Sweet development

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

 
 

"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

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