Speeding up Edge AI Time-to-Market: The Prescient-Schneider Electric Partnership

Prescient provides low-code software for customers to build edge data pipelines, manage data models, integrate diverse data sources, and automate data operations.

By: Steve Calechman

It’s the challenge of any startup. It has what it believes is a good product. It just hasn’t found its exact application or market. What that unknown company needs is an established partner, and so what it really needs is an introduction to be able to get past the cold-call, just-give-us-a-listen stage. Prescient found itself in that situation, and the MIT Startup Exchange helped by putting it together with global entity Schneider Electric. 

But that meet-up didn’t guarantee a partnership would form. That only happened because of what Andy Wang, co-founder of Prescient, and Helenio Gilabert, head of offer creation at Schneider, and their teams did. They started talking and kept talking. In the process, they learned about each other and found the necessary component to moving forward: their visions were in sync. As they both say, it was a lesson and a reminder that a good partnership starts with and succeeds because at the foundation there’s a solid relationship between people.

The Power of Speed
After Wang got his doctorate at MIT, he started his career by working on high-speed data systems; followed by low-power wireless technology. It was there that he saw the growing importance of data and being able to manage it, and it led him to cofound Prescient in 2018. Its intent was to allow companies, especially industrial ones with a constant flow of information coming in from equipment, to stay competitive by being able “to rapidly work with their data,” he says.

Wang felt confident in the technology but he also knew he had to let other people know the company existed. He got out, made his pitch and did demonstrations, and one of them got noticed by Schneider, which then reached out to the Startup Exchange for an invitation to meet. The two companies did so in 2020.

It was exciting, Wang says. Most startups would be eager to work with an established company, but the introduction was just that, an introduction. He realized that Schneider has its own internal technology and needed a reason to partner with Prescient. What followed was a lot of meetings and talking, trying to find the right people, and coming at them with a message so succinct and strong, “they’re convinced that, ‘Oh, there’s something here. Let’s have a deeper conversation,’” he says.

Beyond any words, what helped was what Prescient’s product does. It enables rapid DataOps at the edge, allowing customers to create, distribute and manage data without having to move it from sensors to the cloud. That architecture and decentralization, “that’s really what attracted us,” Gilabert says.

But something else had to be present. Schneider talks to many startups, and, as Gilabert says, the ones that sell a product aren’t as successful as the ones who sell a vision. He wasn’t looking at today or even next month, but what can be done in one, two, five, 10 years from now. Some companies, “they never take the time or effort to make it click,” he says, but when they do, and Prescient did just that in those early discussions, “that’s when things start.”

After that, they did a pilot program to see how working together would actually work. Wang says that the approach was what set Schneider apart. Big companies often have endless meetings and move slowly. Schnieder didn’t. Gilabert says it’s the attitude he and his team have of, “Grow value or fail.” They needed to find out the potential, and the “test” didn’t need to be conclusive or have all the technical aspects locked in, because those can always be fixed. What he needed to see was something more fundamental. It was about delivering on the user experience. Prescient did that, and Schneider knew. “We’ve selected the right partner, the right attitude,” Gilabert says.

Business is done by people, not by organizations,” says Helenio Gilabert, Head of Offer Creation at Schneider Electric.

Building the Relationships
Two-plus years in, the process has been smooth. A full contract has been signed, and the alignment and vision have remained in sync. The main focus of the shared project has been in addressing machine health, in being able to tell an operator or builder whether the equipment is running efficiently; whether it’s degrading; and optimizing asset productivity using AI. The main upside to the partnership? Gilabert is quick to note it’s been speed. “Deployment, that’s the one word that comes to mind right away,” he says.

For Wang, there’s no simple reason or formula for the success of the relationship. There’s always educated guesswork involved in picking a good partner. What helped was the amount of conversations that were had. It’s especially good for a young startup in which being able to deliver a strong message about your value is key. In the beginning, it’s not always clear and concise, and the hope is to find a visionary who can “see through your bad articulation,” as Gilabert did, he says.

Eventually, the pitch becomes easier; business can snowball, but certain elements of the courtship don’t change. Wang and Gilabert both say that boundaries need to be drawn early. For all their excitement, coupled with a lack of experience, Wang says that startups still have to know what they can and can’t do. Big companies will make requests. Good, smart people could be making them, but if workstyles or approaches aren’t complementary, there won’t be success.

Wang adds that he might not have appreciated it two years ago, but he’s learned the utility in establishing clear expectations and creating a road map for success. It wasn’t just good to do for Prescient, but it also made sense for Schneider, because they’re investing time and resources and have the same hopes. “Nobody wants a bad outcome,” he says.

Ultimately, it’s about continuing to have open and frank conversations. If things shift, the foundation is there. If one person moves to another project, there’s no disruption with the remaining people. While having a great product or solid technology matters to success, the more important part is the strength of the relationships, which is what Prescient and Schneider established. As Gilabert says, “Business is done by people, not by organizations.”