Alex Lawrence-Berkeley tells us how Level Five Supplies bring plurality and value to the autonomous vehicle market.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Level Five Supplies.
Alex Lawrence-Berkeley: Level Five Supplies was founded in late 2018, initially to sell components and services to the emerging autonomous vehicle eco-system, such as lidar, drive-by-wire, and control systems. We have gradually evolved into selling these and more to a wide variety of customers using robotics and related technologies (such as last-mile delivery, mobile robots, drones, and smart cities).
The range of customers is very diverse too, but most frequently universities and startups, but increasingly government research centers and commercial users, all over the world. I think the count is at 30 countries so far.
There were some gaps in the supply chain for high-end automotive components that established companies were either missing or not interested in. That was an opportunity to build a business. Looking at some of the incumbent companies that we’d compete against, even internationally, I quickly realized that they were considerably behind in their digital marketing – my specialist area.
As we built experience, customer requests, and strong marketing allowed us to explore other sectors and customer types, so we’ve diversified quite a bit.
How does Level Five Supplies innovate?
Alex Lawrence-Berkeley: Start-ups are nimble, and without having any old habits to be weighed down by, we can move quickly to serve growing demand. We’re using established technologies and working with new suppliers to serve our customers, and over time, we’ll develop our own IP.
Many startups seek investment to create the technology first and experience a lot of headaches when trying to validate the customer; meanwhile, the money is steadily running out. Eight out of ten startups fail because of these factors. Meanwhile, we started as a financially sustainable business on day one and continue to grow quickly by adapting the startup model. It might seem slightly less exciting than the all or nothing approach, but we still have ambitious plans for growth and scale as we develop, all the while building a robust team, international infrastructure, and solid financial base.
The problem with the moonshot analogy, so often used, is that it fails to recognize the reality of NASA’s original plan of getting to the moon, which was to build a resilient, knowledge-based organization that was setting and achieving specific goals over time, growing in capability and achievements until landing on the moon was a practical reality.
The products that we sell are the cornerstones to a huge amount of innovation, providing routes to being more efficient in how we work, whether that’s eliminating difficult, dangerous, or dull tasks through automation or using technology to improve how energy or other resources are used. Accurate positioning from satellites, and high-speed connectivity, such as 5G, is useful for robots and fun for gaming, but it’s also fantastic for farmers who can use it to reduce the volume of fertilizer they use.
As a supplier of leading-edge technologies, we are extremely fortunate to have amazingly intelligent and creative customers, usually with PhDs, developing new research, products, and services, for some very well-known organizations – ensuring we’re prepared for innovation means that our customers can also continue to deliver it.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Alex Lawrence-Berkeley: We won a grant from Innovate UK to monitor and react to social distancing breaches using drones, which was valuable for us to develop our infrastructure and helped us explore a new type of product use.
Otherwise, we’ve suspended face-to-face events and have ramped up our online marketing, which was largely planned anyway, and are working from home. While our office space is COVID secure and our technology infrastructure is robust, our days are still dominated by children and pets! We’re a people-orientated company, so it’s important to recognize that looking after peoples’ mental health has been a key priority for me as a business leader. Lastly, our marketing efforts have been successful, so we’ve been able to create new jobs during the pandemic too.
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