When it comes to connected devices, the futuristic dream of a being able to communicate with the objects in your life is not very far off. In fact, it’s already happening in several sectors and companies. R/GA, the agency behind Nike’s pioneering FuelBand, signaled its intentions to, well, accelerate this bridging of the digital and physical by launching Connected Devices Accelerator—a three-month intensive program for 10 tech startups, powered by Techstars methodology—earlier this year. The goal of the program is to build connected products and services while lending entrepreneurs R/GA’s expertise in business and brand consulting, product and services innovation, and marketing and communications. Now, after months of accepting submissions, R/GA has announced the 10 startups—spanning a diverse array of verticals including health care, the connected home, child care, retail, and navigation—that will take part in the accelerator. They are:
- Enertiv: Revolutionizing building energy management with real-time data.
- Footmarks: Transforming engagement in traditional retail with sensors that can detect consumers.
- Grove: Powering the urban farming revolution.
- Hammerhead Navigation: Heads-up navigation display for bicyclists with integrated social community.
- Keen Home: Developing intelligent devices for your home, starting with a connected air vent.
- KyteLabs: Consumer product that brings connectivity to everyday transactions.
- Owlet Baby Care: The first baby health monitor that tracks what really matters.
- ringblingz: A social notification platform that keeps you connected.
- QoL: Improving respiratory health and fitness through innovative devices.
- Qualia Health: Using data science to measure changes in overall health and improve lives.
Stephen Plumlee, chief operating officer, EVP, R/GA says the accelerator aims to support entrepreneurs where many falter. "Our experience has taught us that every company, from startup to Fortune 100, needs to simultaneously leverage business and brand strategy, product and service innovation, marketing, and advertising if they hope to create—and then launch—a successful new product," he says. "In working with startups over the last few years, either through investment opportunities or partnering on various projects with clients, we realized that many promising startups fail because they do not have access to expertise in these vital disciplines. Because we often provide expertise in each of these disciplines to our clients and know it works, we wanted to provide the most promising startups we could find with that same experience."
The decision to focus on connected devices for the first accelerator reflects what Nick Coronges, VP, technology and strategy at R/GA calls a mega shift towards the convergence of physical products and digital services. "Customers now expect more value, personalization, and data insights from the physical devices they interact with," he says. "To create these deeper connections with customers, software companies like Amazon and Google are becoming hardware companies, and product brands like Nike are becoming platform and services brands. The world of connected devices is in its infancy, and we're eager to contribute to its evolution."
Companies accepted into the accelerator will receive a great deal of support in the development of their ideas. As part of the accelerator, each startup will receive up to $120,000 in funding by R/GA Ventures, workspace at R/GA’s New York campus, design and development support from the agency’s designers and developers who’ve built connected devices and services, and access to prototyping equipment. Entrepreneurs will also be mentored by an impressive list of industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, and influencers. The startups will then get to present their projects at a special event at SXSWi in March, as well as to angel investors, select R/GA clients, and media at private Demo Day presentations in New York.
Beyond simply enabling the next generation of connected devices both Techstars and R/GA see a great opportunity for institutional growth. "There is a lot we'll be able to take away from this accelerator, including how we can continue to stay nimble as we scale globally. This is also a great opportunity for our clients to get an inside look at how smaller companies innovate—there is a lot they can learn from this process," says Plumlee.
"Our belief is to give first, and the education we get by expanding the network helps the success of everyone involved," says David Brown, founder and president of Techstars.
Plumlee also adds that for R/GA, facilitating the Connected Devices Accelerator fits the spirit of the company. "[This] proves our devotion to learning by doing, and allows us the opportunity to give back to the entrepreneurial community where we got our start. The company's first projects involved creating new technology to merge film and digital, and we've been devoted to innovation ever since."