Startups find it challenging to work with big corporates. Established companies struggle to collaborate with entrepreneurs. The Norwegian startup community has recently flagged the need for clearer “Rules of Engagement” when collaborating with corporates. We agree. That is why Telenor has actively contributed to the development of, and fully endorsed, the new set of rules launched by StartupLab and Abelia at Oslo Innovation Week. We will implement these rules in all of Telenor’s markets, together with internal guidelines such as promising a first go/no go response within four weeks of the initial meeting.
Entrepreneurs play an increasingly important role in business. Kids want to code, youths are sketching business models and students make a beeline for startups. Companies, municipalities and public agencies all want to work with entrepreneurs. We are chasing the startup spirit to solve future challenges, create value and stay relevant.
Sparks of creation – and friction
At Telenor, we have decades of experience in collaborating with small and large companies. Since the 1990s, we have worked actively with Norwegian and global innovation environments. Through partners and incubators we are evaluating more than 2,000 business ideas every year, and invest in around 50 of these. Through our intrapreneurship program we have assessed 170 ideas and currently have seven active pilot collaborations. In Norway, within IoT alone, we have 100 active collaborations. Telecare is another important area where we work with partners who, through smart meters, safety alarms and notification systems help deliver even better and more efficient welfare and care services. In all these partnerships, Telenor is involved in different ways: as an early customer, as a development partner, as a supplier, as an investor – or a combination of these.
Collaboration and partnerships with entrepreneurs and startups are important to Telenor today. They will be even more important in the future. Technology development and digitisation have made commonly available the skills and tools needed to realise ideas, prove concepts and create new business. It means that the number of ideas, innovations and investment opportunities available are larger and more diverse than ever. Together with our own research and development environments we see that such partnerships can spark amazing innovation, but also create friction.
Rules foster better collaboration
Partnerships are demanding. Entrepreneurs can be reluctant to share ideas before binding agreements are signed. Corporates will rarely commit contractually to an inventor without sufficient information about the idea or without full overview of their own activities in the same field. Predictable rules are good both for the small and big. Corporates have time and resources to wait. Startups do not. The asymmetric relationship makes it particularly important to act with respect. This is a responsibility we in Telenor take seriously.
We welcome the initiative from StartupLab and Abelia to develop a set of rules to direct the relationship between entrepreneurs and corporates. Telenor has actively contributed to the process and are among the signatories when the “Rules of Engagement” between startups and corporates are launched at Corporate Innovation Day during Oslo Innovation Week 2017.
A global challenge with a global solution
Challenging interfaces between startups and corporates are not something unique to Norway. Through our 12 mobile operations in Scandinavia, Europe and Asia, Telenor collaborates with hundreds of startups through incubators, accelerator programs and through direct relationships. When we gathered startups in Singapore from across our Asian footprint last week, the message was the same: there is a need for rules that can establish and sustain trust.
Telenor will use the “Rules of Engagement” developed in Norway as a guide for all our collaborations with entrepreneurs and startups globally. We commit to evaluating incoming business ideas and giving a clear “no” or a clear roadmap plan for future engagement no later than four weeks after the initial meeting. In all contact with Telenor, startups shall experience that they have a clear and accessible contact person and that we conduct transparent internal processes adapted to each individual case.
We want to help build the next digital unicorns
Telenor’s most important contribution to digitizing the societies we serve is our core telco business. We operate advanced networks in our markets, and we work to raise digital maturity and resilience among our customers and society at large. We invest in building competence within artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and big data analytics. We do so to ensure that academics, entrepreneurs, businesses and governments have access to the tools that can help create the next digital unicorn.
But without mutual trust and a culture for collaboration and sharing, we will not get there. Our door is open, and the road ahead is brightly lit. Welcome!
Sigve Brekke, President & CEO, Telenor Group