Telecoms investment funds had a boom in 2014-16 which has not been repeated since. But 2021 saw signs of an uptick with telcos in emerging markets creating investment funds.

The heyday of telecoms funds was 2014-2016, when incumbents in the sector launched a total of 77 investment arms in just three years. In 2016 more than $102bn in funding was raised collectively (though the figure includes SoftBank’s first multi-billion Vision Fund and is thus considerably skewed). Things have been quieter since then, but 2021 saw a resurgence in spending, with total estimated capital at $30.93m. This was distorted by the size of the second Vision Fund, but there are signs that telecoms investment may be picking up, with a number of telecoms in emerging markets, like Serbia, Thailand and Kuwait, taking the plunge into corporate investment. NTT Docomo Ventures (NDV), the corporate venturing unit of Japan-based NTT’s mobile phone operator, has raised Y15bn ($115m) for its third fund. Docomo Innovation Fund III’s limited partners are NTT Docomo and NTT Finance. NDV’s prior funds closed at Y10bn and Y15bn in 2013 and 2017, respectively. The third fund will continue to support Japanese and international startups and promote collaboration with Docomo companies. Telekom Srbija, a Serbia-based phone operator, has set up a €25m ($30m) corporate venturing unit to invest in startups in multiple sectors. Last year, Telekom Srbija said it would set up its first corporate venture capital fund to invest over the next five years in startups in Serbia and Balkans region. Telekom Srbija said it would invest in artificial intelligence (AI), big data, financial tech, e-commerce, internet of things (IoT), media and telco, among other areas. Norway-headquartered telecoms firm Telenor and Thailand-based conglomerate CP Group announced a plan to merge their telecommunications subsidiaries in Thailand and collaborate on a joint corporate venturing effort. The corporates would also look to raise between $100m and $200m of venture capital funding to invest in digital technology startups based in Thailand. Kuwait-based telecoms firm Zain Group has set up a corporate venturing unit and struck its first deals. Zain Ventures will invest in digital innovations in electronic services. Its parent company had already committed to venture capital funds for firms such as Colle Capital Partners, Wamda, EarlyBird Venture Partners and Middle East Venture Partners. The unit’s first deals are Pipe the US-based developer of a digital trading platform for recurring revenues, and Swvl, a US-headquartered mobility service provider for mass transit in emerging markets. Swvl is set to go public through a merger with women-only led special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital in collaboration with Agility and Luxor Capital Growth. Military…

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Kaloyan Andonov

Kaloyan Andonov is head of analytics at Global Corporate Venturing.