In Talks with Max Beaumont – Plug & Play Japan Edition
Last year, Skytree was selected as one of the seven startups to partake in Plug and Play Japan’s accelerator program – a three-month program aimed to accelerate innovation by connecting Plug and Play Japan’s corporate partners with Japanese and international startups.
Skytree’s founder, Max Beaumont, was representing the company’s pursuits in Japan and leading the scouting of APAC’s appetite for DDAC technology. He was very pleased to establish meaningful relationships and to have made such a big impact in the program that Skytree was awarded the Best Startup in the Energy Program.
In talks with Max about his impressions of the event. Here’s how it went:
Max, If you were to describe the Plug and Play program in 3 words what would they be and why?
Proactive, fun and savvy.
Plug & Play is about making real business happen. They provide dozens and dozens of leads for free to start-ups. They mediate the initial calls, and follow up with both parties afterwards. They get companies together at in-person events around the world. They provide workshops and talks to support doing business together, covering topics such as local legal considerations and business practicalities, doing business with different cultures and scaling internationally. But most of all, they are a young, talented, ambitious and well-funded team – all of which came across in our interactions with them.
What was the general structure of the program and what did you enjoy the most about it?
It is a 3-month program combined with alumni follow-up support which includes further introductions as required, a PR partnership and bespoke market research.
The first few weeks consist of being matched to the appropriate companies. They synthesize the corporates’ as well as the start-up’s preferences.
The second month is when the meetings happen – generally between 10-20 direct introductions. Times are confirmed, follow-up actions are noted by Plug & Play and progress is tracked.
The last month is about developing those most interesting leads, perhaps even leading to an initial partnership agreement of some kind, with the help of Plug & Play. During this period, Plug & Play provides feedback to both parties to help iron out any roadblocks. Finally, pitches are prepared by both start-ups and corporates for the EXPO day where everyone comes together to meet. There, the start-ups present their companies as well as any traction from the program. The corporates present their approach to innovation, their asks and, through fire-side chats, their opinion on various matters such as business climate.
What did the general landscape of the program’s participants look like?
First of all that depends on the program ‘theme’ that is being run. Themes can cover areas such as mobility, cleantech, healthcare, robotics or AI including many others. Within these sectors, major corporate players are brought together with seed to Series B/C start-ups developing bleeding edge solutions. Other participants involved include knowledge and service providers who give talks and workshops throughout the program, as well as a wide spectrum of stakeholders invited to the EXPO day.
What was the reception of APAC to DDAC technology?
Generally there was a lot of interest in Skytree’s Decentralized Direct Air Capture solutions. Most of the companies were lured by our small-scale, affordable approach. DAC is very nascent in Japan, so there are not many active players. For example, there are no independent DAC companies in Japan and only a couple of multinationals pursuing research in the area.
Did you establish any meaningful partnerships via the program?
We currently are in active discussion with over ten parties from the program. Many have gone to NDA and pre-negotiation discussions around pilots.
Skytree won an award for the best startup in the energy program, what set you apart from the rest of the startups?
First of all, our presentation was all in Japanese (at least the slides!) so it was clear that we were quite dedicated to the market and culture. Second of all we made the effort to be there in-person, while probably 50% of the companies pitched remotely. And finally, I was very relaxed and confident up there, partly owing to the knowledge that there’s a capable team back in Amsterdam building our vision!
Looking ahead, is Japan a country that’s ready for DDAC and would Skytree like to pursue it commercially?
Japan is a large country with very little flat, usable land mass. So usable land to build large scale DAC plants is actually in short supply. However, DDAC, which can be deployed indoors, on roofs of buildings or in relatively small plots of land, is particularly suitable for the geography.
Japan also has ambitious goals for lowering their emissions which are set in legislation. Energy companies in particular are eagerly pursuing circular CO2 as feedstock for methanation and synthetic fuel. The country also has a strong indoor farming market, which lends itself well to our first product line.
Finally, the culture in Japan is very methodical as well as technically minded. So our technology is fascinating to most parties we encounter, and many are interested in a collaboration with us to improve it further. In short, Japan is likely going to be the first country in Asia to adopt our technology.