Meet Larry Steffann and Tom Snyder!
Larry’s career spans 35 years deeply entrenched in technology. Mr. Steffann held several roles with a number of startups, from an advisor, angel investor and as executive/founder. He served in senior executive roles at two publicly traded companies, CEO of NSO/AMEX and COO BOCI/Nasdaq. As a serial entrepreneur, Mr. Steffann’s recent roles have included GM of the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina and VP of Product Development for Consert and has also Founded NC RIOT and RIoT Labs.
Tom is the Executive Director of RIoT, supporting Internet of Things and disruptive technology industry growth. By day he runs RIoT Labs at HQ Raleigh. In his spare time, Tom co-instructs Product Innovation Lab, a Forbes award winning multi-disciplinary course in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NC State. Prior to joining RIoT, Tom held an executive leadership role at the ASSIST Center, a National Science Foundation sponsored effort to create wearable electronics for healthcare monitoring. Previously, he spent two decades in product development and technology incubation in NC.
What was the original seed of the idea that led you to launch your company? We recognized technology tipping points in sensors, wireless communication, artificial intelligence, and analytics were enabling a new Data Economy. It is extremely rare for any organization to have the breadth of skill set to tackle all the elements of the Internet of Things value chain so we started RIoT to connect and educate the community. The idea to run RIoT as a business came later, based on positive community feedback.
What inspired you to go “all in” on making this vision a reality? Larry Steffann and I are patient with people but impatient with getting things done. Working RIoT as a side-effort was not going to enable North Carolina to seize the IoT opportunity quickly enough, so I quit my job to pursue RIoT full time. The stakes are too high not to have full-time, active leadership for our region. RIoT provides that.
What were some early challenges you faced? Like many buzzwords, IoT held different meanings to different stakeholders. We maintain an educational aspect to everything we do, to solve that challenge. Baselining the conversation so everyone works towards common goals and expectations has enabled us to be successful.
Name one person or resource that really made a difference in your early growth. The Wireless Research Center “adopted” RIoT from the earliest days, providing connections and access to administrative and operational resources – on top of subject matter expertise – so RIoT could focus on the mission. If you haven’t checked WRC out, you should. World-class experts, right in our backyard. And I would be remiss not to mention the support we received from NC IDEA. Their ecosystem grant enabled Larry and me to accelerate RIoT’s growth.
Who is your most significant client/customer & why are they important to your company? We run a consortium model, working with more than 65 sponsoring companies, government organizations, and universities. Our success and growth have come from ecosystem-building versus focus on a single customer. That said, North Carolina is home. We have the right mix of industry, research and creative energy to lead the world on IoT, so you could think of our region as our most important customer.
What do you feel makes the Triangle a great place to grow a company? We’ve worked all over the world and not seen a region that collaborates as well as here. Sure, there are competitors, but companies, local governments, and universities realize that the opportunity is so large that we are more successful together than separate. It is a fantastic and rare culture.
Tell us a favorite client/customer success story. It is always great when we can help an early stage company to shape their business and technology such that they secure their first customers and early-stage funding. The Launch Place, as an example, has been a great partner. They have funded about half a dozen companies we introduced to them. We just won a $500k grant from the federal government to formalize a RIoT Accelerator Program, so intend to significantly increase the number of startups we can support.
What is one piece of advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs? The “typical” advice like work extremely hard and make decisions analytically rather than emotionally always apply. On top of that, I’d suggest reading as much as possible and listen more than you speak. Important to continuously market and sell, but that must be tempered with honest response to feedback you hear from your customers.
What is your favorite thing to do to help blow off steam? I’m a social creature, so love getting out with friends whether hiking in the woods or getting a little crazy like my first visit to Oktoberfest last week. Key is not to talk about work during those social encounters. Unplugging regularly helps keep my energy high during work periods.
Any memorable [funny or otherwise] stories from your early fundraising or sales activities? One of our earliest ecosystem building activities was to pull together teams to work Smart Cities initiatives for First Responders across the region. It’s great to hear our local police and firefighters claim ours is the only RIoT they love to attend!