Sony Ericsson, which marks its 10-year anniversary this year, leveraged the relationship with Sony to launch the Walkman music phone in 2005. It was a huge hit. The company launched a new Xperia games phone that ties in with the popular PlayStation gaming console at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Feb. 13. But the mobile sector has changed dramatically and Sony Ericsson can no longer depend solely on in-house expertise and Sony brands to set itself apart. That’s why the joint venture has created a new management position that focuses on bringing innovation in from the outside. Informilo Editor-in-Chief Jennifer L. Schenker recently caught up with Joakim Nelson, the company’s Lund-based head of industry collaboration and asset management, to talk about how Sony Ericsson plans to work with young start-ups.
Q: Why did Sony Ericsson create the role of "head of industry collaboration"?
A: If you look at the whole industry, everything has changed. It used to be that everything about the mobile phone was done inside the company. Now we need to work with industry partners. The open innovation trend is prevailing, and it is more and more of a differentiatorto find and work with the best companies.
Q: How does the company want to work with start-ups?
A: In the past nine months we have looked at more than 300 young companies and now have a short list of 10 to 15 where we are considering contractual relationships. Most of our competitors acquire the whole start-up. We don’t have that ambition because if you buy a young company the innovation often goes away. We think we can engage with start-ups using a much more collaborative model, from development all the way up to taking equity.
Q: Can you elaborate on the model?
A: If we take equity it will not be a majority share. We will take a smaller share in most cases, giving start-ups capital and knowledge about what is going on in our company. Traditional venture capitalists are looking to do an exit, but for us the main value is to get the product out that will differentiate on technology. We want to help start-ups get their first product out and get a first customer.
Q: What specific areas of wireless are you interested in co-developing with start-ups?
A: Display technologies, antennas, sensors, augmented reality, user interface, multimedia and cameras, power management, innovations around Bluetooth or WiFi. Applications and services could be of interest if they have profound uniqueness or are embedded deep into the phone platforms. Pure “for fun” types of applications are of less importance unless they are closely connected to our differentiation.
Q: Many start-ups complain that big companies are difficult to work with and take forever to make decisions. How does Sony Ericsson try to work around that problem?
A: What we are aiming for is a clear responsibility line. Most cases get a “go” or “no-go” within a week or two. It is either interesting or not. If it is an engagement – paying for a pilot up to an equity investment – we need to consult a special board set up for this type of investment and in principle we have an answer within two weeks. The difference is also that we sit together with our technical expert so that we can get an accurate and quick assessment.
Q: Some believe that Silicon Valley will rule the mobile Web. What is Sony Ericsson doing to ensure that does not happen?
A: Innovation can come from anywhere. My role is not just to look at Europe and Silicon Valleybut also places like Singapore, Beijing, Hong Kong and India and Africa. We have an innovation page where companies can approach us. India is number one right now when it comes to the volume of requests from start-ups, so you can see that the type of innovation that is happening in the U.S. is also coming from quite a few other places in the world. That is why we will continue to look globally for innovation.
Q: If a start-up has an interesting technology, who should they contact at Sony Ericsson?
A: I’m the go-to guy.
This story appeared in a print publication Informilo produced in partnership with Raconteur Media, which was distributed at The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 14-17 and in a regular issue of the Times in the UK. The print publication is the second in a series on innovation and technology that Informilo and Raconteur Media have produced.