Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is at the heart of Industry 4.0 and the increasing adoption of industrial digitalisation. Fueling the rise of IIoT digital initiatives are tailwinds such as improvement in IIoT integrations and declining cost of computing power. Ackcio is a Singapore-based deep-tech startup making waves in the IIoT space and operates with the mission to be the industrial standard for wireless monitoring solutions. The team over at Ackcio is improving IIoT integrations with their plug and play product that unifies the current fragmented and siloed IIoT space.
In this month’s Startup Conversations, we caught up with Co-Founder and CEO of Ackcio, Nimantha Baranasuriya and Co-Founder and CTO, Mobashir Mohammad. Both Nimantha and Mobashir graduated from NUS with a PhD. They shared with us how they built a global sales channel by serving 23 clients across 6 continents and how they view the deep-tech startup ecosystem in Singapore.
Did the both of you always know that you will pursue entrepreneurship after your PhD? What was the “aha” founding moment of Ackcio for the both of you?
Nimantha: Although I’ve been interested in entrepreneurship and followed tech startups for a long time, the interest in starting one by myself was sparked by Entrepreneur First. In this talent investor programme, I learnt more about entrepreneurship. I joined the cohort without a startup idea, but with full conviction that I wanted to start a company.
After joining the programme and thinking about what kind of a company I wanted to build, I chatted with my father, a civil engineer. He connected me with some of his ex-colleagues that were working for a construction company in Singapore. The aha moment came when we spoke about the pain points they faced during their day-to-day work. Since Mobashir’s PhD work was a superb match to solve the identified problem, Mobashir and I ended up founding Ackcio together.
Mobashir: I hail from a family of entrepreneurs. Working with my father from a very early age exposed me to the nitty-gritty of doing business. That and the technical expertise picked up during the Ph.D. was a good motivation to kickstart something of my own. The cherry on the top was the perfect timing of the launch of Entrepreneur First’s Singapore Chapter. The stars automatically got aligned and we founded Ackcio.
The ‘aha’ moment for me was when a potential client gave a pre-order for a product that existed, but only conceptually. It was a clear validation that we were building something that is not what people wish for, but something that people need!
Nimantha Baranasuriya, Co-Founder & CEO of Ackcio with Mobashir Mohammad, Co-Founder and CTO at Ackcio and their team
On the face of it both Mobashir and you seem to have very similar backgrounds. In the early stages of Ackcio, how did the both of you complement each other as a founding team?
Nimantha: After Mobashir and I paired up to start Ackcio, we met many prospective clients to gather advice. The cool thing was that these people were willing to share their expertise and even give us access to their equipment and sites because they were looking for a good solution. So rather than building the product on what Mobashir and I thought would be nice, we created the product based on what these prospective clients were looking for. Because of this approach, Mobashir and I were always aligned on what needed to be built.
For the audience that may not be familiar with the Industrial IoT space, how would you explain the space and how is Ackcio disrupting the Industrial IoT space?
Mobashir: Industrial IoT (IIoT) refers to interconnecting devices and people in an industrial application. IoT, in general, is a very fragmented space with too many standards and too many companies offering services and solutions in silos. Ackcio is disrupting the IIoT space by unifying the fragmented industry with a plug-and-play product that can add connectivity and intelligence to any device in any industry. Our key differentiation is our product that is truly industry agnostic. It has helped us to quickly scale to multiple industries that we are currently working in.
A lineup of products prouced at Ackcio
Singapore is a small nation with a limited tech-talent pool. How does Ackcio attract and retain high quality talent and how do you look at managing remote teams?
Nimantha: We attract and retain talent based on two key aspects. First, all of our team members get to deal with challenging problems. We are working on industrial applications where the reliability of the solution is of utmost importance. So we need to think ten times about every single design choice that we take. This requires the team to be creative and come up with novel ideas to push the boundaries.
Secondly, our team gets to create a global impact through their work. We serve clients in 23 countries across six continents. So our team gets to see their work being utilised by major industrial companies in all parts of the world. We once had an intern whose project got commercialised within the three months that he spent with us. So the team finds great fulfilment in their work.
Ackcio now serves customers in 20 countries. What is Ackcio’s strategy to develop a global sales channel? What are some of the challenges that you have faced with developing a sales strategy and how did you overcome them?
Nimantha: The key challenge we faced was to find a go-to-market strategy that can accelerate our market penetration. Along the way, we realised that we couldn’t just use one strategy, and therefore we experimented with different strategies and finalised two key ones. Now we sell direct to some of our clients and reach others through a global partner network. This mix has been working well, and we have been able to provide timely support to our clients through our partner network.
Singapore is evidently trying to push deep-tech innovation within the startup ecosystem. What is your view of the deep-tech ecosystem in Singapore?
Mobashir: Singapore is working very aggressively to establish itself as deep-tech leader in the region. One of the pieces of evidence is the recent Forbes Asia 100 to Watch report where 20% of the companies came from Singapore. The combination of investments, grants and help with talent acquisition that the Singapore government offers is not only helping Ackcio but also many other start-ups that I personally know. One challenge that deep-tech start-up faces on a daily basis is finding people with the right skillset. I hope that Singapore can continue to attract local and foreign talent to pursue a career in STEM and generate a pool of talented individuals who are ready to fuel the industry demands.
Ackcio pitched with AngelCentral in 2017 and earlier this year. How was the experience like to pitch and raise funds through AngelCentral?
Nimantha: Yes, we pitched twice at AngelCentral. I think AngelCentral has come a long way since 2017. The Angel community at AngelCentral had grown significantly when we pitched in 2020. The Angels that participated in our first round in 2017 have backed us up at everyround we raised after that. So it is great to see our AngelCentral Angels continuing to support our growth.
Looking forward, where do you see Ackcio in the next 5 years?
Nimantha: Our mission at Ackcio is to be the industry standard wireless solution for industrial monitoring applications. In the next five years, we are looking at integrating our wireless monitoring solution with industrial sensors and software systems used by multiple industries to meet this goal. Thereby, we can increase the industrial applications where our products are used and be the defacto standard for wireless industrial monitoring solutions.
Ackcio builds reliable wireless data acquisition systems for industrial monitoring applications. The company automates monitoring processes and provides remote, intelligent data to enable increased safety and efficient risk management in mission-critical industries including construction, infrastructure, mining, and rail. Ackcio’s flagship solution, Ackcio Beam, is an industrial data acquisition platform that uses a patented long-range wireless mesh network to monitor sensors accurately and reliably in both above ground and underground environments. Ackcio is headquartered in Singapore and supports clients across the world. In 2021, the company was included in Forbes Asia’s inaugural ‘100 to Watch’, a list comprising of small companies and startups on the rise across Asia Pacific.
AngelCentral is the most active and fastest-growing community of angel investors in Southeast Asia. We organize regular pitch sessions, angel education workshops, and provide syndication services. Since Inception, AngelCentral has trained >300 angels and our members have invested >S$18m into the startups.
If you are a startup and would like to raise funds from our members, send in your application here!
If you are an investor and would like to find out more about Angel Investing and what AngelCentral does, we have a coffee session hosted by the AngelCentral team. These informal chat sessions are held twice monthly where we will share about what we do, our membership offers, and/or what Angel Investing is all about. Secure your slots here.