The University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate is shipping five of its most promising startups off on a tour of Europe, which is particularly good news for one beer-focused business.
IAccelerate chief executive Omar Khalifa tells StartupSmart the trip centres around one Australian startup event hosted by the Berlin Landing Pad, part of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, which is intended to help Australian startups access Europe’s innovation and technology scene.
Once the accelerator had decided to go, Khalifa says, “we thought we would get [the startups] to come and pitch with us”.
There are also future trips on the cards exploring the Asian and Latin American markets, Khalifa says, adding: “Our intention is to create a network to go across all the continents.”
However, he says the European startup market is very similar to the Australian one, and so it could provide a “much easier transition”.
For one of the startups on the trip, Europe is a natural target market. Binary Beer, founded a year ago by husband and wife team Michael and Brooke Burton, builds wireless sensors for beer kegs, allowing brewers to track their location, temperature, how full they are, and more.
The concept uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology is intended to stop kegs from going missing, or from being stored in the wrong conditions, and it can also let bartenders know when a barrel is running low.
It’s only in the proof-of-concept stages at the moment, but Michael Burton believes ‘smart kegs’ could be the next billion-dollar business.
Beer is a huge business in Europe, Burton says, and some of the world leaders in IoT technology are in Europe, too.
In terms of the size of market, the best international options for beer startups are Europe and the US.
“For us, it’s pretty clear,” Burton says. “The states have pretty complicated beer distribution laws, and a lot of the technology for draft beer is still coming out of Europe.”
“Our vision is global, and Europe is a potential next market,” he adds.
Khalifa says the startups invited on the trip are “the ones we thought were most ready to move to a foreign market”.
They’re the businesses with a “well-defined, marketable product”, that are ready to start pitching to investors and selling their products.
Khalifa also agrees that Europe is a good place for Binary Beer to be: “There are a lot of beer kegs moving around Europe, that’s for sure,” he says.
The other four startups heading to Europe with iAccelerate are BeerMogul, PhycoHealth, RoboMotion and Me3D.
How a hobby became a startup
Burton and his wife are beer lovers and homebrew hobbyists. However, last year, they entered a hackathon with a completely different product, winning an IoT award for a chicken hatchery that used their technology to monitor eggs, keep them at the right temperature and report on any movements.
Combining their tech expertise and their passion for home brew seemed like a natural next step. Their first project was a ‘wireless bartender’ for other home brewers.
But, as Burton says, “we realised the market potential was fairly small”.
“What we were developing had much greater potential for commercial beer kegs,” he says.
This isn’t Binary Beer’s first international venture — the company also recently ran a proof-of-concept in Kenya.
According to Burton, the technology is dependent on telecomm companies and connectivity. Kenya has just rolled out a network upgrade, he says, and “the rest of the world is still catching up”.
In fact, the startup is already in talks with Vodafone to make use of its reach in Australia, and in the 50-plus other countries it has networks in.
The trip to Kenya “unlocked all sorts of opportunities”, Burton says, specifically, opening their eyes to other use cases for the product, outside of the beer industry.
They’re focusing on the beer keg product in the first instance “because we believe this is a market that can potentially grow very quickly”, Burton says, but, “anything that’s mobile is our speciality”.
Already, Burton says: “It’s grown far beyond what we expected”.
“Very quickly our vision has had to go global — out of necessity — and into different verticals,” he adds.
If you don’t try you don’t know
Looking to the future, Burton says Binary Beer will consider a capital raising round. The company has some deals in the pipeline that he’s tight-lipped about, but he says “raising capital after that would be a very different story”.
Burton says they’re looking at the big picture with confidence. The technology is becoming more affordable, and there’s value in the data they can unlock.
“The future is going to be a place where everything worth connecting can be connected,” he says.
“All commercial kegs are going to be smart kegs.”
Burton’s business started with a hobby, and his advice to other entrepreneurs is: “If you have the passion, follow your heart”.
While startups are risky, he says: “If you don’t try you don’t know”.
He adds that the Australian ecosystem is supportive for startups, including through programs like iAccelerate, and that offers opportunities for Australian startups to compete on a global scale.
“There’s a lot up against you, but we have so much support from industry … it really de-risks a lot of the process,” says Burton.
“Australians have a lot of support from the government that American [startups] would die for.”