Interview with Bryony Cooper
Bryony is a Managing Partner, Member of the Board & Chief Acceleration Officer at Arkley Brinc VC
, investing into tech startups in Europe focusing on connectivity & sustainability. She is responsible for PR & communications for the fund, mentorship and coaching for portfolio companies, sourcing deal flow and evaluating investment opportunities.
Hi Bryony! Could you please introduce your work with Arkley Brinc VC and tell us a bit more about what led to your co-founding the VC?
Hello, I'm Bryony Cooper and I'm managing partner and a member of the board at Arkley Brinc VC. We are a venture capital fund based in Warsaw, and we're part of the PFR Starter Program from PFR Ventures. Arkley Brinc is a joint initiative from two companies, Arkley and Brinc, and to give you a bit of background: I used to run an accelerator program for Brinc, which is a global accelerator based in Hong Kong, and they also do supply chain management services. And Arkley is an accelerator VC based in Warsaw, which invested into hardware startups. After these two companies met, we realized we had a shared passion and focus for IoT and connected hardware, so we decided to join forces and pool experience, and so Arkley Brinc VC was born. My personal journey to VC began about ten years ago, as a serial startup entrepreneur. I was CEO and co-founder of three companies by the age of 30, then I transitioned to venture building and acceleration and more of a mentorship role, and eventually moving on to investment. I find that when I'm working with founders, it's really valuable to have this perspective from all angles of the startup ecosystem, and it really helps give me some firsthand perspective of the type of challenges that startup founders face.
What are some of the main ways the VC field is changing today, especially within your target industries?
Our focus is on connectivity and sustainability, which started out as IoT and connected hardware, but actually it expands to a lot more industries than that. So we look at medtech, food tech, agricultural tech, consumer tech, industrial IoT, energy tech, drones, robotics. So it's not quite as niche as it sounds. Saying that, until quite recently European investors wouldn't touch hardware with a barge pole. For example, I've lived in Berlin for six years and you'll find that all the VC money is going towards software as a service, e-commerce, marketplace or platform businesses - which does have lower risk, because of course hardware ventures come with their own challenges. You do require more upfront investment to actually do the manufacturing, you need know-how about the product development cycle, but that's something that, actually, we can help startups with. And I think that there's a lot more support and resources available for startups to actually build hardware these days. And also, sensors and electronics are becoming a lot more low-cost, a lot more accessible. More VCs are now, I think, in Europe are starting to take that risk and explore the potential of of IoT and hardware ventures.
What challenges are unique to startups within the sustainability and connectivity industries? How is Arkley Brinc VC specifically suited to help these companies?
The most obvious and crucial challenge for startups in our sector is the need for experience in manufacturing and supply chain management, and that's something we can offer from real experience. Also, thanks to our partnership with Brinc, we have a direct bridge to the Greater Bay Area in China, with people on the ground in Shenzhen in Guangzhou and in Hong Kong, to support teams with the A to Z of mass production. We also have a wealth of experience supporting our portfolio teams with business and product development, with commercialization, distribution and, importantly, with raising follow-on funding from our global network of VCs. So a lot of these VCs throw around this term, 'smart money', but we're confident that we do actually deliver a lot more than just capital.
What are some of the most successful IoT startups you've worked with?
Most of the teams I've worked with personally are still in the fairly early stages or just now going to market, because the path to commercialization is always a lot longer wherever hardware is concerned. However, during my time at Brinc I did come across some really exciting tech innovations. One example is a company from the UK called Water, who developed a smart water monitor which measures different parameters of water quality. And the reason I like this is because it not only offers financial benefits to the customers, but it also offers environmental benefits - these two are my favorite combination. Another team that I mentored during my time in Bahrain, running Brinc's accelerator, is Nakheel who developed a sensor for palm trees which alerts the farmer if the tree becomes infested by a certain type of insect which destroys the crop. They're actually working with local governments to support agriculture in the region, so they're also getting some really promising traction. Personally, my favorite business models are B2B, where the company does also offer some positive environmental impacts, because then I can invest with a clean conscience.
What's next for your work with Arkley Brinc VC? What will be your main focus throughout the next year?
Now that the fund is up and running, the next year will be dedicated to sourcing the best investment opportunities and building up our portfolio. One of my favorite parts of the job is travelling to meet founders and startup teams, and also representing our fund at events, so I do hope to get more speaker opportunities over the next year and also to meet some really exceptional founders.