Egypt's Technology and Entrepreneurship Center recently announced agreements with Nokia to establish mobile application incubation initiatives in Egypt known as mLabs. The partners will provide training, certification, business mentoring and other services to local universities, entrepreneurs and developer communities in order to encourage growth of local mobile applications and content. Incubators - like the mLabs network supported by infoDev, Nokia and the Government of Finland - seek to build a community of mobile technology entrepreneurs and accelerate development of locally oriented mobile businesses. mLabs typically offer services such as technical training, business training and access to important players in the mobile ecosystem like mobile operators or investors. As the mobile application market is expected to reach $15 billion in revenue in 2014, with over $10 billion going directly to mobile application developers, mobile incubators are expected to multiply in the coming years.
Vital Wave Consulting research has shown that the number of mobile incubators are increasing globally. However, they are still at a nascent stage and exhibit a range of business and operating models. These findings are part of a larger report Vital Wave Consulting recently authored for infoDev, Finland and Nokia to support mLabs - and other mobile application laboratory initiatives globally - in the development of sustainable business models. A global landscape analysis of incubators included in the report reveals that there is a spectrum of laboratory-types. At one end are grant-funded laboratories that focus on social returns and assist NGOs and local governments in the delivery of public services. At the other end are profit-driven incubators that work with entrepreneurs to develop commercially viable mobile applications to compete on a broader national or international scale. Other incubators combine these two models to achieve profitability and social returns. Public or private organizations, or a consortium of public and private entities working in partnership, can be equally well suited for sustainability.
While the mLabs movement is still in its early stages, and critical success factors and lessons learned are still evolving, it is clear that many different approaches for operating these programs have enjoyed initial success. Regardless of the business model, mobile application incubators will have increasing impact on the local mobile industry of developing countries, especially in the area of value-added services (VAS). The private sector would do well to pay attention to the growth of mLabs and to the development community as an influencer and investor in application development. Furthermore, for all stakeholders involved - such as development agencies, network operators, handset manufacturers, investors and mobile platform providers - promoting local business models and enabling entrepreneurs to build applications relevant to their local communities are essential components to driving demand for the products and services they offer.