The following is from a recent interview with Andrew Gaule on behalf of Global Corporate Venturing
Gaule: Give a brief description of the purpose of SmartCamp and when it was formed.
Kelly: SmartCamp is about bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and experienced mentors who want to build innovation ecosystems around the world. SmartCamp takes technology that has transformed the internet, providing new insight, analytics and intelligence, and applying it to new areas like transportation, physical systems (water and electricity) and healthcare. SmartCamp began as an internal IBM start-up in Dublin two and half years ago and now operates in 20 cities around the world with further expansion planned to South Africa shortly.
Gaule: What is the structure of the team and partners you work with?
Kelly: We are a subset of the 430,000-strong IBM global workforce. We have nine partners and our other colleagues work with client teams, business partners and universities in a matrix organisation format. In each location we have a person who owns SmartCamp and we support them centrally. We do not think of ourselves as a traditional venture capital (VC) firm but rather a platform technology business. In each city where the programme runs we have roughly 100 applications from which we pick the best five and pair these with the most appropriate mentors. The mentors come from VC firms, but are also serial entrepreneurs and sometimes from universities.
Gaule: Do you see the business models applied by applicants as similar or different among the various regions in which you operate?
Kelly: There is a spectrum of models as they are incredibly hyper-local. We find that from city to city, often even neighbourhood to neighbourhood, there are differences and certainly no trends at a regional level. There are, however, certain geographies,Silicon Valley being the classic one, where people really understand disruptive innovation, and then there are others just starting down this track.
Gaule: How have the locations for SmartCamp grown in the past few years?
Kelly: We started out quite small and it took us a while to convince people of the value before we piloted it in Ireland and people quickly saw the possibilities. We are now at a stage where people within IBM are putting up their hand from different locations around the world and asking to bring SmartCamp to Sydney,Miami orMoscow, for example, and then we do our best to assess that the specific opportunity merits the level of investment and activity. The key question we look at is whether there are real partners in the region, that they really want to do this and it is not just a case of IBM creating the demand, but rather there is an existing ecosystem that we can help develop.
Gaule: Give some examples of recent start-ups you think benefits IBM or other corporates.
Kelly: We think of success in terms of a couple of different measures. Firstly, most of the companies who apply to SmartCamp are looking for funding, and although it may not come from IBM directly, we have good relationships with VCs so we try to help those companies obtain funding. Secondly and probably more importantly, we try to build meaningful relationships with these companies, so that we can develop a joint market approach. Specific examples include Street Line – parking solutions with an iphone app – and Sproxil, a finalist working in emerging markets like Africa and India, taking technology from theUSto try to solve major problems around the counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals in these areas.
You can hear the full interview as an audio download from
Global Corporate Venturing or from http://www.corven.com/corven-networks. Previous interviews are also available on iTunes – search for Corven Networks.
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