The SPEED project’s diagnostic tool
As part of the larger ecosystem being developed in the Interreg SPEED project in order to bridge the gap between the Data Science & IoT-market and the Western-European harbor-market, the project is also interested in supporting smart-port application entrepreneurs in their successful growth and development. We are specifically aiming to develop a diagnostic and improvement tool, to – as inferred by the name – diagnose tech-based businesses on several important aspects with the intention of helping to professionalize their businesses. To find out what exactly are the most prominent factors at this junction, we approached entrepreneurial network organizations and successful high-technology entrepreneurs with particularly these questions. Which issues did they encounter throughout their growth and professionalization track and how did they overcome those?
Could early-stage characteristics affect later growth potential?
After having discussed these points with the experts and established entrepreneurs, we set out to discover what expectations and realities exist prior to these growth steps. More specifically, we investigate whether the hurdles faced by these successful entrepreneurs are, manageable, dependent on experience, and/or on expertise. For this we decided to approach a technology spin-off that is currently a fully functioning yet developing technology company closer to home. DigiTrans is a University of Antwerp Spin-off focused on helping planning activities in logistics be carried out more efficiently by explicitly offering fully customisable and low-cost data-integration solutions. These solutions address logistics stakeholders, forming the necessary and thus far, lacking, link between existing IT systems. DigiTrans’ base solutions utilize live data from on-board computers, ERP (or TMS) systems, and third-party track-and-trace systems, but also map out historical company data (e.g. concerning all necessary information for assisting the planning and scheduling in transport). Valentin Cârlan, DigiTrans’ sales manager, explained to us how their strong market knowledge and customer orientation accelerate their go to market strategy.
Market orientation to complement strong technological capabilities
DigiTrans’ prides themselves in their combination of market knowledge and technological efficiency. By having engaged in thorough market research early on, supported by the team’s large network within the transport sector, the company quickly found a way to continuously loop between back-end development, client-input, and reiterations. These choices made by DigiTrans’ to fine-tune their products, now play a highly valued role in the company. Having defined the target market clearly and retaining a close linkage with market demand, enables them to retain highly customizable products. DigiTrans listens to their clients, aims to increase their satisfaction with their existing solutions, and adds their sector knowledge to create the right IT-functionalities in-line with client specifications. Technology-based entrepreneurs are often too focused on their well-framed product, trying to push it into the market while leaving too little room for further production tweaks. In order to know and understand the market, you need to let yourself be confronted by the market, which is how DigiTrans learned that product-flexibility is key.
Too little entrepreneurs take a strategic ‘step back’ to visualize the more holistic picture.
Dare to take off on a “helicopter flight”
At a monthly basis, the team tries to convene and talk through the company’s progress and activities, and analyse the current advancements of the competitive environment. To Valentin, this presents a crucial step that is often neglected in many young technology firms. Keeping the team motivated, providing an indication and understanding of what is happening both inside and outside of the company, making sure these aspects are aligned to increase progress and potential, are just some of the benefits of such strategy-based meetings. According to Valentin there is no such thing as being too small of a company to be engaging in such strategy-level activities. In his opinion, such activities are done far less and far too late than they ought to be in the company’s development. Acknowledging the differences between technology start-up companies, such activities might not necessarily need to extend to a monthly basis for each one. Yet, when implemented, such oversight increases the connection between the team’s productivity and closeness to each other, as well as the company’s direction, mission, and long term objectives, even when done on a yearly basis.
Much of the absence in direction of some companies indicate not particularly a lack of expertise, but more a lack of knowledge on the personal limitations of people and their capabilities, Valentin explains. To him, the key to a productive and effective company, is the complementarity of the team. Each of their team-members have valuable knowledge in their domain, yet each takes on their own particular expertise as their strength, while efficient and effective communication, such as the above-mentioned strategy-meetings, make for the basis of a well-oiled machine. Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses will not only benefit yourself as a manager, but also your team, and most importantly, your clients.
Who knows, maybe engaging in a personal SWOT-analysis prior to subjecting the firm to one, will reveal some critical, eye-opening information?
Some of DigiTrans’ solutions
DigiTrans offers multiple solutions to reduce planning complexity and increase the speed of the decision-making process. One of the solutions uses automatic text recognition algorithms to replace manual data entry of order-data to TMS systems. Data streamed from several sources like pdf’s, doc’s, or even e-mails is structured, standardized and further interpreted for easy data-entry actions. Another solution regards a dispatching algorithm that supervises the planning in real-time and sends notifications (considering traffic information, driver’s driving and resting-times, waiting times at delivery locations, etc.) to relevant decision makers, namely planners and dispatchers. Another example concerns an actual ‘planning assistant’ that enables the option to check (and calculate the risk of) potential (ad-hoc) transport tasks on their fit with existing planning operations. The adaptability of the planning assistant is reflected in its accounting of planning limitations (e.g. with regard to types of assets used for certain clients/ tasks/ routes), which can be easily implemented.
“The beauty of DigiTrans’ set of individual solutions is that they can be interlinked and so, enable a response to customers’ needs in a fast and effective way, or replicate the same concepts to other types of logistics stakeholders”Valentin Cârlan, Sales Manager at DigiTrans
We would like to thank Valentin Cârlan at Digitrans for taking the time to converse with us for the benefit of future tech-based companies and research purposes.
For further information on the Interreg SPEED diagnostic and improvement toolkit, please contact Morane Atzmon (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Johanna Vanderstraeten (email@example.com).
To find out more about Digitrans, their product and their team, please visit their website.
This research project was carried out by Johanna Vanderstraeten, Sascha Albers, Rudy Martens and Morane Atzmon.
Johanna Vanderstraeten is assistant professor of (international) entrepreneurship, Sascha Albers is professor of international management, Rudy Martens is full professor of general and strategic management, and Morane Atzmon is Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Antwerp.
This research benefited from the funding of Interreg 2 Seas.