The larger and later-stage a technology company becomes, the more deliberately it needs to foster the sort of disruptive innovation that comes more naturally to more nimble startups. At wireless hardware and services giant Qualcomm, that means the formation of captive incubator Qualcomm Labs.
Unlike the purely financial motives that drive most investors, including sister fund Qualcomm Ventures, the division’s objectives are chartered around driving innovation, creating future strategic partnership opportunities, and community development, VP Liz Gasser tells me.
Qualcomm Labs partnered in May of this year with CommNexus’ San Diego-based pro-bono, fundless incubator EvoNexus to form QualcommLabs@EvoNexus. Today the joint program announced its first three recipients of seed funding, chosen out of more than 100 submissions.
The recipients include over-the-air remote configuration management and real-time location solutions company Arynga, which received $250,000; physics-based, zero day mobile malware detection company FatSkunk, which also collected $250,000; and Android and iOS automated location timeline mobile app Breadcrumbs.
Unlike the more common 12 week accelerators programs which have canvassed the startup ecosystem, QualcommLabs@EvoNexus offers its companies a two year residency at either its downtown San Diego or La Jolla campuses. Participants receive mentorship from Qualcomm executives and are eligible for follow on funding from Qualcomm Ventures or external capital sources introduced by the company.
I was surprise, however, to hear that the companies do not get access to Qualcomm facilities, including engineering laboratories, machine shops, and the like. It seems like an opportunity missed given the nature of the program. “We operate at arms length,” Gasser tells me.
Qualcomm is certainly a central force in the San Diego startup and technology ecosystem. As the sunny beachside city seeks to put its growing early stage tech scene on the map, having a benevolent uncle appears to be a positive, although, as we’ve discussed in the past, it can also be a negative to have such a singular, massive center of gravity within an entrepreneurial community.
It will be several more years before we get to judge the impact of Qualcomm labs, once we know the fate of these initial three companies and those soon to follow. In the meantime, the company’s deep pockets and commitment to funding innovation will make San Diego a startup market worth watching.