I spent time with Tamer Ahmed, Seeds Program Manager, Cairo iLab, for the French telecom giant Orange.  We watched events together, hung out at the receptions and talked business and politics. I asked Tamer as someone on a global hunt for new ideas, services and opportunities, how Orange approaches innovation and what he looks for in his seed program.

Tamer AhmedTamer suggested that one of the keys is openness, how employees can be encouraged to contribute what they think, and get senior management sponsorship. Accepting failure, even promoting and celebrating it. Tamer believes that when the company talks about innovation, “we have to go to the actual customer and the actual environment. Go to malls and cafes, see how people react to things”.

Orange is engaging in innovation for multiple cultures and places as they serve a big footprint, extending from Europe to Botswana, with people working from the U.S. to Japan, so they get the best from each culture and each country, in a truly global environment and company.

Sometimes a small improvement can make a big difference in the lives of people. Orange has a service called Internet for All, allowing people far away from a 3G coverage area to get connected. Tamer  describes a trial the company performed in Uganda at an orphan school. Previously, the teacher would have to travel miles to Kampala just to get an email. “Innovation is nothing unless you have something that touches the lives of people. Then you feel you have made a difference.”

As an Egyptian, Tamer also talked about current developments in his country and prospects for progress and peace, the value of patience and the need hope in a time of dramatic change.

Here’s a look at the start-up competition that Tamer and his colleagues sponsored at the Summit.

The Orange start-up competitionOrange

A series of start-ups looking for VC funding have 10 mins each to deliver their pitches to an expert judging-panel of venture capitalists. Following their pitches the judges provide feedback on each business and declare the winning idea.

The judges in the video are:

Jacky Abitbol, VP Corporate Development, Orange
Tamer Ahmed, Seeds Program Manager, Cairo iLab, Orange
Nathalie Boulanger, Senior Vice-president, Start-up Ecosystem, Orange
Usama Fayyad, Executive Chairman, Oasis 500
Gilles Lapierre, SVP Investment, du
Sherif Safwat, Executive Director, 21st Century Digital Arabia