At thriving companies, innovation happens continuously—not from a self-contained project, experiment, or idea. R&D is a long-term endeavor. Every so often, it's also important to take a step back and reflect on your operational plan: Does your company have the resources and infrastructure to bring your biggest ideas to life? Are you adapting to your market quickly enough? The answers to these questions can force big companies out of their comfort zones, and encourage them to introduce new business models—by partnering with startups, for instance.
But innovation efforts can lead to dead ends if you embark on a program prematurely. Here's a streamlined assessment framework for determining whether you are in the best possible position to work with a startup partner.
1) Do management teams encourage innovation?
Congratulations, your company has already begun to operationalize innovation, because efforts are already beginning to become formalized.
Kick it up a notch: To be successful at a large, highly matrixed organization, innovation efforts require a structured, scalable process. Every decision needs to yield a long-term impact to your company. When forming relationships with the outside world, these support structures are even more mission-critical. Management needs to be fully empowered to support the day-to-day of a new business relationship.
You're likely not yet innovation-ready, because even with an organization-wide appetite for innovation, people may not know where to start, exactly, without leadership from the management team. You'll want to avoid bringing potential partners into your organization too early—there's a high risk of chaos.
Jumpstart innovation: Want to encourage management teams to support innovation? Run more informal business experiments. Research trends in your market. Explore the gaps between what you are doing and what you should be doing to determine where to start.
(2) Do employees have a forum to voice their perspectives with regard to potential partners?
This is one of the earliest signs of your company being innovation-ready. Your employees are empowered to give innovation teams extra perspectives—especially when finding and vetting potential startup partners.
Kick it up a notch: You will want to conduct due diligence to make sure that your innovation efforts are running smoothly. Run a survey among your employees. Conduct qualitative interviews. Figure out whether employees are bringing their ideas to life. Make sure everyone is working towards a common goal to avoid inefficiencies. When you're aligned internally, you'll be in a stronger position to bring in vantage points from the outside.
Your company may still be innovation-ready, but your employees likely do not know what steps to take. The mission-critical knowledge or domain expertise that you need to choose the right startup partners may be falling through the cracks.
Jumpstart innovation: What your organization may need is to formally separate innovation from your core business objectives. You will also want to create a series of easy-to-implement steps to involve your employees, including implementing a system for sharing feedback.
(3) Do you have a formal vetting process for startup partners?
That's great news—if your partnership parameters make sense.
Kick it up a notch: Make sure that the process you have in place is effective and that you are not taking on too many operational commitments. Ask questions that allow you to dig deeper into how the partnership works: Who are the decision makers? How do you build your funnel for potential startup partners? How do employees feel about working with startups? Getting clarity around these questions will help you make sure that your own process is running as smoothly as possible.
You should ensure that your negotiation terms are agile. If an unforeseen opportunity comes up, you'll want to be in a position to react quickly.
The short story is that you're going to need one. As your innovation program grows, you will attract more innovation opportunities that you'll need to evaluate for fit. A structured partnership process will be essential to help you make quick decisions.
Jumpstart innovation: To be sustainable and to perform optimally, your corporate innovation program should incorporate multiple perspectives. Every decision requires cross-functional input from marketing to engineering, sales, creative, and IT. Essentially, your corporate innovation function should represent every team.
As with any business initiative, your innovation program should be scalable too. Success won't always follow a linear process, but the faster that you can go through the research, discovery, and experimentation process, the faster you will arrive at your next milestones.
Taking innovation to the next level
It's tough for any company to tell whether it's time to elevate its corporate innovation program and to know how to proceed. If you're a novice to working with startups, what should be the first step that you take? If you have an experienced R&D program, what steps can you take to make additional improvements?
It's critical that you find the right partners to navigate such questions and to help you with an in-depth, formal assessment. Such an assessment includes a qualitative and quantitative review to determine your optimal starting point and to lay the foundation for a structured process that empowers your employees to share their ideas.
See if your innovation-ready and if startup partnerships are right for you! Get the insight you need to meet your goals. Contact us to see how we can help.
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