Tom Snyder is the Executive Director of RIoT, supporting Internet of Things (IoT) and disruptive technology industry growth. By day he runs RIoT Labs at HQ Raleigh. In his spare time, Tom co-instructs Product Innovation Lab, a Forbes award-winning multi-disciplinary course in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NC State University.
Prior to joining RIoT, Tom held an executive leadership role at the ASSIST Center, a National Science Foundation-sponsored effort to create wearable electronics for healthcare monitoring. Previously, he spent two decades in product development and technology incubation in N.C.
1. What is in your pockets?
When possible, I don’t like to have anything in my pockets. But if I am out and about, it’s real simple. I usually have just a few dollars in cash, an ID, a credit card, and I hold it all together with a binder clip.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
RIoT is a nonprofit economic development organization. We believe that the creation of jobs happens at the forefront of emerging technology. We do two main things. One is we do a lot of convening around educating people on what are the new technologies and how are they going to change everyone’s business model. Every company at some level is a technology company, because we’re using emails and websites and social media and electronic payments and so on. The IoT and the data economy are going to turn every company from an IT company to a data company. We educate and convene through events and workshops that we run all over the country.
Two, we run a startup accelerator, working predominantly with early stage startups, but also corporate innovation teams, to help them to understand how to apply new data technologies to their businesses to solve problems that could not be solved before, and address new unmet markets.
The most exciting recent development for us is that we have opened a RIoT Labs Accelerator in Wilson, N.C. We are based in Raleigh, and have supported this entrepreneurial community for over six years now, but we really think there’s a huge opportunity in supporting rural entrepreneurship. We’ve had a great partnership with the leadership team in Wilson. We’re running a successful program now, which has recently turned digital and is doing everything online. It’s been really cool to see the same kind of energy and quality and a kind of entrepreneurial spirit in a smaller town, as we’re used to seeing here in the Triangle.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
I’m not really a coffee drinker. I love Videri, right around the corner from our office. They have a great staff and it’s a convenient location.
4. What keeps you up at night?
Fundamentally, we’re economic developers so the thing I think about the most is how to help entrepreneurs know where their next paycheck is coming from. We’re not a VC-backed organization, so we are not necessarily focused on how to help a startup become investible. We really focus on revenue.
So literally what keeps me up at night is in times like Covid-19, where a startup already has an almost insurmountable challenge in driving early revenue, how do they do that in light of things that are completely outside their control, and what can we do to try and alleviate as much as possible?
We do talk about investment, because it’s really important, and we have a very friendly relationship with the investment community. Startups we work with have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, but we don’t talk about investment till the very end of the program, deliberately. We don’t want that distraction. You have to focus on revenue, and then investment will come to you.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
I’ve never found a happy hour I don’t like. I’m an extremely social person, so the bigger and friendlier the crowd, the better. My go-to is MoJoe’s in Glenwood South. It’s a very short walk from my house. MoJoe’s is super laid back has great burgers and drink specials. Taco Tuesday is a near weekly thing. That’s my favorite spot.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
Strategically for us, what’s next is opening additional RIoT Labs locations. We’re in discussions with one other city in North Carolina, and one city in Northern Virginia, to open RIoT Labs towards the end of this year or early 2021.
Much more topical right now is we’ve just announced an entrepreneurship challenge called MISSION-R that’s focused directly on innovative uses of technology or innovative solutions to solve either the health-care side of our current Covid-19 crisis, or the economic and small business crisis that’s in front of us. This will be an X PRIZE-style challenge to activate the entrepreneurial community. We’re hopeful through some sponsorships that we’re raising that we’re going to be able to put money directly in the pockets of entrepreneurs to get them working on interesting solutions that we’re going to crowd-source hackathon-style and virtually, to see if we can make an impact—if not to responding to this crisis, then to the prediction and prevention of the next one.