I look after scouting for Tomorrow Street, a scaleup accelerator and joint venture between Vodafone and Technoport. Our mission is to identify and evaluate fast-growing scaleups with innovative commercialised solutions that have the potential to scale across Vodafone’s global footprint. We form long-term partnerships with the selected companies and onboard them into the Tomorrow Street programme, help them set up a team in Luxembourg, and work with the scaleups on a daily basis to grow their business.
Opinion column by Neil Cocker, Director & Senior Partner at Tomorrow Street / Credits © Tomorrow Street
Scouting is exciting work – we meet amazing entrepreneurs and explore innovative technologies to identify real use cases at Vodafone. We assess around 600 companies every year, primarily scaleups with strategically relevant tech for both Vodafone and Luxembourg, which usually means IoT, AI, Cybersecurity, and B2B digital platforms. So how do we find and filter these hundreds of companies and choose the right ones for our programme?
A good analogy can be found in the world of football. Professional clubs scout thousands of players across the globe for the right talent to enable their team playing style and vision, fit strongly with the club’s values, and contribute to the success of the club’s long-term strategy (all while staying within budget).
Scouting in football used to be fully an art rather than a science – typically an experienced football scout would be travelling around the country, watching games on rainy Tuesday nights, relying on personal networks, gossip and gut feelings to find the next generation of game-changing players. In the 21st century, football scouting is built on data, with teams of analysts dredging oceans of player statistics to identify the potential stars of the future. But this is only the first step – then the ‘human’ element takes over, watching the players in action, meeting them and understanding them as people, assessing strengths (e.g. technical ability) and weaknesses (e.g. past injuries).
“Evaluating and selecting the scaleups involves constant dialogue, teamwork, flexibility, and perseverance.”
There is a similar dynamic for us at Tomorrow Street – we also work with a blend of art and science. Our scouting approach is built on three foundation blocks – our relationship network within Vodafone and across the globe; intelligent use of search engines; and old-fashioned ‘boots on the ground’ trips to startup ecosystems (virtual since the pandemic began). Once we find companies of interest, our evaluation process is increasingly data-driven, and we work with over 20 assessment criteria to understand candidate companies’ fit with our programme.
We start by looking at ‘hard’ data as our first filter – scaleups with the potential to grow at Vodafone need to be quite advanced to work across such a large global footprint, and this typically means meeting key indicators such as funding of €10m+, revenue of €5m+, and 50+ employees. We also undertake a technical assessment to understand the uniqueness of the solution and the fit with Vodafone’s 2025 strategy and Luxembourg’s digital ambition. We then focus on the more subjective ‘softer’ aspects, such as the quality of pitch and storytelling. Very importantly, we seek the approval of subject matter experts and decision-makers at Vodafone, and this is often enabled through a proof of concept or success in a procurement tender. Evaluating and selecting the scaleups involves constant dialogue, teamwork, flexibility, and perseverance.
We currently have 8 scaleups in our programme, mainly from North America and the UK. These companies have set up their European homes at our Kirchberg office, and by collaborating on shared growth goals our business development team has helped them win multi-country deals supporting Vodafone’s digital transformation, and also enabled revenue opportunities for Vodafone Business. This is one of the unique aspects of the Tomorrow Street model – by setting revenue targets we have concrete growth objectives for our companies, which is unusual for a corporate accelerator.
While the pandemic has turned our world upside down, it has also accelerated the acceptance and implementation of new technologies, and the feeling of change and momentum at the moment is tangible. In our work we are helping to create the future, and it’s a great privilege to be involved.
This article is brought to you by Tomorrow Street and was first published in Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read our full Digital Entrepreneurship edition.