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updated 4:51 PM BST, Apr 23, 2014
Technology and life sciences news from the Cambridge cluster

Springboard launches in Cambridge, giving Internet of Things the accelerator treatment

  • Written by {ga=lautaro-vargas}
  • Published in The Cluster
A smartphone in front of a very white light in someone's handsSpringboard is back in Cambridge with what it’s calling a world first, a three month startup accelerator dedicated to the Internet of Things (IoT), technologies that can turn mundane everyday objects into smart, energy saving, life and business-improving devices.

Up to 10 teams will be picked for Springboard IoT, the first of its programmes to offer participants a real opportunity to delve into the world of hardware innovation as well as software.

Not only does this promise to produce an entertaining final day pitch, but it draws on what are core strengths of the Cambridge technology cluster – hardware, middleware and software services – which could mean a reversal of 2011, the last time Springboard was in Cambridge when not a single team remained.

“Springboard IoT is specifically targeting a sector that Cambridge has really strong competencies in and we can hopefully keep a proportion of the participants in the city afterwards,” said Bradford.

Bradford has been pushing the hardware version of Springboard for several months. Cabume broke cover on this in June, but it’s been a strategy from further back. In the end it was a race for funding between Springboard Mobile and Springboard IoT as to which would launch in 2012 and which in 2013, which Mobile won.

Springboard IoT is now fully funded however, backed by an investor syndicate that includes Nesta, Martlet Corporate Angel, Peter Cowley, Robert Swann, Lorenzo Wood, Nat Billington and Cambridge Angels chairman, David Cleevely, who believes the programme offers a great opportuinty to IoT innovators to catapult their inventions.

“Springboard IoT gives the next generation of IoT entrepreneurs the chance to fast track the best ideas to market,” said Cleevely.

Though Cambridge’s big technology successes have historically been in the B2B market and most of the recent breakthroughs in the related machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is very industry focused, Bradford says the Internet of Things offers major opportunities for consumer products, the kind of thing that can command large audience interest.

A quick scan of some of the videos on Kickstarter not only shows how compelling IoT is becoming to the consumer, but gives a sense that with so many ideas IoT ubiquity is just around the corner – ideas like SmartThings that lets you retro‘smart’ fit your current home, the Lifx lightbulb or the intelligent wristwatch.

The scope for ideas is immense and Bradford says he won’t be limiting it to any particular aspect of IoT. Consumer is just one element, Ubisense for instance is transforming how factories operate by tracking tools in real time. Processing all the information that IoT devices are constantly generating offers opportunities in big data – analysis and visualisation.

The potential for IoT proliferation thorughout our lives is evident from the interest of one of the world’s leading FMCG companies, Unilever, which has joined three extremely tecchy Cambridge businesses – Arm, Raspberry Pi and Neul – as early industrial partners.

“Unilever is there because they are interested in understanding everything that’s going on in your life,” says Bradford. “They want to know what’s going on, the Internet of Things is knowing more about you on a day to day basis, but not in an obvious way.”

While companies like Unilever could benefit from IoT innovation, there’s an opportunity for the entire economy. James Collier, co-founder and CEO at Neul, sees the IoT as the engine for economic growth for the next decade, much of which he says will come from new and innovative applications.

“It will incubate this new generation of smart things,” said Collier, “devices and applications which will benefit us all yet simply haven’t been possible before the emergence of an ubiquitous IoT communication network.”

Gary Atkinson, Director Embedded Marketing, ARM, says: "The Internet of Things is starting to evolve and grow as intelligence is increasingly embedded to create smarter, connected devices, such as sensors.
“By 2020 everything that can benefit from an Internet connection will have one, and this has the potential to help use energy and natural resources more efficiently, monitor healthcare more effectively and improve lives. This represents a massive opportunity to drive growth.

Gary Atkinson, director embedded marketing at Arm agrees: “The Internet of Things is starting to evolve and grow as intelligence is increasingly embedded to create smarter, connected devices, such as sensors.

“By 2020 everything that can benefit from an Internet connection will have one, and this has the potential to help use energy and natural resources more efficiently, monitor healthcare more effectively and improve lives. This represents a massive opportunity to drive growth.”

As well as the communication network, the drop in hardware prices is enabling further advances, something Raspberry Pi has famously used to its advantage. “To date, the Internet of Things has been largely the playground of corporates,” said Eben Upton, CEO and co-founder of Raspberry Pi.

“Dramatically falling hardware costs are shifting innovation toward smaller teams in a similar manner to how web technologies have evolved over the last 10 years.”

As well as its partners, Springboard IoT also has mentors with plenty of experience as investors or entrepreneurs in this space including, Hermann Hauser (Amadeus), Sherry Coutu, Niall Murphy (Evrythng & The Cloud), Usman Haque (Cosm & Pachube), Pilgrim Beart (AlertMe), Richard Green (Ubisense) and Brad Feld (Foundry Group & FitBit).

The venue for the programme is yet to be nailed down, but Bradford is confident it will end up somewhere in the Entrepreneurship Centre on the Hauser Forum. Cambridge Network has space and Praxis-Unico has just vacated its offices there.

Application deadline is 6 January 2013. Bradford says he expects more partners and mentors to get involved between now and then and has a number of other corporate heavyweights set to go public.

Participation involves the usual Springboard deal of seed capital, around £100k of free services, coaching, mentorship and a final day pitch to venture capitalists and investors in return for a three to six per cent stake in the company.