Sydney-based renewable energy startup Symbiot Technology will be going head to head with top Silicon Valley talent as a finalist in the VERGE Accelerate 17 pitch contest, with co-founder Kyle Bolto saying it’s “100 times easier” to pitch to investors in the US compared to Australia.
Many founders would say the key to a good pitch is providing strong growth metrics and having runs on the board, but for Symbiot Technology, which is still pre-launch and pre-revenue, its energy-saving value proposition was enough to land a spot in the finals, which will take place next month at the VERGE 17 summit in Silicon Valley.
Symbiot Technology is the only Australian startup to be selected in the finals, and co-founders Kyle Bolto and Reza Monavari say securing US investment will be key to accelerating their startup’s exposure and growth.
Billed as a way to automate energy optimisation for the residential market, Symbiot Technology aims save its users 25-40% on their residential energy costs through a cloud-based platform and physical hardware that combines artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and cloud-based technology.
The startup capitalises on the current debate around renewable energy, sustainability and power prices in Australia, yet has its sights firmly set on going global from day one, according to Bolto, who entered the pitch competition to “kickstart” the startup’s exposure in Silicon Valley.
“We’ve taken a bit of a strategy [in entering this competition] — when we started we wanted to be a global company and not be seen as just an Australian startup,” Bolto tells StartupSmart.
Run by the GreenBiz Group, the VERGE Accelerate contest is targeted at startups accelerating innovation in sustainability and climate change solutions. Out of close to 500 applications, Symbiot Technology was chosen to submit a video pitch, which was posted on the VERGE website and voted on by users on the GreenBiz platform.
The 34,000 community votes cast helped the VERGE judges narrow their selection to 14 finalists, including Symbiot Technology, which will now get the opportunity to pitch to an audience of nearly 2000 investors, business leaders, and government officials at the VERGE 17 summit, as well have their pitches broadcast to a global online audience.
Why the US?
Despite still being in its early stages, Symbiot Technology has already secured $350,000 in ongoing pre-seed funding from both Australian and US investors, and is looking to the US, rather than just Australia, as a key source of investment.
“I would say it’s 100 times easier [pitching for investment] in the States than in Australia,” Bolto says.
“It’s a cultural thing; what we’ve learnt is that in Australia … while the startup space is getting better, it [the ecosystem] is still hugely conservative and hugely skeptical,” he says.
“We don’t get the same response in the US — culturally it’s a lot different. It’s a shame, to be honest.”
Know what story you want to tell
Since founding Symbiot Technology in mid-2016, Bolto and Monavari have been splitting their time and funding efforts between Australia and the bay area of Silicon Valley, and their experience speaking to investors in both markets has helped to hone their pitch for the VERGE Accelerate finals.
“We’re trying to get really clear about what our proposition is, what story we want to tell,” Monavari says.
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“We’re really [working on] trying to explain something very complex in a nice and simple and easy to understand way where people can see the value [in the proposition] really quickly,” he says.
Bolto says founders looking to pitch to investors and customers need to be “as clear as you can” without getting bogged down in the technicalities of how the product works.
“In detailed tech fields the inclination is to describe in detail how it works, [but] investors and customers don’t really care about the ‘how’,” Bolto says.
“What they care about is what is the value proposition. Don’t over-explain the how. Spend a lot of time describing the proposition and the value you’re going to create for both the customer and the investor,” he advises.
“You don’t have to launch in Australia”
Bolto and Monavari are focusing on building a pilot program for Symbiot Technology, which is expected to roll out in the Sydney area in September and will involve a 500 residential-site trial of the energy-saving technology .
But while the startup is launching its pilot in Australia, Bolto says Symbiot Technology won’t necessarily be officially launching Down Under. Instead, the founders are taking a more global approach.
“[Startups] don’t have to launch in Australia just because you’re Australian [based] — in certain markets that may not be the right strategy,” he says.
“We are trying to build a go-to-market strategy based on the trial, which will validate the value we are delivering to consumers. Then we will work out which markets are going to be worth attacking first,” Bolto says.
“The partners and appetite in a market are factors that will drive where we go when we launch.”
Bolto suggests that instead of staying home-grown, the driving factor for where startups launch should be “where can you offer the most value and where can you build scale and validate your business quickest and most effectively”, be that in Australia, Europe, the US or other markets.