The arrival of Covid-19 in early 2020 brought the world to a sudden standstill. Almost overnight, hotel and flight bookings plummeted, and global trades reached historical lows. While the effects of this were felt in virtually all industries, the world of venture capital was one of the first to feel the squeeze. According to data from Crunchbase, in Q1 2020, global venture capital investment decreased by 17%, with the number of rounds down 5%.
The pandemic drew a line between past and present, forcing many in the industry to reevaluate the way they viewed investment, startups, and innovation. Now, as we enter a post-Covid world, these same people are asking themselves how startups and entrepreneurs should go about finding their path in the world. When current investment trends dry up, should startups switch lanes and follow the next big thing? Or should they stay true to their original vision and put their faith in the belief that the rational market will eventually come back around?
To help answer some of these questions and give teams and entrepreneurs the support they need to navigate the complex world of tech startups, OPPO recently launched the OPPO Research Institute Innovation Accelerator. By seeking innovative tech proposals from around the world, the accelerator aims to empower and inspire technology professionals and innovators worldwide to bring the benefits of technology to more people through what OPPO calls virtuous innovation.
Question 1: How can startups position themselves to deliver real value?
Pre-Covid, we lived in a world where investors and venture capitalists were focused on one thing: chasing “the next big thing”. But in such an environment, it is difficult for both investors and entrepreneurs themselves to remain rational. As soon as the next big thing has been determined, everyone jumps in to try and grab a piece of the pie, but rarely can they achieve the same success as the original startups that brought so much attention to the sector in the first place. Based on the flawed logic of following the pack, rather than focusing on ideas and concepts that are based on genuine consumer needs, insights, and market expectations, it’s no wonder that such a strategy has proven itself to be severely limited.
If we apply this rational, needs-centric philosophy to today’s society, we will see that health is one of the biggest unmet needs facing the world today, as the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt. Spurred on by a greater personal emphasis on health, the public today has shifted from a mindset of disease treatment to one of preventative care based on continually monitoring and management of our health.
Elsewhere, the pandemic has also accelerated our reliance on many digital technologies. The result of this is a further widening of the existing gap between those who are technology literate and those who aren’t, causing certain vulnerable groups to be left behind in the process.
These two areas — digital health and accessible technology — present huge opportunities for those willing to tackle them, especially if looked at through a long-term perspective. As a tech company that has been actively involved in these areas, OPPO believes not only in using it resources to create solutions to these issues, but also sharing this belief and empowering others to do the same.
Some of OPPO’s biggest successes in the areas of digital health and accessible technology can be found in its products and features targeted at elderly users — a group that has long been overlooked by the consumer electronics industry. As we get older and our health deteriorates, we need digital products that are both easy to operate and easy to understand through their simplified user interfaces. In recognition of this, OPPO developed Simple Mode, Screen Share and other features designed for elderly users. Since being released, these features have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from users and have helped solve many of the typical challenges faced by elderly populations when using technology.
This goes to show that, as long as you remain on the right track, you can continue walking towards the horizon without fear of losing your way. A rational approach and the ability to understand public needs: these are “the next big thing” in the world of tech startups.
Question 2: Other than funding, what type of support do startups need?
Finding the right partner is extremely important when a company is in its early stages. These partners can not only provide advice and suggestions likely to improve a startup’s chances of success, they can also bring inspiration and ensure that teams stay on the right track.
So who are these “partners”? Well, they’re not just limited to those in the startup team. They also include investors, other teams who can be collaborated with, or even experts and academics in a specific field.
Despite being firmly committed to its own R&D-driven innovation, OPPO still looks to the wider industry and academia for support in driving win-win innovation that can produce benefits for both sides.
Every time OPPO sets out to develop a new product feature, the development team adopts the mindset of a new startup, seeking support, knowledge, and inspiration from the wider community. For example, OPPO has worked closely with Professor Luo Ming, an expert in color science at Zhejiang University, to provide guidance on its project to bring “true” color to those with color vision deficiencies. Professor Luo’s instruction led to the team developing algorithms to implement the Farnsworth Munsell Hue Color Test on ColorOS, which eventually enabled it to develop its Color Vision Enhancement feature in a short space of time and help those with color vision deficiencies enjoy the same digital experience as everyone else.
OPPO is well aware of the invaluable support that external partners can bring to a wide variety of projects, and it also hopes that it too can be a partner to others. It is based on this belief that OPPO has launched the OPPO Research Institute Innovation Accelerator. Through the accelerator, OPPO hopes to use its own experience and resources in digital health and accessible technology to help tech innovators develop solutions to some of the biggest issues facing society, and act as a guide to these startup companies in their most crucial stages.
Question 3: What value can a good outside partner bring to a startup team?
It should go without saying that the relationship between a startup and its partner should be one of mutual benefit. The outside partner not only provide much-needed financial support, they can also provide vital experience in terms of business operations that can help accelerate the startup’s development. On the other side of the coin, the startup’s own innovative ideas and products can allow the partner to expand the scope of their own business and stay on top of the latest cutting-edge technology.
Even as startup projects develop beyond their early stages, particularly after receiving funding, the outside partner can still provide much added value. Ideally, they will have significant commercial experience in a related industry, or even existing experience successfully incubating other startups, which will be invaluable to less experience companies. At the same time, they also have access to sales channels and marketing resources that can be used to help the startup gain a solid footing in the market.
In 2021, OPPO began a partnership with assisted hearing startup Voibook. In order to develop its product, Voibook needed access to a large quantity of real human audio recordings. Leveraging the sizeable user base of its voice assistant, Breeno, OPPO began consensually collecting real user voice data as part of its “Urban Voice Bearer” public campaign. Not only did the campaign help obtain the voice data needed by Voibook app, it also helped to raise awareness for their product and its cause. Today, OPPO and Voibook are further exploring how the technology can be used to provide audio to text translation on OPPO Air Glass, helping those with hearing difficulties to communicate more freely without any barriers.
As a renowned global tech company, OPPO has a deep understanding of current market needs and the resources and expertise needed to help startups bring to life and promote their products and ideas. By supporting innovators and entrepreneurs with a likeminded approach to helping the world, OPPO hopes to use tech innovation as a powerful force in social development and as a way of making the world a happier place.
The inaugural OPPO Research Institute Innovation Accelerator is open for submissions until June 30. All innovators and startups using technology to make the world a better place are welcome to apply. For more information, to provide your own inspiration, or to take part in the referral scheme, please visit the official OPPO Inspiration Proposal website at: oppo.com/en/proposal/