Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Tanya Suárez is CEO and co-founder of IoT Tribe, an equity-free accelerator that brings start-ups and corporates together to do business. IoT Tribe arose from Startup Scaleup, the Startup Europe IoT accelerator which supported 132 startups through hubs in Dublin, Madrid-Cartagena, Vilnius and Zoetermeer. IoT Tribe's next acceleration programme is IoT Tribe North and will in January 2018 at the Digital Media Centre, S. Yorks, UK.
Tanya is a firm believer that there can be no strategy without innovation. She also founded BluSpecs team, a boutique innovation agency with a passion for embracing disruption through market-driven innovation and co-creation across multiple sectors. Recent engagements have included exploring the potential impact of blockchain technologies, user acceptance of IoT, corporate venturing and defining Internet of Things business models.
Tanya is a member of several Advisory Boards on Start-up initiatives and a member of Tech London Advocates and Tech Spain Advocates. She has recently been elected to the board of the Alliance of Internet of Things Innovation (AIOITI), an industry body set up to promote IoT adoption. She also contributes to TechTarget’s Internet of Things Agenda.
What is the idea behind IoT Tribe?
IoT Tribe is an accelerator that brings start-ups and corporates together to do business. We are focused on IoT because we know that corporates need start-ups to innovate quickly and effectively and IoT start-ups can benefit from the corporate channels for scaling.
What support do you offer to IoT startups and what makes your program different from other similar startup accelerators and incubator?
We offer start-ups a full range of design to manufacture services, access to labs and engineering expertise, IP and IoT security support, co-funding for manufacturing, a supply-chain mission to SE Asia, a chance to pitch for 100K on completion and an investment brokerage service to get follow on funding. Not bad, hey?
We’re different because we’re equity free and focused on IoT. Our approach is long-term and we continue to support the start-ups even after they graduate from the acceleration programme.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
It started in 2015 with some support from Startup Europe and a bunch of great delivery partners that included the Cloud Incubator Hub and the Ryan Academy. We have a distributed team with colleagues in Barnsley, London and Madrid and global networks.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
It has taken us 3 years to get IoT Tribe to a stage we are happy with.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The lead times to develop relationships and funding, which I’m sure resonates with many women who might be reading this.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Without a doubt keeping the “Tribe” active after our initial acceleration round ended. It’s been hard work but the core start-up alumni that are still part of the tribe benefit from our contacts and, as they continue to grow, from our investor connections.
Another huge milestone has been being selected by Innovate UK to run their early-stage IoT acceleration programme. We have partnered with the Digital Media Centre in Barnsley to attract founders from new talent pools and to embed the programme in the local manufacturing ecosystem.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder and entrepreneur?
IoT is hard. Products don’t stand alone- by definition, they are connected and can even be part of a whole stack of technological deployments. The instances of massive IoT deployments are still fairly rare and the ability to scale is still a challenge for many start-ups.
Specific challenges that arise from being a female founder are well documented. Just recently, at Web Summit, I was invited to a discussion at which one male founder spoke of taking his clients out to lunch. Another founder said he didn’t have that problem as his clients were mostly women and they preferred to go shopping on their lunch breaks. Whaaaat?
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why? Do you see a lot of female founders applying to your program? Do you think there is enough support for female founders and entrepreneurs in emerging tech businesses today?
#WomenInTech is at the core of my beliefs - that women should be able to have the same life choices as men. I have been working with female founders from a variety of backgrounds and technical abilities. Most of the female founders I have been fortunate to meet are well educated, have drive and confidence. I think we are incredibly lucky as many women are not in the same position as us.
There are some specific programmes designed We designed an incubation programme for women with precisely that need. It is currently being run by the Cloud Incubator Hub: GirlPowerMurcia.
For IoT Tribe North, we have a specific target of 50% of applications from women founders or co-founders and we make a huge effort to try to achieve that goal.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Find a support network of like-minded people, whether they are men or women and share experiences with people from your network. Apart from preparing other female founders for what they might find, it’s actually really therapeutic.
I also think men need to be more vocal on this by the way. Peer pressure is probably much more likely to have an impact.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
My crystal ball is a bit misty at the moment but let me see:
I own my data: I think the whole movement around owing your own data and the GDPR will open up a new range of business opportunity and will force some companies to rethink their business models.
Immersive technologies will provide opportunities for interactive IoT solutions, for example, within a given environment, say a large factory, sensors might be able to detect where living being are located and fire fighters might be able to navigate their way through the building using virtual maps that are loaded onto their goggles.
Emotional technologies: so sensors collecting information on emotions (for example, when someone is nervous or scared) and a given environment or device reacts on the basis of that emotion.
Who are your inspirational women in wearable tech and IoT?
Irene López de Vallejo - Director of Collaborative Research at the Digital Catapult, a super connector and friend
Maria Shiao - Investor, Business Advisor, colleague and friend
LinkedIn: Tanya Suarez
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 marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.