In 2017, the big theme among corporate innovation teams will be cautious optimism. While there is uncertainty about how the new geopolitical terrain will impact their business, corporates are still moving forward with innovation plans. They will continue to pursue accelerating their product development cycles, improving time to market, exploring emerging markets and competing for consumer loyalty.
In other words, they're looking to innovate faster and more successfully. And a common way they do this is through corporate accelerator programs. By partnering with outside talent from innovative startups, large but slow-moving companies can spark creativity, develop new technologies and bring those technologies to market faster — at a cost that should be cheaper than trying to innovate internally.
The challenge, however, is that corporate accelerator models can be leaky buckets when it comes to resources. In a recent blog post, Ron Yerkes, RocketSpace's VP of Accelerator Programs, wrote that "internal accelerators take a lot in terms of resources and person-power to manage. They require heavy R&D, extensive prep work and a high-touch approach to program administration."
The problem isn't just that accelerators can be a drain on resources. It's also that there's a lot that can go wrong once a partnership begins. In this era of technical, economic and geopolitical changes, it's important that corporate innovation teams adopt models that minimize cost and maximize the chances of successful outcomes.
Here are three innovation models for bringing new products to market faster, with less risk and fewer resources.
1. Think Outside the Accelerator Box
Rather than assuming the operational and financial risks of creating internal accelerators, some corporate innovation leaders are instead forming strategic partnerships with corporations that have similar business goals.
“Why take the risk?" asks Xoán Martínez, CEO at Kaleido Logistics, a global logistics operator with offices in Spain, Portugal, Angola, South Africa, China and India that's been in business since 1976.
Instead, Kaleido Logistics and RocketSpace came together with Lufthansa Cargo and Ingram Micro through a first-of-its-kind logistics tech accelerator. Run by RocketSpace, the accelerator brought large companies together with eight disruptive logistics startups. This sort of open innovation model allows corporations to gain the benefits of an accelerator, but with fewer resources than required to launch an internal program.
2. Build Partnerships With Slow, Steady Steps
One of the biggest reasons why corporate innovation fails is the result of jumping the gun on partnerships with startups. Many in-house Fortune 500 accelerators are so eager to get in on the ground floor of "the next big thing" that they get into larger, more committed partnerships with up-and-coming startups too early.
Instead, RocketSpace encourages corporate innovation teams to take smaller, steadier steps, especially with early-stage startups. Here are some guidelines:
- Choose a project with a concrete milestone
- Define a small, five-figure budget
- Be open to the potential for experimentation and iteration
"It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many corporate teams try to partner with startups without first establishing what they're really trying to do," Nicole Roccaforte wrote in a blog post for RocketSpace.
By keeping the partnership goal clear, and limiting the initial project budget, companies can minimize risk and spark creativity.
3. Conduct Rapid, Small-Scale Experiments
Corporate R&D programs can span years — even decades. That's why corporate innovation needs its own separate "sandbox" with enough autonomy to run smaller experiments at a faster pace.
This fast-paced experimentation is the key to identifying wrong turns early on, learning from mistakes and iterating quickly. RocketSpace champions a rapid innovation model with idea-to-pilot collaborations between corporations and startups that span three months.
"If your organization can't adapt to a market that moves faster than your business, you'll risk getting left behind," says RocketSpace's Michele McConomy. To outpace the market, it's essential to think like a startup. That means learning from failure, iterating accordingly and running experiments consistently to gain insights faster.
A successful corporate innovation strategy should be tailored to your individual business needs and industry. If you're not sure how to get started — or how to align short-term ROI benchmarks to long-term goals — RocketSpace can help figure out the best innovation model for you.
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