In 2009 the Zellabox micro data centre was a prototype founders Angie and Clinton Keeler put together in their dining room in Perth, Australia. Now there are Zellaboxes in small offices, warehousing operations and mining and exploration sites in Australia, Asia Pacific, Africa and South America, supported by investment in an R&D programme that delivers some of the most advanced products of their kind in the world. Barely six years old, Zellabox is about to open an office in the UK, and is raising capital to fund their expansion into a truly global business.
CEO Angie Keeler points to the week she spent on the Ignite programme in 2014 as the lift-off point for the company: “Our week at Ignite has absolutely led Zellabox directly to where we are now – industry leaders and global players. We have always bootstrapped the company, and it was a huge investment for us, in time and money, but I can honestly say that we haven’t looked back since.”
The Zellabox micro data centre is a low-cost, standalone module, miniaturised to about the size of the average refrigerator. It’s easy to move around, and matches all of the cooling, security and power capabilities of a much larger traditional data centre.
This is a product category Zellabox virtually invented and, having both identified a need, and developed patentable technology, the founders determined early on to outstrip emerging competitors for quality and customer service.
Validation via Ignite
But, before they started their push for growth into the UK, European and eventually the US markets, Angie felt it critical to stress test their product, plans and aspirations. And to do so, she had no hesitation in traveling half way round the world to Cambridge: “Joining the Ignite programme was an easy choice to make. We knew that we would get honest opinions. We knew that we would get shut down if we should be, that we would be told the truth and that we could learn amazing things in a week that we could never hope to learn in years.
“It was a wonderful validation, not just for our business plan and what we were doing, but also that we weren’t completely crazy, that we hadn’t just sat down and dreamt up this entire vision. I got a lot of reassurance from that week. I remind myself of it often, especially when it gets tough – and it does. What I learnt at Ignite keeps me moving forward.”
True to its promise, Ignite delivered just the fast-track learning Angie needed to take Zellabox to the next level: “The classroom experience was fantastic: structured and clear and one hundred per cent relevant to the day-to-day running of my business.
“Learning through case studies helped to show me which areas Zellabox was lacking in at that time. Visiting contributors from industry and successful entrepreneurs shared their own experiences with us and brought home to me the importance of looking at all aspects of the business, because if you don’t, that’s when the wheels start to come off. As a result, when I went back to the office after Ignite, I wasn’t daunted about immediately jumping in and focusing on our weak links.”
Building relevant networks
Cambridge is the hub of a globally renowned scientific, technological and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Ignite attendees quickly discover that participation in the programme opens the doors to a welcoming community, generous with know-how and networking introductions. In particular, Zellabox built a productive relationship with Cambridge Cleantech founder Hugh Parnell. In January of 2016 Hugh became Chairman of the Zellabox Board. “Hugh’s involvement is critical to our restructuring for a global push. The time we spent in Cambridge is central to that relationship.”
Angie thanks Ignite for another critical milestone in Zellabox’s plans for rapid growth and marketplace credibility. On the final day of the programme each venture pitches to invited panels of investors and enablers: “BT’s head of innovation was on our panel. As a direct result of my pitch that Friday, BT installed two Zellaboxes at their global innovation development centre, Adastral Park.”
Empowered to take it to the next level
While these ‘big ticket’ benefits from Ignite have had what the Zellabox founders describe as a massive impact on the company’s trajectory from micro start-up to market leader, Angie Keeler’s unalloyed enthusiasm for the programme two years on from her week in Cambridge is in large part due to the considerable contribution it made to her personal growth as a business leader. There’s the practical support in regularly referring to her notes, which she says are currently particularly helpful as she prepares for the company’s first ever funding round. Keeping in touch with fellow alumni who share the entrepreneurial mindset is important too.
Above all though, Ignite has given Angie the tools and the confidence to take her company to a place she once only dared whisper about: “Because of Ignite, I feel empowered. And that feeling has never let go. In the early days of Zellabox I remember us very quietly wondering to ourselves, ‘Why can’t we be the next Apple or the next Dell?’ Now I know there’s no reason why it can’t be us. And that’s where I hope we’re heading.”