5G Open Innovation Lab attracts more big 'partner' names

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Sep 25, 2020

  • Amdocs, Dell, Microsoft, VMware sign up 
  • Up to 40 startups a year to be mentored
  • Supporting companies offer technology, mentoring, support
  • But equity funding is not part of the program

The 5G Open Innovation Lab looks like an initiative to watch. Launched in May with the backing of Intel, NASA and T-Mobile US, it has already taken on board two cohorts of startups for mentoring and has now added to its list of major founding members.

The new recruits to the group of ‘founding partners’ are Amdocs, Dell Technologies, Microsoft and VMware. Each of these will now contribute engineering and technology resources to help the startups that get selected for the Lab’s programs. (See this announcement for more details.)

The Lab aims to select between 15 and 20 startups twice each year to undertake a 12-week program of mentoring and development. The founding partners “have visibility into these new solutions, and can choose which companies they want to work with to help accelerate their solutions and develop real-world proof-of-concepts. Founding partners provide engineering, technology, mentorship and industry resources to entrepreneurs and their companies to help them develop, test and bring to market new use cases.”

Note there is no mention of funding as part of the set-up: In fact, it makes clear that “the Lab does not take an equity position in its member companies.” 

Here’s Jim Brisimitzis, general partner of the 5G Open Innovation Lab: “We are not a traditional incubator or accelerator. Equity isn’t the program’s end goal. Working with standout founders solving big enterprise problems is what we, and our partners, get excited about. We are accomplishing our long-term goals by building a global community. Our unique approach to fostering innovation will enable us drive real-world applications and solutions that are economically viable, marketable, and fundable.” 

That’s all well and good, but is there some kind of funding vehicle that could run parallel to this? Because without funding these companies cannot survive: Of course, the founding partners may choose to get involved in funding rounds of the most promising startups after their mentoring stint, but that would only happen on an ad hoc, case by case basis.

The program certainly offers the opportunity for the startups to get ‘in the shop window’ with the founding partners and should help them develop their businesses and strategies, but could there be some kind of funding element or process associated with the Lab —maybe even a digital investor meet and greet? – that that could help the startups survive longer? Jusdt a thought…. But without funding, startups will simply fold, and that won’t help with add to the innovation pool that the telecoms/5G sector desperately needs right now.

That’s not to say the Lab isn’t offering something meaningful and useful, of course. So how do the startups get picked? “The selection process is focused on identifying a class of companies that are applying 5G in diverse markets across agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and entertainment, as well as other markets. In addition to improvements in mobile communications and networking for the consumer, 5G will enable wireless networks to deliver faster computation and analytics of massive amounts of data, accelerating the adoption of edge computing for enterprises and communities,” notes the Lab.

The Lab has already seen 17 startups through its first program – you can see the line-up here – and the second cohort of 16 startups was announced last week.

This looks like an initiative that is going to attract more startups and more partners: Maybe as it grows, there could be a way to help the young companies being nurtured to get a financial lifeline too.

Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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