Interview with Alan Clayton, entrepreneur and startup mentor at HAX, world's largest hardware accelerator

Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic

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Alan Clayton is an entrepreneur and startup mentor with 20+ years of experience in coaching execs, and executive teams at big and small companies. He founded 5 startup ventures and is now accelerating startups and investing with the SOSV team. He is mentor at HAX, Food-X, Chinaccelerator RebelBio and IndieBio, where SOSV has invested in 500+ startups in 7 years. He published "Foundations of Founding" - a startup founder playbook - outlining the 10 effective tools required in the creation of a successful business venture. Alan is based at SOSV HQ in Cork, Ireland. 

SOSV is global fund with $300M assets under management, and a staff of nearly 80 operating world-renowned accelerators in the areas of hardware, software, biology, food, robotics, medical devices, transportation, green energy, and beyond. There are over 500 companies in the portfolio, with more than 150 startups that graduate from the accelerator programs annually.

Alan, how did you get into hardware and IoT industry? Tell us a bit more about your background and your projects so far.

Like most things in life - I got where I am (now in hardware and IOT startup mentoring) through combination of relevant hard work, and fortuitous meetings. SOSV, who run the HAX program, was founded around 2008 by Sean O'Sullivan when accelerator programs were very new. I've spent decades in sales/marketing, starting my own companies (5), and coaching in MNCs. Sean came to live in my hometown; we met when his wife invited us to dinne: he invested in a startup I founded in 2008, and 2 years later asked me to join the SOSV team to contribute my coaching and sales/marketing experience to the team.

What does your current job role entail?

I'm a people and ideas guy! I help startup founders recruit "whole brain" teams, and with their 'go to market' strategies - the route to global domination from crowdfunding to Amazon to retail - US - Europe - APAC.

SOSV Chinaccelerator Batch 11 Demo Day 2017 with female founders and program director Oscar Ramos

SOSV Chinaccelerator Batch 11 Demo Day 2017 with female founders and program director Oscar Ramos

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Right now I'm working with a group of 20-30 of our HAX startups who are really ready for expansion after about 3-4 years since they came to the original Shenzhen module of the program. Making introductions, organising trade shows like CES, helping create storylines & pitch decks, building relationships with buyers, distributors, investors.

What are your biggest achievements to date?

Work wise I once bought a hotel/restaurant without having any money, and set up a 'green vacation' venture in the English Lake District. The (vegetarian) restaurant was then invited to cater for the VIP reception at a U2 concert. As part of delivering a leadership coaching program I saved a water utility £19million in under 15 minutes. Completing a marathon in 5 seconds under 4 hours was cool (for me). But best of all I have a small box containing a handful of 'thank you' notes from coaching clients whose lives were changed (their words) by the time we shared together.

Is #WomenInTech movement important to you?

#WomenInTech movement is important to me because I really appreciate the way women seem to have more focus on solving the world's REAL problems than their male counterparts. And that aligns comfortably with my personal vision of a fairer world. Long may it continue.

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What are the challenges of being a woman in hardware and IoT?

It's a long story! In my opinion the challenges are the same as for female farmers, female sportswomen, and female politicians. In the same way Florence Nightingale made the domain of nursing a female first tradition, hardware and IoT have been mostly male led domains. And where men lead, more men follow (baaaaaah!). So the overriding challenge is to keep focussed on actual, real, progress that is being made. Eventually boys bow to reality. Meantime SOSV & HAX are proud of being the biggest investor when it comes to female founded startups, and I hope that continues.

In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the hardware and IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?

1) Someone will win the battle of the home IoT platforms - Google, Amazon, pple, (Samsung, Logitech...) - although devices work cross platform - as with phones - they don't really.

2) We'll see a lot of hardware that makes distributed manufacturing a real 'thing' (local, low volume, high value - think spare parts for washing machines)

3) Miniaturisation will continue to the extent that we'll all have connected pocket size devices that connect to phones to support good health. Whether through instant blood analysis - emotion sensing - circadian rhythm analysis or other.

Who are your inspirational people in hardware and IoT?

1) Charles Huang - founder of Guitar Hero - for the way he found creative ways to bootstrap the business when multi-million $$ orders from top retailers failed to land a modest $3m investment from people who, 6 months later, were falling over themselves to offer him tens of millions $$$ when success was assured.

2) Richard Hanbury - founder at Sana - for the way he has made it from a completely non hardware education, via a life threatening accident, to creating a sleep solution which nobody else could/would do for him. And now he's sharing it with others from his wheelchair.

3) Zach Supalla - CEO and co-founder at Particle - who you've never heard of (YET), but who boast (according to IDC) "the highest customer satisfaction rating of any IoT platform", AND have a strong commitment to open source, and helping everyone on earth experience the benefits of a connected world. One of those overnight successes still in the making !!

4) Rhona Togher and Eimearr O'Carroll at Restored Hearing - based in Dublin - I've known them since they set out 5 years ago to help treat tinnitus. Since then they've patented a programmable material that regulates the impact of sounds. So their original solution for hearing difficulties has become a game changer for the airline industry and more. BUT the speed of 'big corporate" and the behaviour of male investors who reneged on funding AFTER contracts were signed in favour of buying fancy cars has to be seen to be believed !! 11/10 for persistence. And of course one wonders about how much their female founder status is impacting their company. 11/10 for persistence.



Twitter: @thealanclayton  @SOSVvc  @hax_co

LinkedIn: Alan Clayton



This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.