In the last week, I have read about three really interesting technology incubator funds. These funds are set-up to specifically identify, test, review, and propose ways that brands can be using technology in the future. The most obvious ones that I have read are BMW, Google Africa, and MIT SENSEable City Labs.
It's sad that at a time when the UK Government is pulling the plug on front-line services, teenage trust programmes, and other notions of entrepreneurship, the only way is through brands…(didn’t we have this debate about schools as well?)
The interesting thing about two of these is that they are based in NYC and developed specifically to look at urban futures. As Wired points out, in 2008 50% of the global population now live in cities, by 2050 it is predicted to be 70%. It's a really interesting thought to think this is the case and that urbanisation is the future for most people. Its not surprising therefore that BMW and SENSEable City Labs are focused on understanding how humans will interact with technology in the future.
The three Technology Incubator funds work out like this:
BMW Technology Incubator Fund is designed to look at the specific way humans move through cities and the technologies they use to help them navigate. This means a heavy focus on mobile (no way really?) and Location Based Services. I love the phraseology that BMW now use to describe themselves as moving from being a car company to a consumer company. I guess it harks back to Google moving from being a search engine to a technology company. (I’m going to talk about BMW’s evolution over the next week) The fund, $100m of it, is specifically focused in NYC.
MIT SENSEable City Lab is again from NYC, a spin-off from MIT. It was created to look at how humans interact throughout a city and how the city, products and buildings, could be designed better to support these changing interactions. It's clear that companies like Audi see this as a massive future for them having invested in the company. Expect a beautifully designed Audi city car soon then…
Google’s African Tech Incubation Fund is the curveball, but is also the thing that led me to investigate this further. The Google ATIF, also known as Umbono, is designed to enable African tech entrepreneurs to turn their ideas from reality to fully fledged start-ups. What this does represent is a massive opportunity at cracking the African market, which many companies have struggled with. As a country where mobile is more dominant than broadband, we could end up seeing huge tech leaps in these areas which could affect other more developed markets… wouldn’t that be a great thing?!
Technology for good seems to be the marker of all three of these funds. Although BMW’s seems clearly to be the most commercialised, these all feel like they can provide some learnings and products which will benefit the world as a whole. In terms of collaboration, as we talked about here earlier this week, this is a much wider aspect than most brands will be able to afford. However, it does set a marker for brands to follow in terms of generating ideas which benefit the consumer.
I’d love to see the UK create a Teen Technology Incubator Fund, non-government funded, which would allow technology-aware teens to pitch ideas and see them come to fruition. Perhaps it already exists, but it would be great to create. Anyone in?