How mobile operators can drive collaboration with start-ups to unlock innovation at scale

Max Cuvellier, Head of Ecosystem Accelerator, GSMA Blog

How mobile operators can drive collaboration

Start-ups along with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a key force in the innovation ecosystem worldwide, and in emerging markets in particular. They understand local customers’ needs and can develop solutions to their problems in very agile ways, sometimes bringing disruption to century-old businesses. Some have made incredible breakthroughs in the past few years and changed the lives of many. Like M-KOPA Solar who have equipped hundreds of thousands of African homes with pay-as-you-go solar systems, or ride-sharing platform Ola providing extra livelihood to hundreds of thousands of drivers in India. However, such success stories should not conceal the fact that for the majority of them, reaching scale is a real struggle.

Mobile operators on the other hand have touched the lives of billions in low- and middle-income countries in the past couple decades. Mobile phones are ubiquitous and the main way to access the internet and other important services. They are a vital lifeline in the case of disasters. They provide communication channels – like voice, SMS, or USSD – that are easy to use and accessible to anyone who owns a mobile. With mobile money services, they have offered a payment solution with over 400 million accounts worldwide, that addresses the shortcomings of many local banking systems. On the ground, they have deployed powerful distribution networks that employ millions. Nevertheless, they face challenges that make it hard for them to keep up with the accelerating pace of innovation.

On paper, this is a perfect match: mobile operators can help start-ups and SMEs unlock scale, and in return stay on top of the game when it comes to innovation. Unfortunately, the reality is that this type of collaboration does not always happen naturally. That being said, there are some very encouraging signs that mobile operators are taking significant steps. Here are a few examples:

Even though more still needs to be done to realise the full potential of collaboration, the examples above are very positive indications that mobile operators are taking concrete actions to address the challenges local start-ups and SMEs face, and to create mutual trust. The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator is committed to working with all stakeholders in the ecosystem to ensure more partnerships are built, and as a result more products and services are able to bring positive socio-economic impact to local citizens at scale. And we’re looking forward to discussing some of the ways in which we can make that happen with a whole range of stakeholders in the B2B Dialogue on Harnessing Disruptive Innovation at ITU Telecom World 2016 in Bangkok this November.

About the Author

Max Cuvellier, Head of Ecosystem Accelerator, GSMA

Max is the Head of the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme, which supports mobile operators and innovators in driving scale in unique, commercially and socially sustainable mobile for development products andservices in emerging markets. Max joined the GSMA in late 2012 as the Senior Commercial Programme Manager of the Connected Women team, supporting mobile operators and partners in their efforts to target resource-poor women through grants and technical assistance; he then managed the M4D Impact programme, which explored how mobile can advance socio-economic development and digital inclusion in a sustainable manner. Prior to joining the GSMA, Max worked at Orange on innovation-related projects for the 20+ AMEA affiliates of the Group, first as a Project Manager, then as the Business Development & Strategic Marketing Manager, based in Jordan and France. Max started his career as a Telecom Strategy Consultant with Altai Consulting, where he worked on projects for Roshan inAfghanistan and Asiacell in Iraq.