1. Can you set the stage? How did you first connect with Verizon Ventures and why did you choose Verizon?
Veniam is building the Internet of Moving Things, which for us begins with connecting all vehicles to each other and to the Internet. In other words, we look at vehicles not just as machines that carry people and goods from point A to point B, but rather as active nodes of the Internet that can expand wireless coverage dramatically and mobile sensors that can gather highly valuable data for smart city applications. When raising our Series B round of financing, we looked for strategic partners who could provide Veniam not only with capital but also access to excellent backhaul networks and large fleets of commercial vehicles. Among the investors we spoke to, Verizon Ventures was quick to recognize the value of Veniam’s proprietary IP and understand at a deeper level how Veniam’s managed services over networks of vehicles can improve connectivity, mobility, and quality of life for millions of people worldwide. Since Verizon and Veniam share the same vision for the future of connected transportation and smart cities, partnering with Verizon Ventures was a very simple choice to make.
2. Veniam is building the “Internet of moving things” by granting more Internet access to locations where infrastructure does not allow for a traditional type of connection. What was the genesis of this idea?
As a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, I had always been intrigued by the possibility of turning vehicles into wireless hotspots and using them to carry large amounts of data from the physical world to the cloud. In 2009, my colleague Susana Sargento and I led a small army of brilliant graduate students at the Universities of Aveiro and Porto (in Portugal) to develop and deploy the necessary hardware and software components. When I first presented our idea and initial results (from experiments with a small fleet of connected taxis) at MIT in late 2011, a former corporate investor came to me and said, “You must do two things: 1) start a company and 2) talk with Robin Chase.” I did some research about Robin Chase, who founded Zipcar, and when I saw her TED talk during which she defended that every vehicle should be a Wi-Fi hotspot, I thought she would be the perfect partner. We then exchanged a few emails and soon met for the first time in Silicon Valley. During that initial two-hour conversation, we outlined Veniam’s business plan on a sheet of paper and decided to start the company together, while joining forces with my colleague Susana and Robin’s husband, Roy Russell (the first CTO of Zipcar).
Fast forward three years, Veniam is now a community of more than 40 outstanding professionals in Silicon Valley, Porto and Singapore operating the largest vehicular mesh network in the world (currently in business in Porto, Portugal). Veniam also became one of the first Portugal born companies to close two rounds of financing with top VC firms and strategic investors in three different continents.
3. There is great potential with vehicular mesh networks, with the ability to not only expand wireless coverage and reduce the cost of wireless connectivity, but to also gather valuable data for smart city applications. What were some findings Veniam discovered when the company deployed Wi-Fi in its first test market, Porto?
By deploying and operating the world's largest network of 600+ connected vehicles in Porto, Portugal, Veniam not only proved its technology at city scale but also made good progress in understanding the right value propositions and business models for different types of commercial fleets, ranging from public buses to garbage collection trucks. Since September 2014, Veniam’s network has delivered more than 4,000,000 wireless Internet sessions to about 350,000 individual users and supported 3 terabytes of data per month by collectively offloading 70 percent of traffic from cellular networks in the busiest areas. The growth has been phenomenal. Porto has also been instrumental in testing a variety of IoT use cases for the high-definition data collected by moving vehicles, including traffic management, industrial logistics, environmental monitoring and smart waste management.
4. In your experience, what's the best way to work with an investor like Verizon Ventures?
As the venture arm of the best telecom operator in the United States, Verizon Ventures has access to a very impressive pool of resources and talent. As we work to scale up Veniam, our approach has been to identify joint opportunities with Verizon’s internal business units in order to enhance Veniam’s solutions and bring us the largest number of go-to-market opportunities. In our experience, the best way to do that is to identify a first customer that we can address together. In our case, this would be a large fleet that operates in a particular geography. As the teams get to know each other better, I am confident that more and more business opportunities will appear in a very natural way. Our discussions with Ed Ruth and Roy Chestnutt from Verizon Ventures could not have been more productive. I am truly excited!
5. What's next for Veniam in 2016?
Our goal for this year is to grow our sales organization and expand our solutions to more urban fleets, ports, and other transportation ecosystems around the world. In particular, we plan to launch new deployments in Singapore, Europe and the United States. To accomplish this, we will need to grow the team, which is currently 42 people (10 of which are PhDs, and 20% women) from 6 different countries. On the technology side, Veniam’s world class team of engineers continues to innovate every day, including new solutions for vehicle positioning in downtown areas with poor GPS, cloud-based managed smart city services and viral over-the-air software updates for connected vehicles.
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