On Tuesday 29th November, we invited senior leaders in corporate innovation to share their key insights and experiences when working with large corporations to champion innovation across the business, collaborate with start-ups, attract digital talent and embrace the latest technology, to generate new ideas and revenue streams.
The event was designed to have a open conversation around what innovation means to different types of organizations (how can it thrive and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset) and to foster new relationships between senior innovation leaders and entrepreneurs.
We'd like to thank our panellists for sharing their thoughts and key learnings:
Todd Obrien (Co-Founder, DELL for Entrepreneurs UK), Amalia Agathou (Innovations Manager, 18 Havas), James Millar (Director of Partnerships, MassChallenge UK) and Maria Slowinska (Head of Open Innovation, Digital Catapult).
And thank you to our partners Salience and General Assembly.
Corporates are at different stages of the innovation cycle
Many large organisation are at different stages of the innovation. Some have already appointed Heads of Innovation to transform their organisations, others are just starting to dip their toes in the water. For many CEOs, they know they need to innovate but they simply do not have the time. "Even some companies with a plan for innovation don't know how to put into take action," said James Millar, Mass Challenge. "One of the biggest challenges is breaking down barriers and figuring out ways to work with the different departments," added Amalia Agathou, 18 Havas.
To get started, corporates can get involved with "start-up tourism" initiatives where senior executives at CXO level can engage with start-ups and see the potential of emerging technologies and disruptive ideas. Todd OBrien, Dell UK, suggests that corporates can easily get a flavour of start-up innovation just by attending away days and tours with organisations, such as TechCity UK. "Try tasters of engagement in the start-up community before embarking on big plans," recommends OBrien.
Innovation is not a branding exercise
For innovation to really work, corporates need to commit time, resources and people to execute their plans and not just rely on partnerships, hosting award ceremonies and sponsoring hackathons. Real innovation happens within the company and when it comes from the top, i.e. the CEO understands that it's a strategic priority and that all employees are encouraged to test out new ideas and have an entrepreneurial mindset. "Innovation teams must be well resourced, and not left on their own," said Millar.
Maria Slowinksa, Digital Catapult, adds that innovation is often a publicity game for large companies, with 80% focused on brand awareness and 20% actual innovation. "It never works. You don't get a unicorn from hosting a hackathon!" For real innovation to exist, Slowinksa suggests hosting internal workshops to help senior executives identify what they need and which direction they need to take the business. It's about asking the right questions, not just focussing on the latest tech solutions. "Sometimes releasing a chatbot isn't what the company needs, it's actually a better communications strategy," says Slowinksa.
Collaboration with start-ups is key
For innovation to happen, both corporates and entrepreneurs need to get out there, talk to people, and immerse themselves within the start-up ecosystem. "Start-ups and corporates exist in bubbles. To truly innovate you need to get out your bubble!" said OBrien. Millar agrees: "Corporate exposure to start-ups energises them to innovate and highlights the key challenges within their own business."
Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint
Corporates can learn from start-ups on how the execute customer development, make decisions based on data to improve their unique value proposition and use lean methodologies (i.e. building a MVP) to validate the market. OBrien suggests that corporates should start with one innovation project at a time. "This gives the team confidence to move forward with future projects," he said.
"Executing innovation is even more important than the ideas, which often have nowhere to go once the pilot is done," commented Slowinksa. "Successful innovation also requires a team with time, experience & execution."
From a commercial perspective, Agathou says innovation projects are a tough balancing act between protecting existing business assets and nurturing innovation. "Unless you pool all sufficient resources into innovation, employees will lose motivation to keep pushing new ideas into the business...there isn't a perfect way to execute innovation - it just depends on how much risk and investment a company want to take."
"A lot of companies are going private or shifting resources into separate holding companies, to allow innovation to exist without the pressures of the stock market and expectations of external stakeholders," adds OBrien.
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