The ideal scenario for every :agile accelerator project seems to go something like this: the project gets honed and improved, its founders build their entrepreneurial skills, customer needs are identified and met, another round of financing is granted, the product/service is rolled out and proves successful. Yet not every :agile accelerator journey follows this itinerary. Sometimes they lead to unexpected destinations. Case in point: the drone-infrastructure project airgrid, developed by Adreas Wiegran, Yuliana Agudelo, Chirayu Vora, and Thomas Förster.
The evolution of airgrid
First conceived as an infrastructure for drones, airgrid went through several pivots. In each evolutionary step, the project team identified and met with potential stakeholders and/or customers, evaluated the feasibility of their concept, partnered with research and traffic control institutions, and conducted tests. They hit several brick walls and took each as a chance to reconsider and adapt their business case. What began as a network of inductive drone charging stations thus evolved into a drone-based methane gas detection system, and, finally, a drone data registration and tracking system. Aiming to facilitate autonomous drone flight, airgrid combines an easy-to-attach LoRa connection and a data analysis and information sharing platform. Drones check in to the network, get registered, and can be tracked – a crucial prerequisite for functioning autonomous drone traffic.
In October 2016, E.ON denied their project further funding due to too many regulatory issues. Andreas, Thomas, and Chiraya decided to look for external investors. Their first candidate was Bessemer Venture Partners, the longest-standing venture capital practice in the U.S., whose startup roster includes Box, Pinterest, Quidsi (Diapers.com), Skype, TravelTriangle, Staples Inc., Stratoscale, VeriSign, UrbanClap, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Bessemer finally decided against the project because there was no prototype yet. In November 2016, they pitched their project to the venture capital firm Project A and applied at A2 Adlershof Accelerator Energy in Berlin. Their first pitch went well and they are currently (as of February 2017) waiting to hear from potential cooperation partners GASAG and MVV.
An unexpected offer
For Andreas, who provided the initial airgrid idea, the project opened a completely new door. A professor at the University of Cottbus whom he had met during the accelerator stage asked him if he was interested in joining a PhD project on “Digitalizing Customer Service in Quality Contexts”. The academic project is a good fit for Andreas’ line job, and his line managers have already signaled their support.
“That a project is dropped is part of the game,” Andreas says.“Still, we are proud of our achievements and we will continue to push on with airgrid. For me personally, the project has opened an unexpected door. The faculty commission has accepted the PhD project proposal, and I am grateful to :agile and the team for making that possible.”