Nokia may still be fighting some pretty major fires on its burning platform, but it’s also building some bridges — namely the Nokia Bridge incubator program — to help those running from the flames, with financing of up to €150,000 ($185,000) to pursue new startups, before they’ve even paid a visit to VCs and angel investors.
The activities in Nokia Bridge are a small but encouraging counterpoint to the fairly-constant, grim updates on the state of the Finnish mobile company, once the world’s biggest by a long shot, and now under the gun with falling handset sales and dwindling cash reserves as it struggles to compete against the Apple/Android smartphone juggernaut. It’s understood that there are already some 100 companies in the incubator — dozens in the UK alone — although Nokia has not published a list of them anywhere. Jolla, the startup formed by ex-Nokia execs that will try to give MeeGo phones another shot, is one of them.
But in the case of Nokia, the incubator has a slightly stronger sense of urgency: the Nokia Bridge helps departing employees (there are thousands of them right now potentially without jobs) start their own companies.
Some of these are coming out of projects the ex-Nokians may have been pursuing when they were still at Nokia, killed off during the company’s major strategic changes over the last year and a half (eg MeeGo). Others will be something completely different. David Hall, a spokesperson for Nokia Bridge in the UK, tells me that one of the UK startups in the program is developing a wine import/export business (thinking outside the bottle! hah hah).
Each ex-employee gets €25,000 ($30,800) or £20,000 in the UK, and up to four Nokians can come together for a project — meaning your startup could get a seed fund of €100,000. Andrew Cooper, program manager for Bridge in the UK, tells me that it’s more common to have single individuals rather than groups of four, at least in the UK.
On top of that, each startup is eligible for further financing of up to €50,000. As with other incubators, Nokia Bridge also offers training and other support services, according to Juha-Pekka Helminen, an ex-head of strategic planning at Nokia. Hall notes that Nokia Bridge also covers other roles: “We also help with finding a new job within Nokia, as well as job placements with other companies,” he says.
Nokia does not get an equity stake in these startups, and it does not transfer any intellectual property to the companies, Hall tells me.
Helminen notes that there have been some examples, however, of startups getting licenses to use IPR that is not actively being used by Nokia. Examples of these, he tells me, are Sports-tracker.com and therecorporation.com. This post gives a rough translation of a report, in Finnish, on Jolla Mobile, that seems to imply the company is getting some IPR from Nokia. However, TechCrunch understands that Jolla Mobile may not be a part of that program and did not receive IPRs from Nokia. Rather, it has another arrangement with Nokia right now (for example a business relationship supporting MeeGo N9 maintenance).
The Nokia Bridge program started in April 2011 and has kept a fairly low profile; Hall says that it’s going to remain in place “certainly until the end of this year,” if not longer.
Here are some examples of other Bridge companies that are no longer in stealth mode. The stories I’ve been getting attached to some of these speak how much experience and talent are now out in the wild. Please let us know if you are one, too, and we’ll add you to the list:
TreLab (wireless network measurement and monitoring)
Mobile Brain Bank (a kind of mobile-specific GitHub)
Avanto Network (mobile strategy consulting)
Cloudberrytec (more ex-MeeGo folks, mobile professional services)
Haystacks.eu (London for kids app)
Absolute validation (Field test specialists, formed by the former Nokia UK Field Test team)
Decode Global (This one, itself an incubator for mobile apps for social change, is based in Canada, with its founder, Angelique Mannella, formerly working on MeeGo in Finland. “Nokia gave me the okay to set up my company in Canada. I am one of the few that was able to receive the startup funding but not be based in Europe,” she tells me.)
[Image: Boonerator, Flickr]