“We want to design the future via partnerships with innovators” Interview with Michael Reinartz on Vodafone UPLIFT

01/30/2018  |  Corporate Innovation, Digital Transformation, Entrepreneurship

Shaping the world of IoT together! Telecommunications company Vodafone has recently taken its innovative activities to the next level with the launch of its startup program UPLIFT. CODE_n, a partner of the program, will be at the heart of it all as they enter into promising partnerships with IoT innovators in order to develop new business models and break new ground. We spoke to Michael Reinartz, Director of Innovation at Vodafone Germany, about UPLIFT and the aims of this initiative. 

Lisa: Hello Michael, We are so pleased to speak with you again! A lot has happened since ourlast interviewmore than a year ago. You officially launched the Vodafone UPLIFT program just a few weeks ago. We’d also like to congratulate you once again. Could you tell our readers a little more about the program?

Michael: We designed Vodafone UPLIFT in order to make our work with innovators more focused and efficient. We want to use our equal partnerships with innovators to distribute solutions from the Internet of Things (IoT) to our business customers. By innovators, we don’t just mean classic startups whose businesses are three to five years old. We are also looking for companies who have already gone through the start-up phase – the main thing is they have exciting ideas.

Lisa: Vodafone started its Startup Power Team a good two years ago. What developments have you made with your innovative activities since then?

Michael: Back then, we started with the generic aim of identifying innovative startups from the technology scene and to help them develop in collaboration with us. One of our successful collaborations was, for example, the one with Bragi and its wireless headphones. For us, it was a starting point in the field of consumer accessories (B2C). Being the first reseller, we also gave Bragi access to the German market. Aside from that, we have also addressed business (B2B) issues, like with the Smart City Start-up ICE Gateway. We have identified many exciting startups, and many have also got in touch with us – thanks to our 45.7 million SIM cards, we are a popular partner. As our aim was very broad, we eventually realized that this meant we were spending more time on vetting and identifying relevant partners than on implementation.

Michael Reinartz, Director of Innovation at Vodafone Germany (picture credit: Vodafone)

Lisa: How does the Uplift program distinguish itself from other offers? What do you offer startups that they can’t get from other startup programs?

Michael: The Vodafone collaboration model consists of three pillars: “Distribute”, “optimize” and “boost”. We deliver access to a large number and variety of Vodafone business customers and aim for a joint distribution model that benefits both sides. With the second pillar, we offer the option of further development in Vodafone’s leading test facilities for innovation in telecommunications here in Düsseldorf. In turn, boost means that we offer a strong brand and an international network over and above pure connectivity. This is how we boost our partners’ visibility on the market and boost the success of innovation.

We aim for equal partnerships that we define and optimize individually with each innovator in the context of the three pillars. We believe that innovation thrives on collaboration by combining our respective strengths and benefiting from them. We want to design the IoT world together.

Lisa: What startups are you looking for exactly? What areas are of particular interest?

Michael: As IoT world market leaders, we are focusing on B2B solutions in the IoT sector and therefore looking for innovators from this environment. This can include issues of networked mobility, Industry 4.0, Smart City or even Smart Agriculture. Startups focusing on IoT and that have secure financing can potentially partner up with Vodafone. Their solution should be developed well enough that they at least have a prototype.

Lisa: You are focusing on IoT. This aspect is increasingly incorporated into new business models. What factors do you apply to ensure you’re selecting the right teams?

Michael: Firstly, we cooperate with our distribution team, which forwards customer requests to us. This is how we ensure that we are looking for or contacting innovators that we actually need to collaborate with. Secondly, we now have several years of experience with startups and young innovators, and we also pay attention to general factors such as team composition, financing and the competition. Last but not least, we also get our customers and our distribution team, and also other technical experts if necessary, involved in our joint discussions. We have also created a contact platform for innovators with our new website www.vodafoneuplift.de, which gives a transparent view of what we have to offer and the team behind it. So far, this approach has delivered positive experiences.

Lisa: Can you tell us about any current partnerships?

Michael: Yes – we started talking to Hi-phen, a startup in the agricultural sector, about a potential collaboration in 2016. They increase the efficiency of crop cultivation in agriculture using networked sensors and corresponding algorithms. We launched a test site for the prototype in Franconia in September this year together with Hi-phen and Bosch.

Aim to increase the efficiency of crop cultivation in agriculture: startup Hi-phen (picture credit: Vodafone UPLIFT)

Soccerwatch.tv is another example of an individual collaboration as part of our Vodafone UPLIFT program. Soccerwatch.tv delivers streaming technology for amateur soccer that relies on our connectivity. In particular, however, we are providing support for companies entering the market in the form of targeted use of our brand and communication channels.

Vodafone UPLIFT with the team of Soccerwatch.tv (picture credit: Vodafone UPLIFT)

Lisa: What have you learned and discovered for yourself since working with startups?

Michael: First, the new focus on B2B solutions in the IoT environment. This means we have been able to work and implement things more efficiently. Aside from that, our innovator program: We reflected on our experiences and worked with relevant internal stakeholders and external partners from the ecosystem – like CODE_n – to combine our findings with the needs of startups and produce our three pillars. Each of the three pillars is backed up by a sophisticated program in which we have ensured that the internal implementation runs smoothly via the distribution cooperation arrangement.

Our program’s flexibility and/or individuality is how we respond to the various needs of startups and young companies who are very different from one another. We work together as equals and so ensure that we work together in harmony with our partners. Neither one dominates the other. We each benefit from the other and work towards success together.

Lisa: What is your long-term goal?

Michael: Our new UPLIFT slogan is “Shaping the World of IoT together” – and that’s our goal, too: We want to design the future via partnerships with innovators.

Lisa: Many thanks for the interview. We look forward to continuing to work with you!

Meet the team: Malvine, Robert, Julia, Thomas, and Tanja of Vodafone UPLIFT (from left to right) (picture credit: Vodafone UPLIFT)