For five years, Orange has had its own support structure for start-ups. However, the operator does not intend to become another incubator: the project serves above all as a showcase to present the potential of the new networks… and, therefore, of its business.
With each evolution of the telecommunications network, the same problem arises for operators: how to make the market understand the interest of the technological leap? To convince, at Orange, we decided to surround ourselves. Since 2018, the operator has launched Orange Fab, a program to support innovative young companies. Each year, three start-ups, on average, are supported for at least six months. Above all, Orange offers experience and technical support. “We’re certainly not going to make a fortune out of them,” smiles Werner De Laet, innovation manager. That’s not the point.
It cannot be seen, described like that, but the ambition is certainly not to become a new incubator. “The idea is rather to find the right examples to better present the potential”, explains Werner De Laet. “Twenty years agofor the general public, the operator was the one who gave a SIM card, which allowed you to call and sent your bill at the end of the month. except thattoday, the offer is no longer the same. Nonetheless, for many entrepreneurs, it is difficult to perceive the added value 5G, for example. they know that Go fasterbut have a hard time understanding what they could do with it.”
Ferrari to improve the road
“It’s no use having a Ferrari if you don’t have the road to go with it.”
To make everything a little more tangible, Orange therefore prefers to surround itself. “We have to work in an ecosystem. We don’t have the arrogance to say that we know how to do everything. You have to know what each person’s job is. We have network management expertise, but we are not an IT company. So that’s where we need the right relationships. It’s no use having a Ferrari if you don’t have the road that goes with it. And, conversely, there is no point in having a highway for cycling”, illustrates the innovation manager.
To find the most beautiful cars to show off its infrastructure, Orange prefers projects that are past the prototype stage. “We try to find start-ups that already have a certain maturity and first customers. Or in any case a first finished product. But there are no strict rules. The start-ups we follow n “Sometimes they only have one or two workers. But it’s when they’re a little bit bigger that we really have the biggest impact for them”, slips the manager. Because in addition to its expertise, Orange also offers a access to your address book and your international base. “We are therefore a real lever for them”, he guarantees. For this season, the focus is on the metaverse. For each project, Orange chooses a sponsor from the steering committee and makes specialized personnel available. “They are people from our technical departments and also from the marketing department, for example. This type of collaboration is very positive internally. It encourages entrepreneurship at home”.
long term bets
“We dare to take matters that are not yet for tomorrow.”
Although the financial investment is quite low, Orange prefers to bet on a limited number of supported projects. “We are not a venture capitalist. Our goal is not to take 20 or 30, split the risk and see what happens. Others do much better than we do,” explains Werner De Laet. “We also don’t want to offer follow-up, as Deloitte or KBC already do, for example. We will always bet on companies that are connected with our activity. Which means that sometimes we make long-term bets and dare to take matters that are not yet due tomorrow. When we launched Communithings (start-up offering intelligent parking management via sensors, Editor’s Note) the internet of things it was a very fashionable term. But it was also very difficult to see how it was going to be applied”, the manager slips again.
If the collaboration is successful, Orange is not limited to the “showcase” side of these technologies. It’s not uncommon to see some innovations come directly to Orange. Communithings’ smart parking solution is directly integrated into Orange’s BtoB offering, while the group has taken over one of the Chatbot solutions for its customer service. “A Luxembourg email management start-up also followed the program. Their solution is now integrated into our offices there,” says Werner De Laet. On occasion, the operator even puts the wallet in his hand. For Communithings, Orange entered the company’s capital by injecting 1.7 million euros.