Meet Startup @TW

Startups Need to Take on "Global Aspect": A Talk with Startupbootcamp Energy Australia CEO Trevor Townsend

Business Next

Startupbootcamp is a global network of industry-focused startup accelerators. Operating globally with 20+ industry-focused programs in different cities, it has launched Energy Australia, an energy-focused program based in Melbourne, Australia, to support early-stage startups that provide disruptive solutions to issues with regards to energy efficiency, energy independence, digitization and analytics. Earlier in April, it had graduated a batch of 10 startups and is now recruiting new teams across the globe.

Last week, the CEO of Startupbootcamp Energy Australia, Trevor Townsend, at the invitation of Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS), came to Taipei to meet one-on-one with local startups and give insightful feedback on their innovative ideas.

Meet Startup was also given the opportunity to have a brief talk with him about the trends in the global energy industry and his observations on Taiwan.

Rapidly changing energy market

The model of power distribution had been strictly hierarchical, with massive plants generating and transmitting unilaterally the majority of electricity to consumers. But with renewables, there has been a major shift in the industry that "changes the way the whole market works," said Townsend.

As "more and more energy being produced at the bottom and pushed into the market," startups have been working on integrating this new load of power to the grid while enhancing its stability and reliability. For environments with an individual power system, it's crucial to control the load and even more, allow users to better share and trade their power.

Likewise, the existing machines need to be improved to work more efficiently and effectively, so startups are coming up ideas to manage their power usage and make the power smoother, including Ubiik, a Taiwanese startup creating a device that listens to the power patterns and tells if they're normal or abnormal.

Townsend also sees some teams developing devices that store renewables like wind and solar energy since they're supplied intermittently, and lithium batteries are replaced with creative alternatives like Israeli startup NOSTROMO's Icebrick, an ice-based energy storage system.

These trends and opportunities, observed by industry leaders, have propelled traditional companies to work with startups on unconventional business models, as electricity companies involving in the value chain of electric vehicles.

When asked about why his program is based in Australia, he described the market as "rapidly-changing" but "in turmoil," with its competitive market model constantly challenged.

For instance, the energy prices skyrocketed to $15,000/MW because of the new load and methods of energy production.

The country enjoys the highest rate of residential solar PV installation worldwide and in the Australian state of Victoria, smart meter can be seen in every house. But at the same time, there are issues left to be addressed such as power reliability, the cause of the South Australian blackout in 2016.

"When things are rapidly changing, people will look for different solutions," Townsend explained. "That makes it good for startups to come in to the market and try their products."

In Melbourne, where businesses in wealth management and superannuation gather, he also runs a Fintech program focusing on areas like financial inclusion, insurance management, and open banking. The batch it has recently graduated includes Trading Valley, a Taiwanese startup developing AI for financial planning.

Taiwan, a competitive technical market in need of "global aspect"

Speaking of Taiwan, Townsend said he sees that the country has "a great reputation and pedigree of smart hardware" and businesses should take more advantage of them.

But he noticed some local startups are somehow "insular." Instead of replicating what have already been done, they should "make sure they have a global aspect," he stressed, to look out to the world as their compatriots overseas.

He had just talked to several startups before the interview and was especially impressed by ChargeSmith, one that is building an ecosystem around electric charging. Besides a strong business model, "they have sophisticated view of where the market would go," he said. "Working with major brands like Porsche to get into the market through consumers is really smart."

While Australian companies learn from Taiwan on a technical level, their Taiwanese counterparts can also learn from Australia how to build competitive business models and find product market fit. He said both the solution to a problem and the way to monetize it are equally important.

Australia is also where Taiwanese startups can understand the Western market. It's a good test market where one can "succeed loudly and fail quietly."

As an investor, Townsend said he does selection based on the founding team. "A good team with a reasonable idea can pivot their way to success, but a poor team, even with the best idea in the world, will never succeed," he said. "If they're not fast and smart enough, they get out-competed."

He looks for entrepreneurs in a team who show coachability, that is, the capacity to take in and synthesize information to make independent decisions. Though receiving different advices, they should digest them and decide what to do.

Resilience is another important characteristic for a startup team to "keep picking themselves up."

"The founder may have a big presentation to the investors on the day and in the morning have to run payroll though don't have enough money," he said. "That's everyday life of the founders."

Seeing startups fail due to disharmony, he sets up pre-mediations in his program to "deal with problems before they arise." Without cohesiveness, the team members probably won't get on and continue. After all, it's the people that lead teams to success.

Bryan Chou

Bryan Chou is a Taiwan-based and born journalist who writes about innovation and entrepreneurship for Business Next and Meet. Over the past five years, he has written for a student press, translated numerous magazine pieces, and worked as an intern in two startups. He believes what shapes him into who he is today is not only these experiences but the people he has interacted with and the stories he has learned from them.

He has a BA in Foreign languages and literatures from NTU. After graduation, he spent a year in Prague, traveling extensively around Europe to learn about the history and culture of the region from local people. Currently based in Taipei, he hopes to present the best of Taiwan to the world.