Q&A  | 

Keeping the vision in mind: The Collider start-up entrepreneurs on the benefits and challenges of the process.

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Dutch-French entrepreneur Adriaan Landman and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Silva-Constenla founded AllRead Machine Learning Technologies out of The Collider in 2019. Spotting and reading any text or symbols in supply chains to convert them into big data, AllRead MLT’s groundbreaking technology is one of The Collider’s many success stories. With Miguel bringing his international experience as the start-up's CEO and Adriaan offering his managerial expertise as COO, these two leaders have surpassed all expectations. And we had the chance to speak to them about the deep tech ecosystem, their experience with The Collider and how AllRead prepares to disrupt a number of industries.

Miguel, your background is in physics, electronics, computing and science. How did that lead to where you are today?

MS-C: It’s not common, it’s true. Nowadays there are business people with technical backgrounds, but it wasn’t like this 20 years ago. Back then, I got an offer to go to work in several countries across the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions during my last weeks in the military, and thought it was maybe a calling. A chance to travel and open my eyes.

 

I realised then that my life would be linked to my strong technical background. I was working in telecoms and was able to set up my own company there. I had a great time but around a year ago I realised it was time to come back, and found this project.

 

It’s difficult to find tech transfer projects without a strong technical background, and in the Middle East, no way. It was a reason I came back. Barcelona was booming; there was investment in tech transfer. I wanted in, so I sent my CV to The Collider. They called me straightaway, and I realised The Collider was the right project. It was about getting tech to market. Everything matched up – it was an easy decision.

Is Spain placing enough emphasis on having R&D teams collaborate with entrepreneurs?

MS-C: I’m originally from Galicia, in northern Spain, which is quite different from cities like Barcelona. With somewhere like Barcelona, people come for everything – nice weather, good wages, venture capital availability… In Spain we have a long way to go, but in Barcelona we actually get good support, even some government funding. It’s changing slowly; it’s recognised that to bring in the right talent, you need to invest in tech and R&D. We’re on the right path. It’s not like London or Berlin yet, but there’s time to catch up.

So how would you compare launching a start-up now to, say, 15 years ago?

MS-C: It’s much easier. In 2005 there was way less venture capital funding – you had to ‘bootstrap’. Now, if you’ve got a good project and a good team, there are family offices, business angels, private capital, government funding – there are so many tools.

 

AL: It’s easier to access funding, but you still have to convince them. As Miguel says, a few years ago, beyond convincing, there simply wasn’t an ecosystem.

 

MS-C: You need the right team, business model and some clients, but even now, in Barcelona, about one in ten start-ups gets funding. To get serious funding you need everything in place. Nowadays everyone’s an ‘entrepreneur’, but you have to fail – to crash – in order to know how hard it is.

How was your experience at The Collider?

MS-C: For tech transfer, you need the R&D team to see the potential in the entrepreneurs. The Collider brings good entrepreneurs and good experience. Not every company succeeds, but that’s normal. You do the experiments, you negotiate the licensing, the exclusivities, etc. This helps for when the investor comes – they realise everything’s covered. It’s a green flag for the team.

 

The Collider has very good connections with the big corporations. It’s in a good location, good for travel. Everything has to work; I prefer a place which scores five sevens out of ten rather than three tens and two fours.

 

The Collider isn’t like any other programme. I was very critical at times, which is important, but if you have good, intelligent people, who take criticism well, they really understand the process. The Collider constantly strives to improve the programme. They bring people from everywhere, with a lot of value for the project, but at the same time they listen to us. We want to work with The Collider for a long time.

 

AL: When launching your company, you get a lot of so-called advice from everyone. Our responsibility as entrepreneurs is to keep the vision in mind. We have to know who we can count on, who to filter. The Collider provided us with the environment of people we could rely on.

What has stood out from that time?

AL: I remember Miguel saying, “Through the window, through the door, down the chimney, we’re going to get this client!”

 

MS-C: It’s not three guys in a garage, just saying, “Let’s go!” In January we were nearly broke, we had bills to pay – the typical start-up experience. But then there was the first customer and we could pay the bills. It was tough but we always had back-up solutions, and now there are 12 of us. Recruiting fills me with energy, because people come with new ways of seeing things, new ways of doing stuff.

Adriaan, how do you balance entrepreneurs and researchers to get results?

AL: It’s obviously totally different to managing in a corporation, where processes and workflows are already in place. You have to build it. We have totally different ways of seeing the universe – the inventors are more focused on the challenges of the technology. And that’s important; when we start, we talk about the technology, not the project. But then when you reach out to the client you need somebody who can explain what it does, what problem it solves. I think that’s where the word collider comes from. It’s about creating a common ground, a common culture, so I must mention our CTO Marçal Rossinyol here. He drove the creation of a common entrepreneurship culture around technology – as he was aware that technology is what we rely on, while knowing it’s not the final product or service we offer.

Tell us more about AllRead.

AL: We provide a software that captures text, symbols and codes – which appear in supply chains – by using cameras and mobile devices; it then converts them to big data. It’s not scanning, but rather spotting. Our deep neural network is rapidly trained to read with accuracy above industry benchmarks, allowing our clients to identify, track, and monitor in real time assets in their operations – even when confronted with obstacles like movement, different angles, dust and stains. Providing clean data empowers our clients to convert it into an action like ‘close the gate’, ‘stop the train’, ‘send inventory’, etc. There’s no specific hardware investment – the client can use their own, existing camera – and it’s a completely transversal solution across the supply chain. We’re looking to disrupt existing and outdated OCR and barcode solutions in utilities, manufacturing and logistics and to work with airlines, seaports, water and gas providers, pharmaceutical companies, among others.

And your future objectives?

MS-C: It’s science fiction these days. Can you imagine being asked about your plans for 2020 in January 2020? There are too many variables, you have to go step by step.

 

AL: Every third month feels like a huge milestone. But we want to build a leading company in the sector, not just commercialise something. We want to be a tech leader, that’s one value we agree on strongly. We have a good product, for which there’s a market, but there’s a long way to go.