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Innovation Meets Investments: A CXAUTO 2023 Recap

October 31, 2023
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Industry leaders Bill Cariss, President & CEO of Holman Strategic Ventures, Ron Frey, Principal of RL Frey, and Atul Patel, Co-Founder & CEO of Orbee, gathered to discuss the secret sauce of creating a collaborative match between product innovators and investors. A key highlight of the discussion was Ron Frey's vision for Fortellis, a platform designed to foster innovation and collaboration within the automotive industry. The conversation also delved into the due diligence journey that Holman took to transition from customer to investor of Orbee, the unique challenges and opportunities in investing in automotive startups, and the critical role of due diligence in the investment process. 

Pioneering the Fortellis Marketplace: A Gateway for Automotive Tech Companies

One of the key topics discussed during the panel was the Fortellis Marketplace, a pioneering initiative by CDK Global that Ron Frey played a significant role in developing. The Fortellis Marketplace serves as a critical gateway for automotive tech companies, providing them with access to large datasets that are essential for dealership operations.

Frey shared his vision for Fortellis as a platform designed to foster innovation and collaboration within the automotive industry. It's an open exchange where developers, OEMs, and dealers can come together to create and share applications and solutions. The platform's API-centric approach allows for seamless integration of various data sets, enabling the creation of more comprehensive and effective solutions.

Ron Frey’s recent investment into Orbee could signal the next stage for Fortellis as it continues to evolve and empower other technology companies within automotive.  Being listed in the marketplace has opened up a plethora of opportunities for dealerships leveraging CDK technology to integrate with Orbee's Middleware technology. This integration allows for a more streamlined and efficient operation, enhancing the overall customer experience for dealership customers.

The Fortellis Marketplace is a testament to the power of collaboration and innovation in the automotive industry. By providing tech companies with access to large databases, it opens up new opportunities for these companies to develop solutions that can enhance customer experience, improve operational efficiency, and drive growth in the automotive industry. This initiative aligns with the broader trend towards digital transformation in the automotive industry, further emphasizing the importance of platforms like Fortellis in shaping the future of the sector.

The Role Dealerships Can Play as Investors

Dealership groups can play a significant role in investing in startups, particularly those that are relevant to their industry. This not only provides a financial return but also allows them to stay ahead of industry trends and innovations. One such example is Holman, which has a unique approach to investing in startups, as explained by Bill Cariss, President & CEO of Holman Strategic Ventures.

Bill Cariss shared that Holman started as a customer of various startups before becoming an investor. They began their journey by identifying startups that could potentially enhance their business operations. They then engaged these startups as vendors, using their products or services within their own operations. This gave them a first-hand experience of the value these startups could provide.

One of the key strategies Cariss highlighted was the involvement of their subject matter experts (SMEs) in the due diligence process. These experts would work closely with the startups, providing insights and feedback to help shape the product or service to better meet their needs. This process often took several years, but it allowed Holman to deeply understand the startup's potential and how it could fit into their operations.

Once the due diligence process was complete, and the startup had proven its value, Holman would then consider an investment. Cariss emphasized that this approach allowed them to invest not just based on potential financial returns, but also on the strategic value the startup could provide to their dealership and fleet management operations.

This model of investment is particularly beneficial for dealership groups as it allows them to leverage their industry knowledge and operational expertise. By investing in startups relevant to their industry, they can drive innovation that directly benefits their core business. Furthermore, the due diligence process helps them to mitigate risks associated with startup investments.

In the case of Holman, they have successfully used this model to invest in several startups, including Orbee and Gatik, among others. These investments have not only provided financial returns but also helped them to stay at the forefront of industry trends and innovations.


In conclusion, the CXAUTO 2023 panel presentation offered valuable insights into the dynamic intersection of innovation and investment in the automotive industry. The discussion highlighted the pivotal role of platforms like Fortellis in fostering collaboration and innovation, and the transformative potential of integrating technologies like Orbee's Middleware into dealership operations. The panel also underscored the strategic value of dealership groups investing in startups, with Holman's journey from customer to investor serving as a compelling case study. The insights shared by industry leaders Bill Cariss, Ron Frey, and Atul Patel illuminated the path forward for both startups and investors in the automotive industry, emphasizing the importance of due diligence, strategic alignment, and long-term partnership. As the automotive industry continues to evolve, the lessons from this panel will undoubtedly guide its trajectory towards a more connected, innovative, and customer-centric future.

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