Why Nokia’s new venture studio could spur more startups for New Jersey

Long before he was a senior leader at Nokia Bell Labs, Thierry E. Klein was a researcher — one who hoped his research would be used to its greatest potential. It wasn’t always.

“There’s nothing more frustrating when you develop the technology, you validate it, you prove it, you believe it has a market potential … and you can’t make that connection,” he said.

That will no longer be the case.

As part of the unveiling of plans to move Nokia Bell Labs from Murray Hill to the HELIX in New Brunswick, the company announced it is partnering with America’s Frontier Fund, Roadrunner Venture Studios and Celesta Capital to create a venture studio that aims to maximize the full commercial potential of Nokia Bell Labs technologies outside of Nokia’s strategic perimeters.

The details are still being worked out, but, essentially, Nokia Bell Labs is partnering with AFF to create a studio that will be run with Roadrunner and guided by the capital of Celesta.

By collaborating with seasoned venture partners, Nokia Bell Labs is confident it will be able to create and invest in strategic startups and industrialize external ventures to maximize long-term value creation for Nokia, Chief Strategy Officer Nishant Batra said.

This collaboration aims to take advantage of Nokia Bell Labs’ research efforts in areas targeting advanced 5G/6G communications, next-generation semiconductor and optical chip design and packaging, artificial intelligence/machine learning, sensors and quantum computing. AFF and RVS will contribute venture building and investments to drive innovation across multiple industries and establish the next generation of critical technology in the U.S.

Batra said the company is excited by the potential.

“The new venture studio collaboration and partnerships combine Nokia Bell Labs’ robust IP portfolio and research expertise with America’s Frontier Fund and Roadrunner Venture Studios’ teams of seasoned builders, and Celesta Capital’s excellent investment track record and operational prowess, to commercialize and scale new startups for long-term value creation and nurture leading companies in crucial technological domains for years to come,” he said.

Batra said AFF’s reputation is well known.

“They are a premier deep tech fund,” he said. “They just don’t invest, they also work with companies, such as ourselves, and other possible sources, to create companies to actually build technology powerhouses.”

America’s Frontier Fund CEO Gilman Louie said AFF is ready to go.

“America’s Frontier Fund is excited to partner with Nokia Bell Labs, which has been at the forefront of American innovation for 98 years,” he said. “Together with Roadrunner Venture Studios, we will continue this tradition and lead the way in frontier technology for another century.”

This type of arrangement is the type of thing Gov. Phil Murphy dreams of when he speaks of creating an innovation economy filled with startups in New Jersey. A Silicon Valley of the East, you could say.

Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said the potential is that great.

“Gov. Murphy has prioritized catalyzing startups and other innovation-backed growth companies since the beginning of the administration,” he said. “Today’s news from Nokia and the America’s Freedom Fund is another huge milestone in our progress toward recapturing New Jesey’s leadership position in innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Sriram Viswanathan, founding managing partner of Celesta Capital, agreed.

“Celesta Capital is excited to align with Nokia, leveraging its unparalleled strength in industrial research and its rich technology portfolio,” he said. “We believe this collaboration with Nokia Bell Labs will harness Celesta Capital’s unique capabilities in identifying, nurturing and developing high-potential technologies into the leading deep tech companies of tomorrow.”