Opinion

Is the Internet of Things the new entrepreneurial battleground?

7 min read

06 July 2015

By 2020 there will be 25bn connections between people on social networks, and 75bn connections between smartphones, appliances, manufacturing equipment and wearable devices. This hyper-connectivity is breathing new life into the global economy, projected to have an economic value of at least $9tn, according to the World Economic Forum.

For businesses, this means the goal posts have shifted. Multinational supply chains are no longer the preserve of large corporations, the proliferation of data has levelled the playing field and access to the internet as well as mobile devices is stimulating economic growth in developing nations. With the European Commission’s plans to introduce a digital single market as part of its 2020 “Digital Agenda”, the dynamic between the David and Goliaths will only continue to evolve. 

So what does this mean in practice for entrepreneurs and SMEs seeking to break into new markets and access the big contracts with MNCs?

The good news is that entrepreneurs are already tapping into gaps in the market, where large organisations have not been able to reach. From AirBnB’s shake-up of the hotel industry, to Spotify’s digital music takeover, entrepreneurs are challenging traditional business models at every turn. They are bringing solutions to market faster, scaling-up quicker and unlocking capacity where finite resources have put the brakes on growth – a disruption that’s set to unlock an estimated £9bn a year in the UK alone.

And although you’d be forgiven for thinking the Internet of Things (IoT) is a future-gazing fantasy, the reality is that the networks underpinning IoT are with us already. They are ushering in the next phase of disruption, stimulating growth and quickly becoming a breeding ground for new businesses. 

The IoT opportunity

When it comes to IoT, businesses often get hung up on the terminology and semantics, such as concerns over regulation, privacy and infrastructure. There’s no question that those are valid, but they’re usually born out of a lack of understanding of what IoT actually is.

IoT goes a step beyond big data (realising the information) and analytics (understanding the information) by making information readily available and consumable by other systems and networks. The IoT acts as an intermediary tool that helps turn information into a force that can boost efficiency, increase productivity and drive fundamental improvements in customer experiences. From connected industrial processes to wearable fitness devices like JawBone or Fitbit – the seamless connectivity and network around us the essence of IoT and the heart of the digital economy.

The digital economy is alive and thriving in Europe. It is home to some of the largest tech clusters in the world with the UK leading the way and trailing only behind Silicon Valley and New York.

Read more about the Internet of Things:

This year, the British government declared £40m towards the IoT for testbeds and incubators, along with £600m towards mobile broadband. While it’s definitely a step in the right direction, the government is treating the IoT as a future phenomenon, rather than taking steps to capitalise on the technology available now and investing in digital skills needed to make it a reality so that businesses can take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

That’s where entrepreneurs come in. Advancements in cloud technology, mobile connectivity and big data, coupled with hungry start-ups or entrepreneurs equals an abundance of opportunity.

Entrepreneur uprising 

Now is the time for the entrepreneurs’ moment in the Sun. The IoT is a seedbed for innovation that we’ll see startups dominating by 2020.

With nearly 22m small businesses in Europe contributing of over 3,666tn value-added revenue, entrepreneurs are truly the lifeblood of the European economy. Research firm IDC, predicts that the IoT is forecast to hit $7.1tn across all sectors – a five trillion leap in less than six years. Entrepreneurs are best-placed to unlock that revenue potential, and are already making significant strides. 

Healthcare, manufacturing, retail, smart cities and agriculture are some of the key industries we’re already seeing startups tap into the IoT opportunity. For example, Dutch startup, Sparked has created internet-connected sensors for cattle to digitally communicate with the farmer when a cow is sick or pregnant, helping the farmers prevent disease and monitor the health of their livestock in real-time. Sparked aren’t alone in the agriculture space, Cambridge-based KisanHub remotely collects data from multiple in-field sensors to make digitised farming enterprises a commercial reality.

US-based SeeControl specialises in creating mobile IoT apps for enterprises. It’s energy management app allows manufacturers to self-install energy meters on production machinery and through predictive analytics behind the scenes, these customers can control their energy spend and predict when equipment will fail. From automotive to pharmaceutical manufacturers, it’s a critical savings for large-scale factories.

In healthcare, startups like Slovakia’s Vestigen, are using wireless communications technologies to provide secure messaging about patient care between healthcare professionals, patients and hospitals. While, Finnish-based Mendor received €4.7m in 2014 for its cloud-enabled blood glucose meters for diabetes sufferers. It not only discretely tracks insulin intake daily, the software within the device takes the data and tracks glucose level patterns that could help prevent problems before they happen.

These examples just scratch the surface of the IoT startups emerging every day. The next industrial revolution is being led by new entrants in the tech industry, who are unravelling the complexity in our daily lives, bringing skills and innovation to the economic table and plugging capacity gaps across all industries.

While there’s still progress to be made to create awareness and understanding, IoT entrepreneurs have never been in a better position to make this trend a reality. It’s not happening 20 years from now, the entrepreneur uprising is happening now.

Mark Darbyshire is chief technology advisor at SAP UK & Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock