Mitel Partner Conference and Wesley Clover
This past week Mitel held a sold-out partner conference at the Red Rock Casino and Resort in Las Vegas. In conjunction with this event was an industry analyst conference, where once again we were entertained by Mitel execs talking about the year past and ahead, etc. And, despite hours of PowerPoint slides, some of those presentations were seriously entertaining. I’m not going to go into an overview of the content of that event, but instead talk about just one presentation in particular; that of Wesley Clover, a company incubator that Mitel oversees, which was the brain child of Terry Matthews, owner and co-founder of Mitel, and non-executive Chairman.
The reason I found this presentation so compelling is that although company incubators aren’t new – we certainly have had our share in Silicon Valley, and other places, it’s that I have only heard one other company – Cisco – that has done something similar. If there are others, they just haven’t taken the time or felt it was important enough to spend the time talking to the analysts about it at any length.
What struck me the first time I heard such a pitch – at Cisco, was because the whole concept makes so much sense from the standpoint of freeing up the mindset and talent, and supporting that talent, in order to very quickly bring to market new ideas. The end result of this is that both Mitel and Cisco can use those ideas to either bolster their own product lines, filling a hole that they might have, create something entirely new for their product lines, or if that doesn’t make sense, but is profitable, spinning that start-up company out into a separate one. Another reason that was pointed out in the presentation is a matter of R&D nimbleness. As was pointed out, and I’m sure this is true with Cisco too; companies of their size can’t turn R&D on a dime. It was likened to Mitel being the mother ship and the companies within Wesley Clover as tugboats for the mother ship.
So what is Wesley Clover and how does it differ as an incubator from what Cisco does internally? Wesley Clover is a company that builds businesses by acting as an incubator and accelerator so that good business ideas are brought to market in short fashion. How it differs from Cisco is that Cisco allows company employees to think up ideas that Cisco management can decide whether or not to put a team together to investigate and incubate, whereas Wesley Clover management goes out and finds talent to work on ideas that they think up. That is not to say that if someone on a Wesley Clover team had a good idea that it wouldn’t be investigated, but you get the idea.
They do this in an inspiring way. They have 17 universities around the world that they use to draw talent from, and these universities help to find groups of students who are bright and fit a profile of working well together, and then they recruit them as a group. As pointed out, they don’t have to be the brightest, just sharp with a history of working well together. They bring those groups in, present them with a problem, have them go off and better define the problem or even see if they agree that it is a problem worth solving, and put a plan together as to whether they can bring it to market. If it’s a go, they are hired into the new start up. Simple. Brilliant. I was really taken by it.
Wesley Clover then provides them with financial backing and guidance, which, includes (straight from their web site) the following:
- Access to a team of seasoned high-tech entrepreneurs offering extensive global sales, entrepreneurial, management and operational experience
- Strategic technical, legal, financial and marketing expertise
- Extensive partner, supplier and customer contacts
- Fast, flexible access to capital
- Executive, Board of Directors, and advisor recruiting
Wesley Clover has over a dozen companies in its technology portfolio, with a good portion related to the telecom space. As an example, I was really impressed with one in particular, Benbria Corporation that develops broadcasting (outbound notification) systems for IP telephony and web applications. There are a lot of companies that do outbound notification, but Benbria sends notifications out both in the normal ways that most companies do – via phone, text message, etc., but also SMS, through desktop applications, etc. They pretty much have figured out how to contact people in every way possible, and the user interface to create a notification is so simple. Benbria has targeted several verticals for applications, such as higher education. In fact, the idea for doing this was drive by the student shooting deaths we have seen lately on campuses, which really stretched the ability for universities to contact students and faculty during emergencies.
One last thing of note is that all the Wesley Clover teams work close to one another, allowing them to cross pollinate ideas, and create, to borrow a term, technology mash-ups if they see the need. So for example, one might be working on radio technology and another on unified communications and they might find synergies there to create new functionality between the two.