This Canadian startup focuses on empowering remote field workers in the oil & gas industry with the ability to provide fast and accurate in-the-field crude oil testing and analytics that were for decades relegated to either inaccurate or lengthy processes in offsite labs that required highly skilled chemists. Validere’s IT innovations target the $20B oil & gas analytics market by radically changing the time and skill set needed to empower field workers to accurately perform a variety of tests for oil and gas assets as they are transferred from one supplier to another.
From an interview in Canadian Business with Validere CEO & co-founder Ian Burgess:
“In the crude oil market, we found that accuracy of testing relied much more heavily on operator judgments in how they executed and/or interpreted the test. What makes these errors so difficult for companies to deal with is they have no visibility into what operators are doing because the locations are so remote. The challenging part of the problem, which was really the biggest opportunity, was how to make these people’s jobs easier.”
Another company, San Francisco-based Compology, designed refuse bin IoT sensors to detect and analyze the fullness and content makeup of trash receptacles, and subsequently created a full service platform to enable waste management companies to dynamically re-route trucks (why would you send a truck to pick up an empty bin?), and boost the capabilities of its drivers to cut the cost of pickups by up to 50%. Haulers spend more than $3B a year picking up containers that aren’t full, which seems like a real waste.
Some industries were built on physical interaction between highly skilled professionals and customers. What if you could instead create innovative digital plumbing to connect them? We love seeing entrepreneurs challenge these age old rules to change the entire experience and value proposition of an industry that you might never thought was possible.
“I Want to Reinvent College”
Almost ten years ago, I met with an entrepreneur who had recently sold his startup and was contemplating his next thing. Ben sat across the conference table from me and said “I want to re-invent college.” Wow. Really? He proceeded to explain to me his vision of a re-architected college that would maintain a physical presence, but with an added digital infrastructure that enabled students to be taught by professors who were remotely located. Once in place, he would rewrite the rules as to what a college experience could be without compromising academic excellence. I wished him luck in such a bold endeavor.
Fast forward to 2017: In its 3rd year of operation, the Minerva Schools at KGI has become one of the most innovative new college platforms around. Minerva brings together students from around the globe to learn and grow in a college setting that brings together the efficiencies of a digital infrastructure with the beauty of a reinvented, physical experience.
Digital Plumbing Unleashes Physical Magic
Once in place, to create a radically different college experience, Ben designed Minerva to surround this technology with a “campus presence” unlike that of traditional colleges: admitted students spend their freshman year at the home campus in San Francisco, but then as a group would shift locations each semester to a different cities around the world, experiencing different cultures to learn about the world in a most unique way. Students will ultimately have spent time in 7 different international locations: London, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Hyderabad and more, all the while staying connected via the tech platform so that they could continue their academic education in a consistent manner. Graduate from Ben’s college and you’ll likely be one of the most globally educated and worldly 21-year olds around.
What I love about what he implemented at Minerva was that he architected a connected IT platform to capture the best teaching talent available by using technology to connect them to students, and once that was in place, was able to create an entirely different college experience for students by enabling them to travel around the world without compromising their academic pursuits.
Is There a Doctor in the Cloud?
In a meeting in 2016 that felt a little like deja vu, one of the early companies that we met at Moment was a startup that opened our meeting with a bold proclamation: “We want to reinvent 911!” Woah. Seriously? The Company, called Call9 Medical, developed a telemedicine platform to prevent unnecessary 911 ambulance calls at nursing homes by connecting patients to a network of emergency doctors through innovative infrastructure enabling them to get treated within minutes of a 911 situation. Today, nearly 20% of ambulance trips originate from nursing homes, causing a massive swelling in the cost of our healthcare system as many of those emergencies are ultimately unnecessary. To run a fully reliable service, Call9 determined that a full-time first responder, fully equipped with the necessary connected equipment, was needed in each nursing home in order to respond immediately and reliably to a situation while also serving as a communicator to the ER docs. They bundled the entire platform as a subscription service to nursing homes, and worked with insurance companies to help manage payment claims. Read CEO Dr. Tim Peck’s own story of his company’s journey, but we were impressed by how this platform changed the way doctors and first responders could treat a concentrated group of patients once the digital infrastructure was put into place.
The Skilled Labor Cloud
Companies like these are very different than the Ubers or DoorDashes of the industry, as the critical labor are highly skilled professionals, so the challenge for these companies is to create viable economics that can work while maintaining the quality of service using these trained specialists.
In all of these examples, the magic isn’t really in the technology component itself — it’s really what the entrepreneurs of these innovative startups are able to create once the technology is in place, and that leads to the opportunity to change the business model of the industry all together. Minerva recently reported a 1.9% acceptance rate among 20,000 applications for the class of 2021, which is a sign that the school is in high demand. It’s still early days, but we can already see how patients begin to view Call9 as a dependable service to address more than just their 911 situations, leading to all sorts of new potential for the platform.
All Industries Can Benefit from IT Connectivity
Executives in education, healthcare, heavy industry, banks, pharmacies, insurance and just about every other service institution continue to be intrigued with the implications of IT on their industry, and we expect this trend to shape the IT startup landscape for decades. Even in industries as traditional and established as mining, visionaries are calling for change. Check out what Michelle Ash, Chief Innovation Officer at Barrick Gold has to say about the future role of IT in the mining industry:
A few things to keep in mind as you contemplate Skilled Labor Clouds and the Empowered Worker:
- Know what outsiders don’t know. IT alone can’t address many of the intangibles that make an industry run, so if you’re from the industry, use your inside knowledge and expertise to connect the digital dots to the physical world
- Empower workers, don’t replace them. By doing so, you’re building a solution that is in alignment with the industry and its skilled labor. In fact, you could be providing a path to enable workers to advance their careers as they master new, integrated technologies
- IoT without the “I” are just things. Give your IoT device a real use case by embedding it into a fully integrated solution. Customers want to use your service — they don’t want to become systems integrators of gadgets
- New plumbing, new business model, new economics. You need to work the economics out to embed any endpoint IoT technology or skilled labor cloud into your solution. A fully loaded, ready-to-use service allows you to price things from a value perspective as opposed to a cost perspective.
So if you’re one of these new industry innovators, please get in touch with us!
Clint Chao is a General Partner at Moment Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund based in Palo Alto, CA. that invests in the Infrastructure of Everything. You can reach/follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: Moment Ventures is an investor in Validere and Call9.