The launch of Tomorrow Street — a joint initiative of Vodafone and Technoport — promised to be a high-profile event, and with a crowd numbering roughly 600, it did not disappoint. Top executives flew in from all corners of the globe, joining senior officials, partners and members of the local ecosystem to witness the inauguration of Luxembourg’s new innovation center.
New public-private innovation center opens its doors in Luxembourg
Recognizing a lack of support for late-stage startups that have completed Series A funding, Tomorrow Street leverages its network to help promising companies grow internationally.
“Our aim is to build innovation by connecting the dots and giving companies introductions and up-front exposure that they would normally not have,” explained Warrick Cramer, CEO, Tomorrow Street. “In today’s digital world the human connection has never been more important, and Tomorrow Street will provide those human connections.”
The excitement generated by the event — from the attendance list, which included Luxembourg’s Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, to the lively afterparty — was a reminder that innovation is king in this small country.
— Xavier Bettel (@Xavier_Bettel) 12 septembre 2017
The event kicked off with the official opening of Tomorrow Street’s offices on the top floor of the Vodafone building in Kirchberg where the Vodafone Procurement Company is based.
Roughly 80 percent of the startups within the program, which has a 16-startup capacity, will involve the internet of things, security and artificial intelligence.
“Those are the areas that we have identified as long-term strategic technologies,” said Neil Cocker, Director and Senior Partner, Tomorrow Street. “We have an opportunity to scale it through Vodafone. Scalability is key.”
For the last 20 percent, Mr Cramer encouraged the Tomorrow Street team to explore and have fun.
“To be innovating you still have to have a level of freedom. You can’t be very rigid, and that’s where a lot of corporate programs fail. They put in so many boundaries that the team can’t move,” he said.
The program runs on a quality-over-quantity approach, actively searching for the the best and most promising startups rather than relying on an open application process.
Within the coming weeks, the first wave of startups will move into the center, which was designed by architecture firm WW+. The space consists of diverse rooms and pods that inspire creativity: picnic-like escapes; whiteboards for walls; a dark, plush boardroom; and instead of a reception desk, a modern bar to encourage socializing.
“Vodafone could have done it without the government but I think it’s really important to have the government involved. When you think about it, by us coming together we are completing an entire ecosystem. No other country in the world has done that.”
An end-to-end ecosystem
Uniquely, the initiative is a large-scale, 50-50 joint project between the public (Technoport) and private (Vodafone) sector. Throughout the evening, both parties iterated their long-term commitment and the importance of involvement from both sides.
“I’m very honest. Vodafone has a network I don’t have. They have the competence I don’t have as a public actor, and so it’s important to bring a public actor and a private actor together to have a win-win situation,” said Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
Mr Cramer echoed his sentiment: “Vodafone could have done it without the government but I think it’s really important to have the government involved. When you think about it, by us coming together we are completing an entire ecosystem. No other country in the world has done that.”
With this end-to-end ecosystem, startups will no longer need to city hop in search of the next level of support. They can launch, grow and internationalize from Luxembourg.
“When we are going out to scout internationally, we can position ourselves as a player that can essentially help startups from A to Z because, in the end, we have a partner that is global,” added Diego De Biasio, CEO, Technoport.
“An innovation center is where a company’s heart beats. I’m glad that Vodafone’s innovation center is right here…and beats in Luxembourg.”
A win-win for Luxembourg & Vodafone
The seed for the concept was planted about a year ago as Ninian Wilson, CEO, Vodafone Procurement Company, and Mr Cocker set out to overhaul its procurement strategy.
“Every great idea needs a spark, and it was only when we involved Mr Warrick Cramer that we really had the spark of invention around creating this unique platform,” said Mr Wilson. “We are convinced that Tomorrow Street will help Vodafone customers, it will help Vodafone colleagues and the country of Luxembourg.”
Instead of charging members for its services, Tomorrow Street operates on a simple revenue-sharing model: if the startup succeeds while within the program, the center gets paid a percentage of the growth achieved.
“Most VCs and programs take 40, 50, 60 percent of their companies. We didn’t really want that to happen because we have a social responsibility to do the right thing here in the community. By us helping them, we help our company grow,” Mr Cramer explained.
Showing his support for long-term innovation in Luxembourg, Prime Minister Bettel stressed the universality of ‘digital.’
“That’s why we are two ministers here today, and you could almost have the whole government. Everybody is a part of Digital Luxembourg, and we need to work like a team,” he said. “An innovation center is where a company’s heart beats. I’m glad that Vodafone’s innovation center is right here…and beats in Luxembourg.”
Photo: Xavier Bettel (Prime Minister), Warrick Cramer (Tomorrow Steet), Etienne Schneider (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy) and Tomorrow Street’s team © Olivier Minaire / Silicon Luxembourg