Business Transformation

Sprint Accelerates Entrepreneurial Efforts

Although the Sprint Accelerator is less than two years old, the startup program has been busy shaking up how it operates just as quickly as its parent company shakes up its management teams, network and marketing strategy. And, the Accelerator's founder says, the changes it's making are beginning to reverberate throughout Sprint.

Kevin McGinnis, vice president of product at Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s Pinsight Media division, founded the Sprint Accelerator in downtown Kansas City in early 2014 with the goal of fostering the growth of innovative startups, bringing fresh talent to the city and, ultimately, changing the DNA at Sprint. (See Sprint Accelerator: Changing Carrier DNA and Sprint Plays by Its Own Rules, Too.)

He admits the third -- and most ambitious -- goal will take a long time, but says that Sprint has already come a long way. That's in part because of its startup missive, but also because of the entrepreneurial spirit that CEO Marcelo Claure has brought to the job since he joined in August 2014. (See Sprint CEO: Price Cuts First, Best Network Next .)

"Marcelo has brought a greater top-down appreciation for true entrepreneurship with his background and the changes he made to the corporate offices," McGinnis says. "You can see how it's manifesting itself every day. [Sprint headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas] looks and feels like the Accelerator."

Claure has been driving this change from the top down, he says, adding that meetings that used to take weeks to set up with top-level executives now happen in the hallway. And, at the same time -- the Accelerator is approaching it from a bottom-up view of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

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The Accelerator opened its doors in March of last year, welcoming an initial class of ten startups focused on innovating in the healthcare industry. It has since graduated two classes of healthcare-focused startups with its sponsor TechStars, another mentorship-driven startup accelerator. McGinnis told Light Reading when it opened that Sprint wanted to discover innovative new services to build up the carrier's own healthcare practice, but it has found that it's a tough industry to crack. (See Sprint Welcomes 10 Health Startups to Its Accelerator.)

It's a complex industry with large, slow-moving incumbents, and it quickly became clear that business model disruption is going to take a long time, McGinnis says. There wasn't a clear-cut role for Sprint this early in the game. As such, McGinnis says the third class of startups Sprint admits to its 90-day program this fall can be focused on any mobile-related technology from hardware to software to the Internet of Things.

They can also be at any stage of growth, whether pre- or post-revenue. McGinnis says they learned with the first two classes that those in the later stage are more likely to be ready to work with a distribution channel like Sprint. "Business relationships are two-sided, and it's easy for a company like us to overwhelm a startup," he says. And, this time around, Sprint wants to be able to put the three top startups' products or services in its retail outlets and online.

Change will be an ongoing theme for both Sprint and its Accelerator in the coming months. Former TIM Brasil CMO Roger Solé, now Sprint's senior vice president of innovation, took over responsibility for Pinsight Media and the Accelerator in April. Solé is primarily focusing on his other role as the senior vice president for the Hispanic market, but shares McGinnis' desire to put innovation into action at Sprint. McGinnis says he's giving the Accelerator the autonomy to "continue down that path and pull more of that culture back into Sprint as part of the larger innovation efforts." (See Sprint Taps Brazilian Mobile Exec to Head Innovation.)

Solé is just one of several new faces at the carrier, including new CMO Kevin Crull, as several more executives have left in recent months. (See Sprint CTO Goes Bye-Bye and Sprint Appoints Ex-Bell Media Exec as CMO .)

The new executive team will be tasked with looking at innovation from a number of different angles, including building out Sprint's next network iteration, Next-Generation Network, and ramping up its marketing around its Cut Your Bill in Half plan and Direct 2U handset setup, as well as putting into action a partnership with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) to bring WiFi to downtown KC. (See Sprint Maps Out Its Next-Generation Network, Sprint to Woo Customers With 'Cut Your Bill in Half' App, Sprint Takes Direct 2 You to More States and Sprint & Cisco Bring WiFi to Downtown KC .)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

MordyK 7/3/2015 | 7:53:47 PM
Re: Women in Tech Despite my earlier skepticism i've also been hearing some pretty good things about Sprint's labs. I credit Sprint's bringing in Techstars, unlike the other carrier's which simply brought in the vendor partners.
DHagar 6/30/2015 | 2:09:53 PM
Re: Women in Tech Sarah Thomas, I was using "channels" not in a technology sense but to refer to new market channels.
Sarah Thomas 6/30/2015 | 12:23:36 PM
Re: Women in Tech What do you mean by "new channels?"
DHagar 6/30/2015 | 12:21:18 PM
Re: Women in Tech Sarah Thomas, that's what I thought.  Well, it appears to be a highly effective way to develop new channels - let's hope it works!
Sarah Thomas 6/30/2015 | 10:14:51 AM
Re: Women in Tech All of the wireless operators have innovation labs, but I don't think any are as independent on targeted on fostering startups like this one is, in large part due to Sprint's partnership with TechStars.
DHagar 6/29/2015 | 9:10:37 PM
Re: Women in Tech Sarah Thomas, sounds like some smart moves on the part of Sprint.  They are creating their own markets by engaging the prospective entrepreneurs to create their new markets!   Moving out into cultural markets and women entrepreneurs opens new doors.  Makes good sense.

I don't think anyone else has carved out a targeted program like this, have they?
Sarah Thomas 6/29/2015 | 9:22:41 AM
Sprint & Women in Tech Sprint is also making a concerted effort to support female-led startups, which is great to see. McGinnis said the Accelerator partners with KC's Women in Tech group and the Athena League to promote awareness and grow their memberships. And, it's working with those involved with KC's Digital Divide and Gigabit Fiber initiatives in urban and minotirty neighborhoods to get kids involved with coding.

Its last class of 10 startups had four female CEOs, and it has several female-led startups working in its coworking space now. A cool one he mentioned was Lean Lab, which is working to disrupt education in KC's urban core: http://theleanlab.org/



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