5G Open Innovation Lab’s Enterprise Partners Connect with Startups for Wireless Future
The 5G Open Innovation Lab is a consortium of technology companies that provides support and mentoring to startups that specialize in 5G network, Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing technologies.
The Lab, as it's commonly called, launched in 2020 as a burgeoning group of companies committed to 5G and its related technologies.
As the foundation for modern networks, 5G and edge computing are essential for many businesses. The Lab provides startups with connections and access to technology with the intention of developing a greater 5G community and helping startups over the speed bumps they face as young companies.
Starting in May 2020, when the Lab accepted its first cohort of startups, it took 17 businesses into its 12-week program.
The 5G Open Innovation Lab
The Lab is comprised of and supported by its corporate partners: established tech companies ready to help startups in the program. High-level executives from each partner company serve as advisors. The 5G Open Innovation Lab has several founding partners:
- T-Mobile: a telecommunications company that’s one of the pioneers of 5G networks. T-Mobile is actively developing and deploying 5G across the United States.
- NASA: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which adds astronomy and weather knowledge to 5G and edge computing
- Intel: which provides technology and funding to the Lab and invests in the telecommunications industry as a whole
Other partners in the lab include Microsoft, Dell and VMWare. They provide additional connections and industry-specific knowledge.
Member companies, the startups chosen for the 12-week programs, do not receive any investment directly from the Lab. Rather, they’re welcome to take advantage of what the Lab offers each startup:
- Join meetings and sessions that will provide them with valuable information and opportunities
- Connect with other professionals in the 5G, edge computing or IoT markets through networking opportunities
- Potentially meet with investors that have partnered with the Lab
- Use office space at the physical headquarters of the Lab in the Bellevue/Seattle, Washington area for the duration of their apprenticeship
- Access available technology through the Lab
The Lab's partner companies, such as T-Mobile and VMWare, have opportunities to collaborate with the startups in the program and vice versa.
The Lab chooses startups that are in their later stages or have already gained some financial traction. It has created an environment where all parties involved have the chance to benefit from each other's knowledge and products — partners and startups alike.
5G Open Innovation Lab goals
The 5G Open Innovation Lab's corporate partners recognize the need for real-time telecommunications and computing in multiple industries. The Lab mainly focuses on eight major industries:
- Transportation and logistics
- Media and entertainment
- Autonomous vehicles
- Space and satellites
By connecting both established and new businesses, the Lab is developing partnerships between companies that have promising edge computing and IoT products. The more businesses that use 5G and its related technologies, the better prepared companies will be to deploy and benefit from 5G overall.
The Lab also wants to make 5G and edge computing accessible for areas of the country that don't always have good network connectivity or advanced technology. By focusing on industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and transportation, the Lab helps bring data analytics and high-speed networking to businesses that are at the far edge of a network.
Although it launched in May 2020, the Lab has already had some success: startups have begun partnering with each other after going through their cohort's 12-week program. They've also been able to work with multiple small tech businesses in Washington.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't stopped the Lab from mentoring young startups. In fact, it launched a few months into COVID-19's worldwide outbreak.
Businesses participating in the program are encouraged to visit the Lab's office space, even if only certain departments or employees can come for less than the 12 weeks. All startups have access to professional and one-on-one mentoring sessions with Lab partners and appointed business mentors.
One startup from the first cohort, Numurus, experienced business partnerships almost immediately once the May 2020 program drew to a close. Numurus, also based in Washington, offers smart system solutions that include robotics, sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) for edge and smart computing. Numurus used its time as a Lab member to develop its product: Numurus Edge Platform Interface (NEPI), an application that uses 5G for IoT and robotics.
Involvement in the Lab gave Numurus the chance to develop relationships with other partners, according to Jason Seawall, Numurus CEO.
"Several large defense contractors have reached out to us for help related to next-generation 5G defense capabilities," Seawall said. "The connections and exposure provided through our involvement with the Lab has been very valuable, and I'm sure we would not be getting the interest we are without it."
The Lab also leads to connections between the startups involved. Last September, Numurus announced a partnership with Evolute, a containerization and edge computing company that also took part in the first program.
This partnership provided a way to more efficiently containerize and deploy NEPI, Numurus' 5G and IoT platform. Seawall clarified that the partnership with Evolute and another cohort company "were direct outcomes of the Labs connecting us."
Taqtile is another startup that participated in the first Lab cohort. It creates augmented reality (AR) training scenarios for manufacturing, technical and other front-line employees, so they can more quickly learn work processes.
Taqtile's VR training has shortened learning curves for workers and decreased errors in manual labor. Manifest, the AR product, can be useful for training employees remotely. The company said COVID-19 highlighted the opportunity for companies to offer low-latency, real-time data and applications, including through 5G.
Taqtile took advantage of the chances it received through belonging to the Lab, according to Dirck Schou, Taqtile’s CEO.
"From the very beginning, Taqtile made a commitment to participate as much as possible in the opportunities that the 5G Open Innovation Lab offered," Schou said.
Meetings and conversations led to greater knowledge and partnership as well as increased awareness of the current technological markets.
Belonging to the Lab enhanced Taqtile's understanding of 5G's role in the company.
"As we learned more about the ins and outs of the 5G ecosystem and what it promises to the enterprise, we were able to direct our product development and our messaging such that we were in alignment with the near-future needs and opportunities in the ecosystem for which Taqtile was uniquely suited to serve," Schou said.
Taqtile also formulated relationships with other businesses, which then resulted in revenue and opportunities, Schou said.
The Food Resiliency Project
In February, the 5G Open Innovation Lab launched the Food Resiliency Project, a Washington program that provides advanced edge and 5G tech for two local farming communities — through a seed-and-feed business and a rural event venue with apple and pumpkin patches.
The Food Resiliency Project was partly born from COVID-19: local businesses wanted to provide better awareness of food availability and quality. The project allows farmers and owners of agricultural businesses to get real-time data about their crops and processes.
Farming communities are often at the edge of networks, in areas with poor cellular connectivity. The Lab harnesses technology from local Washington companies to provide edge computing for the two farms that are first to participate in the Food Resiliency Project.
Ballast Networks, founded in 2019, was chosen to install the network technology at the farm sites. Ballast focuses on 5G, edge computing and mobile, especially for locations that particularly need connectivity.
Ballast is not one of the startup companies that has participated in the Lab's program thus far, but the Lab still selected the young business to partner with the Food Resiliency Project. Other organizations involved in the agricultural initiative are committed to helping both agriculture and 5G grow.
The 5G Open Innovation Lab was created by a group of corporate partners to help bring innovation into the 5G market by assisting startups and growing the 5G community.
The Lab takes a collaborative approach to technological creativity and development: connecting established giants, such as Microsoft, with promising startups, such as Numurus.
New tech companies are working with the lab to advance their products that rely on 5G, such as an edge platform interface and training workers through AR. The lab is also applying 5G to broader public-private initiatives, such as delivering real-time agricultural data.
The Lab and its corporate tech partners are helping startups prepare for the future by not only bringing them into the 5G landscape — but also empowering them to push innovation in the nascent market.
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