The Innovation Landscape

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Managing corporate innovation is not an easy task. CEOs of large companies prioritize innovation in annual reports and speeches. It’s at the forefront of company-wide initiatives. Lead in it you must.

But historically, large companies have relied on R&D departments or university relationships to discover and introduce new technology. As technology / development costs significantly dropped, Fortune 500 resources or university infrastructures are no longer necessary to develop innovative solutions.

The landscape for finding fresh, nimble sources of innovation is starting to catch up to the demand. Here are examples of both new and old innovation sources that are primed to fulfill corporate needs:

Government / NGO’s

Government agencies / NGOs fund innovation needs via SBIR and other funding mechanisms. Where to find sources of SBIR awardee data? In the US, many agencies make their award recipients public. Not so in Canada, where technology research grants are not made public by government agencies. Every country has nuanced rules regarding government-funded technology programs, making discovery a full-time job for a team of researchers. Finding a comprehensive source of global government research grant data is necessary to uncovering early-stage technology ready for commercialization.

Startups

Startups are an exploding source of new innovation as technology costs drop and disruption becomes a desirable achievement. Interestingly, startup innovation often transcends industries – ex. a healthcare startup may provide technology for the aerospace & defense industry. These cross-industry solutions are extremely desirable and often difficult to identify. Comprehensive startup databases with detailed tagging, filtering and outreach capabilities are essential to uncover the most intriguing early-stage innovation.

Expert Communities

A good source for innovative ideas are communities of experts / professors / scientists. Many experts are part of online communities where they submit ideas to solve corporate needs. One challenge I hear from corporate innovation teams is that the solutions are theoretical – not existing – with many unknowns in the development cycles.

Silicon Valley Corporate Outposts

Increasing in popularity, Silicon Valley outposts bring established companies closer to the mecca of innovation. Having innovation scouts attend events, meet with venture capitalists, and generally tap into the SV startup ecosystem adds new sources of startups to the corporate innovation rolodex. Even the US government is part of the action, with the DOD opening an SV outpost to discover new aerospace & defense innovation.

In conversation, I’ve heard that connecting the dots between startup relationships and operating divisions’ needs is the tricky part.

Coworking spaces / Innovation campuses

Startups love to be around other startups – connecting, sympathizing, supporting each other. Most cities have central startup hubs where startups rent desks and join the startup community. Coworking space and innovation campuses are typically open to corporate partnerships because when their startups succeed, their campus succeeds.

Many campuses now have industry specialties, enabling large companies to experience relevant startup communities. One note – as mentioned earlier, many relevant startups come from a variety of industries. Multiple campus relationships are therefore necessary in order to discover all relevant innovation.

Developer communities / Hackathons

Hackathons work best when corporates are looking to engage with developers around specific initiatives – opening an API, testing new mobile functionality, etc. These events have defined time limits in which submissions must be completed. Great for getting new ideas – not great for getting comprehensive solutions. One definite benefit – letting developer communities know your company is developer-friendly and open for business for developers.

Universities

University-developed technologies are a great source of corporate innovation. Universities spend heavily on research & development, often backed by state governments. Much of the technology is never commercialized, with intellectual property frequently protected by patents filed by inventors. University technologies may be uncovered via corporate partnerships, tech transfer conferences, online marketplaces and more.

Summary

With so many disparate sources, building innovation community relationships is an efficient way to aggregate many technologies / startups through a single channel. Centralizing innovation engagement – a front door for innovation – is essential to keep innovation from falling through the cracks.

Discovery is not the only issue. Disparate sources brings disparate conversations internally – more on this in my next post.

Posted by Michael Goldstein

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