Finding Product-Market Fit in IoT


How can you increase your time-to-market? Should you make component parts themselves or by modular systems? Do you need a trademark if you’ve registered your business name? How do you know whether to patent or copyright your product?

Understanding your core competencies is one of the first steps to take when preparing to answer these questions. Last week’s Driving Dreams event aimed to assist entrepreneurs in finding the solution.

Understanding Chips, Modules and IP

Altitude Accelerator and Arrow Electronics  hosted the third installment of Driving Dreams 2019, an event series that brings together experts in Internet of Things (IoT), software, hardware, and product development to network with tech entrepreneurs who are embarking on their commercialization journey.

Industry professionals attend the third installment of the Driving Dreams 2019 series.

Deciding between chips & modules

Paolo Chiarlone, senior applications engineer from Digi International, kicked off the event with a presentation that highlighted the differences between modules and chip down designs.

“When we’re talking about the chip, imagine it as the basic building block of a system, but the processor by itself cannot work. It needs RAM, for memory, and it needs flash, for storage,” Chiarlone described. “When we’re talking about a module, like a SOM, the SOM already has the flash, the RAM, the processor, everything integrated.”

According to Chiarlone’s talk, companies who develop cellular-enabled IoT products must consider their core competencies when deciding between design options such as a router, single board computer (SBC), SOM, module, and chipset. Companies should examine factors ranging from time-to-market, shipping volumes, certification, and security needs.

Paolo Chiarlone recommends businesses to focus on their core competency.

The Make vs. Buy Problem

Chiarlone offered two fictional scenarios. In one case, a grain storage and distribution centre must develop a level monitor for grain. The company needs flexibility to switch from mesh to cellular networks and they have an important customer with a critical timeline.

In the other case, an engineering company must design a product that tracks packages at airports. The company needs to deliver the product to an important customer in 3 months, and possesses a system that consists of an RF reader, RF portals and an IoT gateway.

Each company wondered whether they should “buy a module or do a chip down design.”

A pros and cons chart revealed that the advantages of the module outweighed the advantages of the chip. A module guarantees fast time-to-market, comes pre-certified, and involves less risk, but clients may be constrained by the existing versions. Although the chip provides clients with high customization, it also has a complex design, a long design cycle, and an expensive certification process.

Companies should conduct a time-to-market analysis that considers steps such as researching modules and chips in the market, receiving pricing from vendors, building and debugging prototypes, and acquiring certifications for both the module and the chip.

With input from the audience, Chiarlone calculated that the module would take approximately 20 weeks and the chip would take 70. The biggest time discrepancies between modules and chips appeared in testing prototypes and obtaining certifications. If chips fail and do not acquire certifications, the company must return to the design and build stage.

Intellectual Property & Protection

Our afternoon keynote speakers Joanna Ma and Stephen Beney, from Bereskin & Parr, delved into a presentation centred on protecting intellectual property. Ma and Beney structured their presentation around an interactive question and answer game. For all of the questions, audience members could respond with either true, maybe, or false.

During their talk, Ma and Beney touched upon when and how to use trademarks, copyright, trade secrets, and patents.

As an entrepreneur, it is important to align your IP strategy with your business goals. You should review your IP strategy at each business milestone and allow your IP to evolve with your business.

Joanna Ma and Stephen Beney discuss protecting intellectual property

IP Protection Strategies & Awareness

To cap off the event, Joanna Ma moderated a panel of industry experts that included Nick Kuryluk, CEO of Coldblock Technologies, Stephen Beney, patent agent at Bereksin Parr, Paolo Chiarlone, senior applications engineer at Digi International, and Sribresh Dey, from eInfoChips. The panellists shared their thoughts on the local and global challenges associated with intellectual property protection.

Ma began the conversation with her observation that Canada exhibits less of an urgency to file for protection, in comparison to the United States.

“The stats show for Canadian filings that 85 percent of the patents in Canada come from overseas,” Beney iterated. He recommended that we should try to raise the awareness of IP in Canada. Beney explained that he intends to raise awareness with not only the companies he works with, but with the government as well.

The panellists answer questions regarding intellectual property. From left to right: Sribresh Dey, Paolo Chiarlone, Stephen Beney, Nick Kuryluk, and Joanna Ma.

For twenty-three years, Kuryluk worked for an American biotechnology company that frequently filed for and protected their patents, and he admitted to “bringing that mentality to Canada.” His work with various start-up companies and accelerators has brought to his attention that although companies have the intent to protect discoveries, they may not have access to proper funding.

When discussing when the right time is to consider IP, the panel agreed that intellectual property should be considered for the entire duration that a company is in business. By approaching intellectual property from the beginning, companies can protect their valuable products, create a plan for the business’ future, enhance their market value, and understand the path to commercialization.

Join us for Driving Dreams June 20, 2019

Hear from industry experts like Silicon Labs and Nemko, to learn how to incentivize your industry for a pilot project — keep growing in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

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