Zero to one: Insights from an innovation incubator

How are new innovations unlocked? Far from being the preserve of an exclusive club, the potential for game-changing innovation is universal. It simply takes curiosity, perseverance, resourcefulness and humor to make it a reality.

innovation incubator Blue cityscape

We live in a world where technology that awed us this morning has already been commoditized by lunch. This digital disruption has played a key role in drastically reducing the life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies, and almost 88% of the giants that dominated in 1955 have either gone bankrupt, merged, or dropped off from their place of honor.

Instead, the ranks are filled with companies that have, on average, barely been around for 20 years. They shouldn't get too comfortable either, because according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, there might be as many as 100 million new businesses started every year around the world.

The only life raft that large corporations can cling to is innovation. However, this word has been spread so thin, and stretched so far, that all other buzzwords bow their heads in deference.

While all the attention might be focused on Silicon Valley, something incredible is happening here in northern Sweden. An incredible ecosystem of innovation incubators, enablers and financers where purpose, technology and transformation can collide has resulted in a disproportionately high number of high-value companies.

Atomico reports "on a per-capita basis, Stockholm is the second most prolific tech hub globally, with 6.3 billion-dollar companies per million people compared to Silicon Valley with 6.9".

In response to disruption, corporations in this highly collaborative and forward-thinking ecosystem are transforming in unexpected ways too.

"Zero-to-one moments in business happen only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won't create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren't learning from them." — Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Inspired by this, Ericsson ONE is on a journey to explore new growth bets, and be the place where ideas are made. We have the mandate to find and scale new business that will build the future portfolio for Ericsson. The three hubs located in Silicon Valley, Stockholm and Beijing work to cover the whole globe.

Creating game changers and unlocking entrepreneurs

Like most corporations of its size, Ericsson has tried and exhausted most of the traditional routes to enter new business — for example, acquisitions or new and large global teams set to tackle new industries. These strategies work well in the face of competition, but are too complex, costly and risky to effectively combat disruption.

Enter, the intrapreneur.

Oliver Unter Ecker innovation incubator

Oliver Unter Ecker builds disruptive innovations at Ericsson ONE

Meet Oliver Unter Ecker, from Ericsson. In a recent conversation, he made the beautiful comparison that composing music and creating innovation follow a similar design-driven, iterative process. His business idea went well beyond Ericsson's core offering and looked at a whole new customer group. Most entrepreneurs who come to these cross-roads often find themselves having to leave the company to pursue these ideas, which is also a huge loss for the company. A thousand hackathons would not be able to compensate for innovation that is forced to walk out of your doors.

When that one great idea hits you, we make it easy for you to realize it. We give you the access to the tools, funding and brains you need; sourced from Ericsson's global network of engineers, experts and unparalleled technological resources.

Most crucially, we allow our startups to pursue growth instead of profit within Ericsson, in their formative years — something that is not possible for large corporations to do without alienating their shareholders.

It takes a village to raise an idea

While it's incredibly important to have the internal mandate, funding and processes in place, it is equally, if not even more crucial to leverage the pace and creativity of the startup and innovation ecosystem.

Innovation is not a private territory, but an open ecosystem that empowers and accelerates the ambitions of all those who meaningfully engage with it. No one knows this better than Jonas Almeling, who has recently joined Ericsson ONE Sweden – Ericsson's own innovation incubator. As the founder of Startup Grind in Sweden, he brings with him more than a decade's experience of building global communities and relationships with startups, VCs, corporate incubators and investors. He has built the incubator for Business Sweden and is an entrepreneur himself.

Jonas Almeling innovation incubator

Jonas Almeling speaking at House of Scandinavia at SXSW at the #FutureMobility event

Today, Ericsson ONE has projects that are incubating under the strategic themes of autonomous vehicles, smart manufacturing and logistics. Jonas will design and lead a community-driven approach to test, develop and scale these platforms and solutions with the startup and innovation ecosystem. Ericsson ONE is also exploring a number of themes such as immersive entertainment, gaming, security, data brokering and more. Working closely with the Ericsson ONE Design & Technology team, Jonas will have the responsibility to spot new trends and deliver design-driven explorative projects and engagements that can help grow the watchlist with new growth vectors.

This means stronger, direct, outcome-focused collaborations with Ericsson and startups as well as exploring how to bring new ideas into Ericsson from the outside-in. It is also an opportunity to give back to the community, by opening up opportunities to scale globally, share tools and perhaps even co-create solutions together. There are already a number of unique initiatives in Sweden that can transform this lofty ambition to a well-grounded reality:

  • IGNITE Sweden — A corporate-startup matchmaking initiative that is driven by Sweden's leading incubators. In 2017 alone, there were over 1300 meetings and more than 45 commercial collaborations that resulted from this initiative
  • MobilityXlabs — MobilityXlab offers young companies with pioneering ideas the opportunity to accelerate through the possibility to strategic partnership with six global players within mobility and connectivity
  • UrbanICT Arena — The city of Stockholm is embedding the most forward-looking technology into its streets and buildings. The Urban ICT arena is an open co-creation area and testbed where the opportunities of digitalization are developed, tested and showcased in an urban environment

Jonas Almeling talking about Sweden as the European startup epicenter: an international perspective

While technology trends often dominate the conversation around innovations, we see the Sustainable Development Goals as an opportunity to have an impact that goes beyond just monetary profits. The Swedish ecosystem is leading the way in this as well, with players like the Norrsken Foundation who have the ambition to raise social entrepreneurs to rockstar status.

Jonas and the Ericsson ONE Sweden hub will not only build and scale ideas, but also deploy this community-driven approach across all the countries under Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Ericsson is not the first company to take a page out of the startups' playbook, nor is this our first foray into the innovation ecosystem. Like most corporate innovation journeys, ours can probably be summed up by (the patriotically appropriate choice), "Mamma Mia, here I go again" by Abba.

But, failure is just a stepping stone to success and we have tapped into our rich reserve of learnings and experiences to build the foundations for our efforts. We are also building an incredible and diverse team of entrepreneurs, designers and technology experts who want to be architects of the future with us.

At Ericsson ONE, we can't wait to explore what your ideas are made of.

Explore more

Check out the latest startup innovation cases developed in collaboration with Ericsson ONE.

This blog entry was originally published by Mala Chakraboti, Head of Ericsson ONE Sweden, on Medium. Read it in full here.

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