🚀 Liftoff for Ignite #3: Telenor looks for more intrapreneurs

In 2016, Telenor launched the three-month incubator programme, Ignite. The goal was to challenge Telenor’s employees to brainstorm ideas for solutions or services that company’s more than 174 million customers can apply in their daily digital lives.

The programme has so far been a huge success. Several internal startups, innovative teams and ways of work have been discovered since its launch, and are now important parts of Telenor.

Today they will launch the third round of the Ignite programme. The rules remain the same. If you work at Telenor and have an idea, you can apply with your team. There will then be a selection process. After that, the teams proceed to the next level where they spend three months in an incubator developing their ideas. In the end, everyone puts forward their projects, and the best ideas are taken forward as new product teams.

However, the team behind Ignite has been working on, and tweaking the programme’s setup to make it even more useful for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“After the first round, we changed a couple of things. For example, we want the teams to do an extensive user research before they apply. It helps the teams to spend their time in the incubator more efficiently,” explains Vegard Aas, Head of Innovation for Telenor, who also runs Ignite.

The second thing they changed is the location of the teams in the incubator.

“In the first round, the teams were in two locations – Norway and Thailand. It turned out that they spent a lot of time travelling to other countries where their main markets were. That’s why we decided that it was better for participants to be where their customers were.”

Aas adds that, although the teams are in their home countries, they would occasionally meet up for workshops and lectures in Thailand and in Norway.

Also looking at core products

“In the third round, the main focus will be on improving our core connectivity product, in addition to communication services, storage and security, health and entertainment. However, we want to encourage teams to explore not only the topic of new products, but also the new business models and new ways to offer the product to our customers.”

The results of the first rounds are great. Previous intrapreneur-ideas have been developed into a new gamification system for sales agents, a mobile content transfer app that’s ready to launch now, and a property management service has been spun out. Aas takes positives from the Ignite programme.

“The employees get their full salary during the three-month period in the incubator. It requires a lot from the organisation to help Ignite-participants to realise their startup ideas. However, we see that it is also partly the reason the incubator program is a success. They are able to dedicate and focus on their projects for three months, instead of spreading themselves thin and doing little every week after work hours.”

Impacting way of work

In addition, the participation in the program leads to more innovation outside of the Ignite programme.

“Participants share the knowledge they have acquired during Ignite with their co-workers when they are back at work. Since they go through the Ignite program as a team, they are not alone. They can help each other to inspire to change and more innovation.”

According to Aas this is exactly what happened with one of the Ignite teams called Engage.

“It is the AR and video based retail agent training for advanced products. This idea was initiated by a team from Financial Services and Grameenphone in Bangladesh. They were the graduates from the first round of Ignite, but have later been stopped due to lack of traction.”

“In a traditional telecom mindset, this would have been deemed a failure. However, its user research and deep understanding of retail agents’ pain points has now been used by the e-retail team in Bangladesh to create a gamification system for agent education.”

The teams from Ignite #2

 

Innovation in Singapore

Aas and his Ignite-team are based in Singapore, and it is for a good reason. The startup scene here is booming.

“There are a lot of strong VC-firms and government support programmes, so it’s the place many Asian startups come to scale. There is also a good pool of talents, with many digital natives here. So, it is no doubt a relevant place for us.”

Startups from the whole of Asia first succeed in their home markets, and prove that their product works, and then they travel to Singapore to get more venture funding, and to scale up.

“It is exactly these kinds of companies we want to meet, invest in, and partner with.”

How is the startup culture here in Asia compared to the Nordics?

– “I think the ecosystem for entrepreneurship is much more mature in Norway, than it is in Asia. There are a lot of new ideas, technologies, and startups coming from Norway.”

“However, the ease of doing business in Singapore is great. There are more favourable governmental policies here than in the Nordics. You can set up a company in one week; there are many available resources, incubators, and mentors that can help your company to grow.”

“Also, the government of Singapore is very clear on their visions and goals for their country. They want to focus on smart cities, environment, and digitalisation.”