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Start-up returns from the 10X accelerator in Ohio with Apple and Adobe veteran on the board

Thursday, 19 December 2013 | By Rose Powell

Steve Dunn and his team from LEAPIN Digital Keys have returned from 10X, an Ohio-based accelerator program, with smarter plans, greater networks and a tech veteran as a board member.


Launched in 2008, the company is a smartphone enabled control system for doors. Designed as a cheaper and more reliable alternative to swipe cards, the LEAPIN Digital Keys team plan to license their technology to a range of lock providers around the world.


They’ve appointed technology business veteran and former head of IT at Abode, Al Pappas, to their board after meeting him during the accelerator program.


Dunn, LEAPIN’s co-founder and chief executive, told StartupSmart Pappas joining their board was a breakthrough for their team, who launched a seed funding round recently.


Dunn says his team is particularly excited about Pappas’s experience with start-ups in extreme growth periods, having worked as a test engineering manager at Apple from 1987 to 1991.


Pappas organised meetings with CIOs throughout Silicon Valley. Dunn adds he was overwhelmed by the support their team received despite being one of two foreign start-ups in the program (the second was from Israel).


“There were people bending over backwards to help us make connections in a country we weren’t even from, and they connected us to global networks,” Dunn says. “We’ve got potential deals going on all over the world, and while we’d like to stay on the Gold Coast, we’ll go wherever our clients are.”


Dunn says the support was inspiring, as was the realisation there were significant amounts of capital available for tech start-ups.


“There is a lot of money around the barricade. We were in the mid-west, which was a bit more conservative, but we seemed to be very popular with these Aussie accents. We were a bit of a novelty so everyone wanted to talk to us and hear us talk,” Dunn says.


The American way of talking was a learning curve for Dunn, but he says once you get used to the directness, it works really well.


“There’s no beating around the bush, it’s always straight to the point. Sometimes there was no small talk at all,” Dunn says. “It’s a great way to communicate. Some people we were talking to were worth $5 million independently or running $30 million funds, but everyone just went right in and told it how it is.”


During the program, major telco network AT&T rolled out a similar product through a partnership. While they’re a hefty competitor, Dunn says it’s good news for his start-up.


“It actually gives us more confidence going forward, because they’re educating the market for us and opening it up. During the football, they were running expensive ads explaining the benefits, which is good for us too.”