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Texas startup dials up plans to reboot once-popular BlackBerry phone

BlackBerry was discontinued in 2016. One Austin company has plans to bring it back. Blackberry.com

A Texas company is dialing up a comeback for the once pervasive BlackBerry.

OnwardMobility, an Austin startup that produces mobile devices, said August 19 that it had sealed a deal with BlackBerry and FIH Mobile to resurrect the device. In the first half of 2021, Onward Mobility plans to roll out a 5G BlackBerry Android smartphone equipped with an old-school QWERTY keyboard. It'll be available in North America and Europe. Onward Mobility says it will collaborate on both design and production of the device.

"With the increasing number of employees working remotely with critical data and applications, coupled with the constant threat of cyberattacks, there is an absolute need for a secure, feature-rich 5G-ready phone that enhances productivity," OnwardMobility says in a release. "Employees are demanding better workplace technology experiences, and organizations are facing increasingly complex challenges in selecting, deploying, securing, and managing devices to meet expectations and maximize employee productivity."

In a YouTube video announcing the deal, OnwardMobility CEO Peter Franklin says 5G-enabled BlackBerry devices will be more than "nice to have" but also will be a "critical need."

"Consumers are looking for a more secure choice for their smartphone purchases," Franklin says, "and they're ready for a sleek device built around security and productivity from the ground up."

TCL Communication said in February that it would stop selling BlackBerry-branded phones effective August 31 because it had lost the rights to keep designing, manufacturing, and selling them. BlackBerry discontinued making phones in 2016. Later that year, TCL picked up the licensing rights for BlackBerry-branded Android smartphones.

Now, OnwardMobility owns those rights.

Reporting on the BlackBerry-TCL breakup, Business Insider observed that TCL's discontinuation of the phones marked the end of an era for a brand that commanded almost one-fifth of the global phone market just a decade ago. "But as it struggled to keep pace with smartphones as the iPhone and Android rose to popularity, BlackBerry slowly faded out of relevance when it came to the global smartphone market," Business Insider said.

A BlackBerry history published by Harvard Business School's Digital Initiative described the brand as "the world's original smartphone leader." The original company, founded in 1984, rolled out its first mobile phone in 2000.

"Over the ensuing decade, the BlackBerry became the device of choice in corporate America due to its enterprise-level security and business functionality. Even after the competitive entry of the iPhone in 2007 and Google's Android OS in 2008, BlackBerry was certainly not destined for failure," says the history, noting that the brand dominated the smartphone market through 2010.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

SurgWise is giving surgical teams the right support for hiring. Photo via Getty Images

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”

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