This article originally appeared on WRALTechwire.com, 08.29.2016
Why did you and Larry decide to hire an executive director?
The momentum of the RIoT community and the continued strong interest in Internet of Things brought us to a decision point. We could either focus RIoT on hosting events or make something bigger and more impactful. More on that in a moment. We chose the latter.
With Larry as full-time GM of the Wireless Research Center and myself as a co-founder of Reveal Mobile, we knew we couldn’t accomplish the task on our own, while still handling our responsibilities with our own companies.
The opportunity to do something big, REALLY big, shouldn’t be limited by our time constraints. We needed someone full-time to continue building the community while taking many of the ideas we’ve had for RIoT and turning them into reality.
Why hire Tom?
Tom is the total package: qualified, excellent reputation, fun to work with, and he hustles to get things done.
We spent over a year working with Tom on numerous RIoT projects, like the RIoT Hackathon on Centennial Campus and the NSF Workshop. We knew he had a solid reputation, and we were able to see his hustle in action.
We do our best to take our work seriously, but keep everything else lighthearted and enjoyable. That’s a big piece of what makes RIoTing fun. Tom’s easily adapted to that.
Finally, he sees the same big picture and vision that we do.
What is Tom’s vision for the organization?
We’re lucky that we all share the same collective vision, even though we sometimes have healthy debate on the best ways to accomplish that. Collectively we’re looking out twenty to thirty years to imagine what early investment in disruptive technology will mean for our state.
While we can’t predict what the world looks like, there are inescapable technology trends that will shape our lives and our economy. Sensors, and therefore intelligence, will be embedded into almost every object. This explosion of trillions of devices requires talent, research, hardware, software, data science, security. These are all available resources in our state and RTP today.
This discussion then leads to what our role in the ecosystem will be. Will we define these opportunities or will others define it for us? We can take an early lead in the IoT economy if we’re intentional and methodical about aligning all of the various stakeholders: government, industry, health care, universities, large & small companies. We want to serve as the bridge or connective tissue between these institutions to ensure we work together and capitalize on this next wave of the economy.
We believe that by establishing this collaborative culture, we will capture the greatest slice of the IoT economy. That translates to more new companies, companies growing faster, and companies either relocating or opening up major branches in our state. Instead our state consuming IoT products, we’re a major hub in the new economy. The collective vision is that IoT leadership in North Carolina positions our children and grand children to lead successive tech-driven markets from our home state.
What are his responsibilities?
When we speak about making RIoT more than just events, we’ve identified, along with help from the community and our sponsors, a number of ways to achieve that vision. This is where Tom’s involvement is key.
With Tom’s leadership, we’ve already expanded to hosting RIoT ED, our series of educational offerings. From there, we’re looking to facilitate company creation and growth with the launch of RIoT Labs. This will be physical space where startups and more established companies can access cutting edge prototyping tools and test equipment. This helps build products more quickly, and with the appropriate guidance helps companies scale rapidly from prototype to full-scale production.
We’re also eager to explore bringing the market directly to our community. There are numerous industries that stand to benefit enormously from IoT, but don’t care about or even know the buzzword “Internet of Things”. They need solutions to their problems. We believe we can create a repeatable process that identifies companies, their problems, and pairs them with the right solution providers. As a neutral third party organization, we can play this role in the community.
Is RIoT the name now, not NC RIoT? if so why the change?
Yes, we’ve shifted our name to RIoT. Our focus remains playing a key role in North Carolina’s technology ecosystem, but we’ll be hosting events in other states in 2017. Adopting universal branding makes sense. Our acronym is clearly focused on IoT, and that will always be our roots. The big picture is to stay deeply involved in disruptive technology, no matter its origin.
How many members do you have?
Between the main RIoT group and our Charlotte chapter – Charlotte IoT – we count almost 3,000 members.
You have a growing list of corporate sponsors – how have you found success in signing on these backers?
Acquiring sponsors is like acquiring any new customers. You’ve got to have a great product, a team to find, cultivate, and close the deals, and then continually prove their investment is worth the time and money.
At first it was enough to simply get the like-minded people in the room together. There wasn’t any other type of gathering that brought their market together. Now we’re looking to expand the ecosystem beyond the companies with existing IoT activities to companies that need to leverage new technologies or get left behind. Exposure alone is not enough.
We always strive to maintain a neutral approach to the market. Events are free to attend, sponsors get to speak and have demo tables, but so do non-sponsors. We make effort to introduce entrepreneurs, start-ups, universities and others into the conversation so as not to be entirely corporate-driven. Our sponsors find incredible value in that.
The best thing about our sponsors is their support and insight. These companies, often billion dollar multinational firms, look to us for guidance, and vice versa. They strongly encourage us to grow. They share our collective vision. They understand that we are planting seeds that take time to reap the reward. We are making several announcements regarding new sponsors and new initiatives soon.
Tom Snyder Bio
Tom is Executive Director of NC RIoT, a non-profit supporting Internet of Things and disruptive technology industry growth. He is co-instructor in Product Innovation Lab, a Forbes award winning multi-disciplinary course in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NC State.
Prior to joining RIoT, Tom held an executive leadership role at the ASSIST Center, a National Science Foundation sponsored effort to create wearable electronics for healthcare monitoring. Previously, he spent two decades in product development and technology incubation in NC.
He’s passionate about creating and fostering collaborations across disciplines, markets and cultures. He enjoys the outdoors, woodworking, boardgames, big crowds, craft beer and ideas that are just crazy enough to work.