Why Ericsson's Board Meets In Silicon Alley

CyberLab feeds new ideas to telecom corporation.

In the heart of Manhattan's Silicon Alley, 16 CyberLab technologists and managers work in a dark loft at the New York Technology Center on mobile technology and mobile furniture. The desks, chairs, and storage lockers all move easily to accommodate visitors such as L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co.'s board of directors, who met at the CyberLab in October. "It is pretty exciting. The board realizes we're working on new things, and they want to be aware of them," explains Jeremiah Zinn, head of collaboration at CyberLab. Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson teamed up with venture capital firm New York City Investment Fund to open CyberLab in 1998. The research and development facility concentrates on software and applications to increase mobile use of the Internet. It is one of three Ericsson CyberLabs -- the corporation runs others in Singapore and Stockholm. Employees use wireless phones and computers to better understand the technology. To encourage small software companies to concentrate on Ericsson's key technologies, CyberLab staff introduced the Developers Network, which provides writers of software with technical information, testing tools, and expertise. When seminars or other exchanges turn up an entrepreneur with novel technology, Zinn sets up relationships with other parts of the corporation, such as sales and marketing, to collaborate on the application. The CyberLab also runs a start-up-in-residence program. Its first resident is Universal Point of Contact, or Upoc. This company focuses on group messaging technology to enable a number of individuals with a shared interest, celebrities in Manhattan, for instance, to quickly communicate about sightings to the whole crowd via cell phones or personal digital devices. At home since June in the CyberLab, Upoc gains access to Ericsson's business intelligence, information, and distribution channels. The CyberLab is evaluating three more start-ups for its residence program but expects to house only a few. "We don't generate economies of scale by having nine companies versus one or two," explains Zinn. That's because the mission for the CyberLab differs from that of many standalone incubators. They benefit from hosting many start-ups that share accounting, marketing, and sales services, and are under pressure to turn a profit fast. By contrast, the CyberLab intends to nurture a few projects that executives hope will one day help anchor the corporation's mobile strategy.

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