Thomas Baumgartner - “Being able to contribute my own ideas is a key factor for me”
Thomas Baumgartner got off to a flying start with his company PRiOT and is optimistic about its future prospects. When setting up the company, he benefited from the experience of his business partners and the dynamic development of the Internet of Things (IoT).
You did an apprenticeship as a car mechanic, then studied automotive engineering and have now ended up in an entirely different field – the Internet of Things. That’s an astonishing journey isn’t it?
Not really, the shift from automotive engineering to IoT wasn’t actually such a big step. At some point during my degree programme, I started exploring data capture in vehicles in greater depth. I found it absolutely fascinating and continued to focus on this topic during my master’s degree. Today, measurements are not carried out on a car as a whole anymore, but on an air filter or photovoltaic system instead. However, it still essentially involves the measurement, analysis and evaluation of data.
In October 2019, you founded the company PRiOT with two partners. Did you always want to set up your own business?
No, that’s just the way things worked out. When I was an automotive engineering student, I wasn’t thinking about founding a company and making my own cars. Although there is scope to do that in IoT technology, a field which I increasingly focused on. Eventually the opportunity arose to bring an idea to market with my own company.
Was going into business a wise decision?
Most definitely – I’ve never regretted it.
What do you enjoy about this role? Perhaps being your own boss?
That, too. Being able to contribute my own ideas is a key factor for me. They aren’t simply accepted or rejected by somebody – instead we discuss them as a team and decide together on how to proceed. I appreciate this freedom even though it obviously entails a great deal of responsibility. If you make poor decisions, you have to bear the consequences; but when things go well, you also get the credit.
Lots of young entrepreneurs find things hard going in the beginning. Was that the case with your company, too?
I benefited from the fact that my business partners Beat Ritler and Peter Affolter already had experience of running their own companies. That definitely made things easier and helped us avoid the mistakes which start-ups often make.
What was the greatest challenge for you personally?
Being an engineer, I’d previously focused entirely on the technical side of things. Then, I also had to deal with business and legal issues which are equally important to running a successful company. I suddenly had to give my attention to things I’d given little consideration to before.
Did your degree programme prepare you for setting up your own business?
I obviously acquired theoretical knowledge on the degree programme. However, I’d had to have studied business administration to have been properly prepared to implement this knowledge. That’s why starting out with experienced business people in the team was invaluable.
When exactly did you decide to set up a company?
The original idea came from a project that BFH was carrying out with Beat Ritler’s company RESiQ. It aimed to develop a more efficient process for monitoring air filters by using IoT. We proved the feasibility of our process with a customer on 30 systems. This customer then wanted to fit our monitoring solution to a further 2,000 air filters. This would have gone beyond the limits of the previous form of collaboration and would not have been in line with RESiQ’s core activities. This meant founding a company was a logical step and the only way to implement this project.
So there was demand and an initial order when you founded PRiOT – a solid foundation for a new company.
We could have launched our company at an earlier stage as we knew in 2016 that our concept worked; but we waited until we’d secured our first big order. This ensured we avoided any barren spells that start-ups often go through at the outset.
18 months after founding your company, in addition to filter monitoring, you now also offer additional IoT solutions, for example for operators of photovoltaic solar systems or for monitoring the impermeability of flat roofs. Are you expanding already?
Our aim was to apply the IoT technology in various fields right from the get-go. Establishing several lines of business rather than relying solely on filter monitoring was a key priority. Specific ideas then emerged through dialogue in our industry environment, for example with a roofing company. RESiQ was interested in recording and processing the data of the photovoltaic solar systems that it plans and installs. We haven’t actually sought out new applications ourselves so far, but instead the ideas have been presented to us.
You appear to be on a winner with IoT. Is success guaranteed?
There’s lots you can do with IoT but some of it is nonsense in my view. As a company, we believe it’s vital to focus on applications for which genuine demand exists. We’ve been successful so far. Our company is growing and developing.