SME Spotlight: Q&A with Level Five Supplies, an SME that Creates Immersive 3D Environment for Smart Vehicles
Level Five Supplies is one of our innovative MK:5G Accelerator winners. We sat down to have a chat with the Level Five Supplies’s team and asked a couple of questions about what it means to be part of the exciting, rapidly growing smart mobility and smart city industries. What does it take for a startup to develop and commercialise innovative, cutting-edge technology? In this short Q&A session, we spoke to credit Alex Lawrence-Berkeley, Level Five Supplies’s CEO and founder.
About Level Five Supplies
Level Five Supplies was founded in late 2018. Initially, we sold components and services to the emerging autonomous vehicle eco-system, such as LiDAR mapping sensors, drive-by-wire and control systems. We have gradually expanded to a wider variety of customers, ranging from robotics to related technologies, such as last mile delivery, mobile robots and drones. Our most frequent customers are universities and startups, but, increasingly, also government research centres and commercial users all around the globe.
How did Level Five Supplies idea come to life?
I identified some gaps in the supply chain for high-end automotive components. Looking at some of the incumbent companies that we had to compete against, I quickly realised that they were considerably behind in what happens to be my specialist area – digital marketing. As we built experience, customer requests and strong marketing strategy allowed us to explore new markets, sectors and types of customers we can sell to, so we’ve diversified quite a bit.
What did it take to cut thought the noise and establish the company on the market?
Many startups seek investment to create the technology first. Often, they end up being stuck trying to validate the customer while the money is steadily running out. Eight out of ten startups fail because of these factors. Meanwhile, we started as a financially sustainable business on day one and continue to grow quickly by adapting the startup model.
While our strategy might seem slightly less exciting than the ‘all or nothing’ approach, we have ambitious plans for growth and scale as we develop. Our most valuable assets in this journey are a robust team, international infrastructure and a solid financial base.
What Level Five Supplies achievements are you proud of?
A startup’s life is full of memorable ‘milestone’ moments: the first order, the first export, the first employee, the first office. Then the achievements gradually get bigger: the first internal promotion, the first £1 million in sales, the first international news coverage. At times, it was getting quite overwhelming for a small enterprise, but now we’re a team of seven in a two-year-old company, and we have big plans.
So far, we won several exciting tenders. One of them was for a full vehicle build for WMG / University of Warwick. The vehicle we created is one of the most advanced autonomous vehicles in the UK to date and is being used for autonomous driving research.
The biggest and most important project, by far, has been getting ISO9001. It took nearly a year of preparation, and we passed our first stage audit in December. Our second stage audit, then certification, will come in March. It might seem like just a few numbers and letters, but the processes and complexity of the work involved to achieve it has been huge. It sends a message to our customers that we are aiming for the highest standards.
How has Level Five Supplies responded to the challenges of Covid-19?
We suspended face to face events, have ramped up our online marketing and are working from home. While our office space is COVID-secure and our technology infrastructure is robust, our days are now dominated by our children and pets, which I’m sure everyone can relate to! We’re a people-centred company and recognise that looking after peoples’ mental health is a key priority in these trying times. We are also proud to have been able to create new jobs during the pandemic.
How can tech innovation change the way we live, work and play?
Innovation is a route to being more efficient in how we work. It can eliminate difficult, dangerous or dull tasks through automation and employ technology to optimise the use of energy resources. Accurate positioning from satellites and high-speed connectivity, such as 5G, is sure fun for gaming, but it’s also useful for robots and fantastic for farmers who can use it to reduce the volume of fertiliser they use.
As a supplier of leading-edge technologies, we feel extremely fortunate to have amazingly intelligent and creative customers. We develop new research, products and services for some of the industry leading organisations. We ensure that we’re prepared for innovation, which means that our customers can continue to deliver it.
What product will you be working on in the MK:5G Accelerator programme?
We’re working on our panoramic camera and high resolution LiDAR system called Aspect 3D. Combining the output from these two sensors means we can deliver a real-time stream of 3D video – not just stereoscopic, but a completely immersive 3D environment, also known as volumetric video. 5G allows for very high data rates, at very low latencies, so is ideal for this concept.
Applications of the camera are pretty diverse, but might include autonomous vehicle monitoring, entertainment and even training or virtual presence. This technology is at a very early stage, but it performs dramatically better that the current leading solutions, so we’re excited to have support from the MK:5G Accelerator partners to explore how it can be utilised using the infrastructure and meeting their organisational interests.
ABOUT MK:5G ACCELERATOR
MK:5G Accelerator is an innovation and business growth programme for startups and SMEs, is focused around four key innovation challenges in Mobility Data, Health & Wellbeing, Low Carbon Energy and Energy Data. The programme is part of the wider MK:5G project, funded by its collaborating partners and South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) via its Local Growth Fund programme. The MK:5G Accelerator is delivered by Connected Places Catapult and True Altitude.