Donovan wasn't a formal speaker here at the VentureBeat Mobile Summit, but audience members were being encouraged to join the keynote conversation. It's an invitation-only event, patterned as more a discussion than a normal conference, and filled with young entrepreneurial types.
The morning session centered around speaker Amber Case, a founder of Geoloqi Inc., a startup working on geolocation technology for mobile apps.
Case needled service providers a bit, saying carrier size and bureaucracy stop carrier incubators from providing that nimble edge. "It's a really good idea. It's just that fundamentally, it's a long, laborious process," she said. "They'll have a guy from a design company who's leading it, and they haven't been at the company a long time. ... They don't even know the org chart."
Donovan, who had been AT&T's CTO until January, was sitting in the back of the room. He asked for a mic and got a chance to make his rebuttal.
AT&T's three innovation centers are running fast and have produced 11 services that are in the network, he said.
He added AT&T has spoken to 95 prospective startups this year and met a whopping 508 last year. The innovation center people had consulted with venture capitalists as to how to structure speed-dating meetings with these entrepreneurs: Bring two people, a senior one to say yes or no, and a junior one to vet what ideas might actually work -- and be ready to have the selected few start on Monday.
"We don't want to meet 508 every year. What we want to do is meet 60 and have all 60 hit our network as fast as possible. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way," he said.
The incubator topic came up around a larger discussion about location-based services -- specifically, what's standing in their way. Battery life was an issue Case mentioned a couple of times, since a mobile device that's tracking location has to store information on the network continually. The real-time updating of location information is a challenge, too, she said.
And both within and beyond the carriers, there seems to be a lot of duplication of effort, Case said. "I think a lot of people are trying to do the same things over and over again."
More on incubators and AT&T in particular:
- From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision
- Can Big Broadband Inspire Innovation?
- Telefónica to Hatch Startups
— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading