Sep 03 2021

Through 3 Stages of Growth, Startup Companies Leverage Tech to Thrive

Here’s how startups’ tech needs change as they move through the stages of emerging, growth and scaling.

During the backdrop of a global pandemic that proved the value of telehealth last year, early-stage startup Immertec broke out in a big way.

Based in Tampa, Fla., the 4-year-old company enables remote medical education by livestreaming surgical procedures to trainees equipped with virtual reality headsets. Interest soared last year as COVID-19 forced lockdowns and social distancing.

“When COVID happened, the medical industry realized it needed a solution to allow surgeons to connect in real time to join trainings from anywhere,” says Qing Mirabella, Immertec’s supply chain director. “Our technology does it in an enriching way. When you put on our headset, you virtually scrub in to the operating room and can see in 3D all the views as if you were standing right next to the surgeon.”

The company’s growth strategy accelerated thanks to a $12.5 million funding round in 2020. It tripled its staff to about 50 people, filled out its executive team, turned a prototype into a real product and signed on its first customers.

Successful startup businesses mature through ­several stages of growth, each with its own unique set of needs and challenges. In the “emerging” stage, startups such as Immertec identify market needs and start building their solutions. “Growth” stage companies like Miro, a collaboration platform provider, have products in the market and are ramping up hiring. Those fortunate enough to reach the “scaling” stage, such as ShipBob, a provider of e-commerce fulfillment services, have enjoyed success with their flagship offerings and are looking to diversify their product portfolios and expand into new markets.

Companies have unique needs at each stage, and technology plays a vital role in their success throughout. Whether it’s onboarding new employees, delivering products and services to customers, managing operations, or securing networks, the right IT solutions are vital to all of it.

“Today, in a modern workplace with digital cloud natives, technology is what enables you to do all that,” says Teague Goddard, startup strategist for CDW. “It’s the investment in technology that allows startups to operate and be as productive and efficient as possible, and to secure the business and make sure it can scale and keep customers happy.”

Access to Tech Is Key for Emerging Companies

Immertec launched its real-time VR surgical training technology last September after three years of research and development. Historically, surgeons and medical students learned by huddling next to seasoned surgeons around an operating table. Now, thanks to Immertec, they can attend live trainings remotely and feel like they’re in the operating room, Mirabella says.

Immertec’s software works with Oculus Quest VR headsets to enable training. The company broadcasts surgeries by placing a mobile cart with a 4K camera next to the surgeon doing the training. After developing and testing its software and cart prototypes, Immertec filled out its management team last summer to bring the solution to market.

Qing Mirabella

 

Mirabella finalized the cart design and built the first production model.

“My job is to get the best hardware pieces into the integrated cart,” she says.

The result is an immersive 3D virtual reality view of surgeries. Trainees can chat live with the training surgeon and see multiple screens, including a live view from an endoscopy camera, the patient’s vital signs, X-rays and other medical images.

“Guaranteed, it’s the best seat in the operating room. The color and resolution are mind-blowing,” says Mirabella.

She relied on CDW to source the parts, including a high-end microphone, an Elo touch-screen monitor and a “streamer,” a custom computer that streams the video and audio feeds. She also customized the 4K camera with a stereoscopic lens to improve depth perception for trainees.

Startups often don’t have big budgets or on-staff IT expertise, Goddard says, making the right partnership crucial. “You need a partner that can sell you your technology, but also understand and have empathy on where you are today and where you need to be in the future.”

Since launching its product last September, Immertec has installed 18 carts on customers’ premises and will install a dozen more by year’s end, says Marketing Director Tyana Daley.

“Our goal now is hypergrowth,” Daley says.

During the Growth Stage, Security Is Vital

In San Francisco, Miro saw huge adoption of its cloud-based collaborative whiteboard software as companies abruptly shifted to remote work during the pandemic. The startup doubled its employee head count to 600 during the second half of last half year to support its expanding customer base, completing a $50 million funding round.

Like many startups, Miro is a cloud-first organization, turning to cloud s­ervices when it has new technology needs, says B. Daniel Potter, who works on Miro’s trust and reputation team as a senior i­nformation security engineer.

This spring, for example, Miro needed to improve internal security, so it standardized on SentinelOne’s cloud-based next-generation endpoint security software to protect employees’ notebook computers.

The company is also implementing Okta’s cloud-based single sign-on technology to further improve security. The startup is bolstering security because companies, particularly large enterprises, want to feel confident about Miro’s corporate security posture before they subscribe to its collaboration software, Potter says.

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“Customers want to make sure their data doesn’t get into the wrong hands,” he says. “They want to know our code is secure, that we are accessing our development environment in secure ways and that our security prevents attackers from accessing our infrastructure.”

Okta single sign-on improves security because the IT department can centrally manage application access. Employees need only to remember one strong password instead of one for every application, reducing Miro’s vulnerability to attacks.

The technology also speeds up employee onboarding by automating the account creation process. When the HR department hires new employees, Okta will automatically create accounts for them with email, shared drives, shared workspaces and access to the applications that their specific jobs require.

That’s important for a company that is hiring about 20 new workers a week, Potter says. Onboarding that many employees manually is not only a big time drain, it also can introduce errors, which can cause security issues.

“It reduces the burden of provisioning and deprovisioning accounts and doing password resets, which will save us time,” says Potter, who plans to fully implement Okta by year’s end.

Miro purchased SentinelOne and Okta through CDW, which provided expert advice on solutions and deployment, he says.

“We bounced ideas off of them, and they helped validate some of our concerns or our assumptions and helped us connect with the vendors,” Potter explains.

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That’s exactly how it should work with technology partners. A good partner should “be an extension of your team,” Goddard notes, acting as “a trusted adviser who has neutral and agnostic practices and can give you guidance on a future-proofed strategy.”

Standardization Eases the Scaling Stage

ShipBob, a Chicago-based startup that provides e-commerce fulfillment services for small and medium-sized businesses, is rapidly expanding across the U.S. and Europe. The company doubled its revenue in 2020 as online sales skyrocketed during COVID-19.

That kind of growth is both the goal and a challenge, says Goddard. Fast-moving startups often “bubble-gum and tape things together,” he says, as they strive to quickly deploy the many solutions they need. Along the way, they accumulate technical debt as they make investments that can’t get them further. They would be wiser to work with a knowledgeable partner to help them make the right investments from the beginning, he says.

ShipBob did just that, working with CDW to standardize on a set of technologies at each of its fulfillment centers, the number of which has quadrupled to 16 since 2018, with as many as 10 more on the way this year.

Order pickers, equipped with Apple iPad devices or iPod Touch devices paired with Socket mobile scanners, view orders on the mobile devices and scan them in as they grab items off shelves and deliver them to the packing stations, according to Ray Jimenez, ShipBob’s senior director of IT and cloud operations. Staffers then use Lenovo all-in-one computers to complete orders. They use Zebra Technologies printers to print shipping labels.

Ray Jimenez

 

As for infrastructure, the company builds a ­network at each fulfillment center with HPE Aruba switches and wireless access points, securing it with next-generation firewalls from Palo Alto Networks and Mimecast Secure Email Gateway.

ShipBob uses the same equipment, provided via CDW, for each fulfillment center. The standardization helps its IT team and partners to quickly install the technology, allowing the company to stand up new facilities in just a few weeks, Jimenez says.

“We have a smooth process,” he says. “We know what needs to be onsite to get it up and running. All the technology is bundled into a pallet and shipped to the location, so our staff can build out the fulfillment center.”