Smart city accelerator holds the secret to innovation success

Dubai’s smart city accelerator program demonstrates how to seed innovation through collaboration, writes Orange’s Luc Serviant.

Tags: EntrepreneurIncubatorOrange Business ServicesUnited Arab Emirates
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Smart city accelerator holds the secret to innovation success Smart city acceleration schemes bring benefits to all involved, says Serviant.
By  Luc Serviant Published  June 10, 2018

Dubai plans to be the smartest city on the planet by 2021 and is well on the way to achieving this goal with a unique commitment to innovation — creating happiness by embracing technology innovation — demonstrated by the city’s recent ranking as the 14th most innovative city in the world.

Dubai plays a remarkable leading role in innovation — actively seeking and inviting innovators to the Emirate to collaborate on developing their ground breaking solutions and ideas — from 3D printing to Hyperloop and autonomous vehicles, all clearly demonstrated during UAE Innovation Month which concluded at the end of February 2018.

Perhaps the final event of the UAE Innovation Month was the ‘Demo Day’ for the ten startups selected to join the Dubai Smart City Accelerator and the startup bootcamp, which was launched in 2017. The Demo Day gave each of the ten startups a platform to pitch their ideas and then network with an invited group of influencers and prospective investors and partners. It was an inspiring occasion celebrating the success of these remarkable small businesses and their very impressive innovations.

With the need to innovate now a constant for every country, city and organisation, digital transformation is a fact of life but it’s really all about people and teams, and how they organise themselves to be more creative and innovative, productive and efficient. Digital technology enables the process and helps colleagues work together better internally and collaborate more efficiently with external organisations, anywhere in the world.

Dubai itself is a master collaborator and international innovation integrator — and every city and organisation is looking towards the Emirate to discover the ‘magic formula’.

Innovating the startup ecosystem itself is just one way of doing this. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 11 of the 50 companies named in BCG’s 2018 ranking of the most innovative companies — including seven of the top ten — are digital natives and so digital innovators by definition. Most, if not all, of the others on the list have built digital technologies into their innovation programs. (Orange ranked 19th in the BCG 2018 list).

But if you are already a digital native/innovator, looking for mutually beneficial collaborations — where do you start and what sort of partners do you need?

There are many great examples of collaboration on a grand scale in Dubai. The Dubai Smart City Accelerator aims to incubate and scale innovations (and innovators). As startups, these SMEs have the unique opportunity to build-in digital from the beginning — no transformation required, they are born digital. But they may still need the skills, experience, resources and contacts of an established enterprise.

An SME-enterprise collaboration is a really creative way of seeding innovation and the partners to the Dubai Smart City Accelerator — including Orange Business Services — can offer a range of options and skill-sets. The benefits are mutual — the enterprise might want to reproduce the startup-like conditions of an SME. The SME/startup gets the benefits of the global resources of the enterprise collaborator; it’s a win-win — and of course Dubai also wins, as the host incubator/accelerator.

The accelerator provides a safe space in which the SMEs and enterprise collaborators can explore the opportunities with relatively little risk but with all the possibilities of significant rewards if the collaboration works. The mentoring and coaching may flow in one direction but the benefits and inspiration flow equally strongly in the other, as well.

There’s a lot for the enterprise to learn; the rewards may include an inspiring exposure to real-world innovative startups for the enterprise team, as well as the potential for really innovative new solutions that can make a difference in the field (in this case smart cities) and even provide the basis for a future commercial relationship.

The first ten startups on the program work across industries including urban automation & mobility, and smart government, and are genuinely innovative with very strong ideas, business models and market opportunities; our mentors and coaches have been very impressed – to the point, where we are also undertaking proof of concept with one of them, looking at commercial opportunities with others, and possibly integrating the products of others into our own solutions, in our role as a master systems integrator operating in smart cities.

As one startup at the Demo Day commented: “The collaboration with Orange and other corporates is really important for startups because we lack that experience of working with big clients; we are a startup and our clients are big companies and governments and we don’t have the connections or experience of dealing with them; both these elements - mentorship and connections - are very important.”

Dubai Smart City Accelerator, the first of its kind in the MENA region, aims to accelerate 40 new ventures over three years and creates an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to the world’s most exciting large-scale smart city program, through nurturing talented people and startups.

Innovation and talent are central to the sustainability of a city and the lifeblood of economies — countries, cities and companies — and is clearly part of the DNA of Dubai.

Luc Serviant is vice president, Middle East & Africa, Orange Business Services.

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