We sit down with the COO of Sente Foundry – Gerod Carfantan to discuss their annual investment programme and the mobility ecosystem in Europe and the US.
Hi Gerod, welcome to London and welcome to the Connectory! How’s your trip been?
Great, thank you! We’re delighted you could have us for the first leg of our annual Mobility Investment programme. Even the weather has been great, so it’s beaten our expectations already
Glad to hear it! Good to have you here. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Sente Foundry?
Absolutely. Before Sente, I always worked for big corporations – whether it was at VMWare or CISCO, large businesses and their structures were my focus. The inspiration for leaving that world behind and working with smaller companies is thanks to my colleague and founder of Sente: Serhat Cicekoglu. We were old colleagues and he approached me about the idea of helping to build Sente. And so, with great consideration, I decided to move into the startup world. I’ve always liked mentoring people and Sente seemed to be a perfect opportunity to fulfil this passion.
Sente is an international technology startup programme that began back in 2008. We essentially work with public institutions, corporations and investors to bring the world’s most innovative IoT solutions to Chicago. Currently, we work with around 400 startups globally, where we help to accelerate collaboration with larger companies looking to tackle key digital challenges in the IoT space. It’s obvious that cities are not moving fast enough to suit the needs of the citizens who live there and where we see these challenges, we will always see opportunities.
So the goal of your investment programme is to ultimately bring companies to Chicago from overseas, why Chicago?
We love Chicago, as it’s a great soft landing for international startups. The traditional entry point for SMEs is straight for San Francisco and New York City to chase the investment dollars, but they rarely find it. They usually come up against stiff competition with the thousands of other mobility startups vying for that seed or angel investment. That coupled with the elevated cost of being there it can be brutal and potentially the end of some companies.
The beauty of Chicago is that it is much less competitive, it’s in the centre of the country so ventures can be made to either East or West coasts and innovations tend to stand out more. We’re supported by the Chicago Connectory, so we already around a great hotbed of innovation and through this we find that the startups we bring here thrive.
We’re glad that our cousins in Chicago are such a great support! What’s your view on the mobility scene in Europe?
Europe is a great place for mobility startups to launch before they take on the US. As we know, the US should be treated as 52 unique countries with different laws and outlooks. By focusing on European countries and then expanding incrementally to other EU member states gives companies key learnings that can help an expansion into the US. It’s important for start-ups to understand how to scale outside of their own country and Europe certainly gives enough scope.
Another trend we see is that there is a great focus within American mobility companies on making autonomous vehicles. Whilst I find AVs exciting, I think that marketing and PR have whipped up a hyperbole of expectation that fully autonomous vehicles are just around the corner. We think this is much further away and we think there’s great promise in connected vehicles making a bigger impact sooner. This is where Europe is really leading the way with many OEMs making it their focus. This is just one example where Europe is really exciting for us.
So, this is the third instalment of your mobility investment programme. How did it come about?
Well, although our predominant focus is on IoT, we understand that mobility-based innovations are where the key opportunities are at the moment. Investors are seeing mobility solutions as the most attractive right now, as it’s the most prominent and pressing issue in today’s urban centres. It’s for this reason we’ve listened to the demand and taken it forward into this investment programme.
We’re impressed by the rate of innovation in the mobility sector in Europe. From what we’ve seen, there’s a lot more testing happening in Europe and that’s led to some great innovations. We see this but we also acknowledge that key investment still happens in the US.
We’ve learnt a lot from running this programme for the past three years. Working in a distributed team myself means I understand the challenges of having a cross border team. For the last few years I’ve been learning by my own experience and appreciate the opportunity to share that with other startups. Learning how to instil company ethos and value is hard with remote workers, so we’ve really had to look to see what works. We have driven these findings into the startups we work with to make them a tighter unit.
So this is your first time to London Connectory. What are your thoughts?
The London Connectory is great! We’ve really enjoyed our week here and we love the space. For us, it’s been an amazing location in the centre of London which certainly makes it easier for those visiting from overseas. With us spending more time focusing in on mobility, it’s refreshing to have a space that focuses on it also. The world of mobility at the moment is an exciting one, as I believe we’re in a golden age within the industry. It’s for this reason that I think the London Connectory is well placed to be an innovative and groundbreaking ecosystem within London’s mobility scene.
We see similarities with the ecosystem we are building at Sente – one based on mutual support, collaboration and a little touch of healthy competitiveness. Ultimately, we want to create a global family – one that you are also trying to create. This is where true innovation can take place with a healthy framework of process, analysis, and data.
Thank you for your time, Gerod. Keep us updated on the programme, and hopefully we’ll see you next year!