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How Brands Are Tapping the Crowd, Competitors to Accelerate Innovation

In a Tuesday afternoon breakout that brought together a unique and diverse group, Steve Jennings from Better Ventures created a high-energy atmosphere where participants had frank discussions about their experiences and challenges in supporting entrepreneurial communities.

Recognising the power of linking entrepreneurs and startups to large corporate companies and the benefits derived from supporting entrepreneurial communities, Jennings guided the panel to speak about their own journeys with this.

What are some really good examples of startups or groups that we can learn from?

DoVentures co-founder Mark Shayler kicked off the discussion by speaking about tiny, aggressive startups such as Stripe and Zero, which are innovating in a way not expected of the financial industry and completely different from the way banks operate.

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“Noisy, discordant, disruptive people are changing sectors,” he said. “The gap between amateurs and professionals is gone. The market has changed. We live in super exciting times seeing services stripping back to what we genuinely need. “

Paul Chong, head of IBM’s Watson Group, spoke about the rise of collaboration and how working collaboratively has brought them success: “At IBM, we used to do it all on our own but now we collaborate, even work with the competition.” Focusing on the areas you are best at is key.

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Next, Sofus Midtgaard, Managing Partner and Lead at Leaderlab & LAUNCH Nordic, highlighted the need for clarity in identifying your core competition areas and what you can choose to collaborate on; collaboration helps overcome the barriers that would usually grind things to a halt. He mentioned Nike, Puma and adidas as companies that compete in sponsoring athletes and in their marketing but who could probably easily collaborate in producing sustainable shoe upper materials that can then be used across the board.

On the question of how to actually source innovators and promising startups, Shayler explained how one of his projects involved building startups from within organisations.

“Many times the right person is right there doing the wrong thing,” he said. “When looking outside, look under rocks, look in cafes, in weekend hacks.” Real talent is found in unusual places.

Karen Hamilton talked us through Unilever’s experience running the Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Award, which is used as a “strategy to signal an opening out of the business, saying we’re really interested in the change agents of the future. Sometimes you get a finalist that is just right for a collaboration with someone in the company.”

Another Unilever platform meant to engage entrepreneurs interested in helping find solutions that help us live better, Foundry IDEAS uses crowdsourcing to drive Unilever’s sustainable growth ambition.

Following frustration with the way innovation competitions yielded disappointing results when it came to taking innovations to scale, Midtgaard said LAUNCH Nordic created two important rules:

  1. “We don’t want to see any ideas — ideas are not that valuable. People behind ideas are valuable. You have to be backing your idea with time and investment.”
  2. “No more prizes. There is no more need for competitions with prizes. What we promise is two days in a room with NASA and Nike and other top businesses.” Rather than prize money, innovators are offered expert help with whatever challenges are holding them back.

On the challenge of defining successful outcomes in innovation examples, panelists had different views. Marks & Spencer’s Carmel McQuaid spoke about the significance of scaling for M&S: “Anything in advance of that is a proxy indicator that is almost meaningless.”

Money came up as an important measure of success: “Our biggest challenge is how to make more money by selling less things,” Shayler said. “Doing business for good is the biggest opportunity.”

Bringing the session to an end, Jennings asked participants about the one thing they would change if they could.

“My biggest frustration right now is measuring good within businesses. At the moment we really only measure through shareholder returns — I’d love to see a shift away from shareholder returns,” Shayler started.

“My link to that is how we measure talent and leadership,” McQuaid chipped in. “I'd get rid of every Forbes magazine information about being a leader,” explaining that such literature suggested isolation rather than collaboration.

“I think we need to throw out three-thirds of management literature,“ Midtgaard added. “Sometimes we get stuck in the perception that we cannot change the system.”

“Who controls the companies, and how? How many of you have taken an active stand on what your (pension savings) money is invested in?” he added. “If you haven’t, then I can guarantee that most of that money is invested in places that you personally would not support. We can all stop there because we actually control the boardrooms.”


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