Orange, the French multinational telecommunications company, has recently made strides in diversifying its business activities while leveraging its telecommunications expertise. In part, this can be attributed to the ‘open innovation’ policy under which the firm operates. Examples of diversification include the launch of Orange Bank (a 100 percent mobile bank) as well as Orange Healthcare, whose mission is to drive digital transformation in the healthcare sector.
Orange has also stepped into the collaborative entrepreneurship space, working with startups to improve their offerings to customers in addition to making use of the rapid pace at which these companies operate and evolve.
Wamda spoke with Jerome Chifflet, head of scientific and technical disciplines at Orange and an upcoming speaker at GITEX Future Stars 2017, to learn about the services Orange extends to startups, and find out how the latter can better work with telecommunication companies in general.
Wamda: Does Orange have programs to work with entrepreneurs and startups? And if so, could you briefly outline them?
JF: Orange works with startups and entrepreneurs through the organization known as Orange Startup Ecosystem (OSE). This organization has supported 247 startups to date, scattered around the world. Within this organization is an accelerator called Orange Fab, with 14 accelerators spread across 15 countries. The more famous ones are in the States […] and there are also programs in Poland, across Africa, Asia, and in Jordan also. We hope to support a total of 500 startups by 2020.
We try to screen talented startups from around the world using some quite simple criteria:
The startups should be aligned with Orange’s strategy, specifically with the business unit they wish to work with.
The startups should be in a mature development stage, because the main objective is business development-oriented support.
Out of around 300 applicants per year, we usually select two percent [...]. For the first three months, Orange provides business support to these startups hoping that they sign a contract with one of the business units within Orange at the end of this period. A little over 50 percent of the selected startups end up signing such a contract.
What makes our program unique is that we provide support without taking any stakes in the startups. However, we sometimes do invest through Orange Digital Ventures (ODV), our corporate ventures division.
We aim to give resources and support across three areas:
Technical: Support and know-how through the specialized teams.
Commercial: Access to Orange’s sales channels.
Legal: Intellectual Property (IP) protection.
In addition to Orange Fab and ODV, there is a third program called Go Ignite. This is a business support organization founded by a consortium of four operators: Orange, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, and Singapore Telecom. The aim of this group is to help startups conduct business activities with, as well as through, these operators and their wide network.
Go Ignite has three focus areas: Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) and security, and smart homes.
Wamda: Why would entrepreneurs venture into the telecommunications space to begin with?
JF: Telecommunication is crucial to many facets of business and life today. Take IoT, for example, a connected network of objects that communicate. Telcos have experience in operating and maintaining networks, and in the future might be operating these IoT networks as well. Given the specific experience and advantage telcos have in this space, it would be interesting to see how startups can work with telcos to improve telecommunications across all of its channels.
Wamda: If you were to speak directly to entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them on how they can better work with telecommunication companies?
JF: First, and very importantly, these startups should align with the telco’s strategy, for example […] AI, or digital cities. Second, startups should have proof of their product’s market fit by having paying customers and revenue. Third, startups should show how their product or service can augment or improve one of the telco’s existing products, services, or processes.
Wamda: What technology do you foresee having an impact on the entire telecommunications industry?
JF: Telecommunications companies cannot sell anything without a guarantee of security and quality. Security becomes especially important when moving into IoT, [as] these objects must be made secure. Within this space, Orange currently works with blockchain startups to improve security.
Another area is Post-Quantum Cryptography. [Any sufficiently large quantum computer can break most of the encryption algorithms used today, so cryptographers have begun developing algorithms that are secure against an attack by a quantum computer.]
Another technology, which has become a buzzword today, is Artificial Intelligence. More and more intelligence will be baked into software going forward, and this represents a new paradigm of the decision-making process due to the larger capacity of calculation available in each component of a network. The way AI is used in network management is very important and will have significant impact on the growth of companies going forward.