Orange’s Startup Program Bucks Traditional Model, Targets Later-Stage Startups

I’ve covered my fair share of startup accelerators during my time at The Next Web and VentureBeat. For the most part, many of these programs operate with a similar game plan: Bring on a set of early-stage seed-round tech companies that may show promise; help “accelerate” them with office space, resources, and mentorship; and push them out in front of investors during a Demo Day. Within the concept of Silicon Valley, there are two that have really led the pack of accelerators: Y Combinator and 500 Startups. However, many companies have started their own largely for innovation purposes, but standing out can be a difficult thing.

Take Orange, the Paris-based telecommunications giant, for example. The company has one-such program that started years ago called Orange Fab. When I joined the Silicon Valley operations in 2014, I witnessed first-hand what the team there was doing to evolve the program, not only to help it stand out from a growing market of similar startup programs, but illustrate to Silicon Valley what a telco that doesn’t even operate in the United States could do for tech companies. But now things are changing for Orange Fab — a bit of a pivot, if you will.

On Tuesday, Orange announced that it’s doing away with the traditional Demo Day exercise and expanding on its efforts to make brands participating in its Fab Force initiative more involved: First off, the company is launching a “Fellowship“, which bears some similarities to YC’s Fellowship. Geared towards Series A- and B-stage startups, Orange is offering access to its analysts and resources, along with mentors, event space, and coordination for a trip to Paris. Startups will not have to pony up any equity and admission will be on a rolling basis until 10 companies are selected.

Since the creation of Fab Force in 2014, Orange has served as the accelerator platform of choice for brands like Airbus, Visa, LG, Hilton, Moët Hennessy, and others. In essence, Orange does the heavy lifting while corporations looking to get into the startup space would just provide insight on what they’re looking for. Now things are changing a bit where everything revolves around industry “councils” like advertising and marketing technology, content and media, logistics, smart cities, connected cars, finance technology, and retail.

This is probably going to be more beneficial to brands in the long-run because instead of focusing on individual startups, executives will be able to look at the industry as a whole and better understand trends and what emerging technologies they should be on the lookout for and better prepare themselves for either extinction or adaptation. Each vertical will meet regularly with insiders and Orange analysts and will culminate in the annual corporate venture capital summit that Orange Silicon Valley organizes.

Reiterating the disclosure I made earlier: I used to work for Orange and am currently a mentor with Orange Fab. However, it’s my opinion that this is a positive step forward for the program because instead of competing with numerous corporations that are doing accelerators, the latest evolution affords Orange more credibility, showing that it’s interested in helping brands and startups get better acquainted with one another versus being all about itself. This could also entice more brands that want to invest in startups to participate in Fab Force knowing that there’s more value in understanding the industry and landscape versus through the lens of a single startup.

Going after later-stage (that is, mid-growth) startups could be a sound strategic move since the resources that Orange and many brands offer will be more useful at that point in time versus when a startup initially hits the ground running.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the seed stage focus that Orange Fab had initially focused on. There were some successes that the company had over the past five years, but naturally it’s time to evolve the program and stay fresh and relevant. Also, as of right now, this evolution of Orange Fab only applies to its U.S. operations, not the other programs around the world.

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