Open innovation is becoming an established trend among all corporations. If you are a corporation and you don’t have an open innovation contest, this means that you are missing the next wave in change which can make your current business die sooner than expected.
Volkswagen understood that and acknowledged that finding the best innovations that will benefit its business will, probably, need to come from outside the company that’s why it launched its open innovation contest where +400 startups were present and from which we were selected to be among the top 10 logistics innovators.
The selection process was challenging: We had to go through different departments of Volkswagen logistics group in addition to their factories, talking with their employees, trying to understand their needs and claims and to match it with our technology. At the end, they selected the top 10 companies that will impact directly their logistics operations and on the 14th of May, SmartMonkey will be in the IPM logistics innovation event with the rest of the winners. This represents an honor for us, and we would like to thank Volkswagen for this big opportunity.
But for now, the question that I want to discuss is: “Do all corporations need an open innovation contest?”
From my own point of view, I would say no. Most of the companies are not prepared yet for this disruptive field, not even their top management! Because in order to get involved in innovation, you must believe in its essence first, from top-to-down; from the CEO to the lowest level of responsibility. This means that everyone needs to be willing to allocate a budget, efforts and resources and specially to welcome FAIL with open hands because innovation will make people fail inevitably, if it’s not the case then maybe you’re not innovating.
Failure is part of the game. Talk with Edison and their 999 ways of not doing a light bulb. If top management strongly believes in innovation; then, innovation must be part of the culture of the company. Once achieved, people will give more of their time and of themselves to provide the company with their best ideas, even if the risk of failure is existent. Bottom-up, innovation appears when the employees believe in that culture.
There are tons of examples that illustrate that, but there is only one that struck me personally: At Aigües de Barcelona; the water utility company which is a part of the Suez group, there was that man who spent several weekends of his free time working at home, designing a tool to open sewer in a way to not get injured by repetition. He was one of their foremen so he served as a role model to the rest of the employees to start innovating and coming with new ideas that will make their life better. The company believed in him, in his ambition and in his idea, it even dedicated resources to develop it, test it and to put it into work to encourage other to start taking initiatives as well.
Corporations where failure is not accepted, where people just do what they are supposed to do, where no one takes risks, are in danger: Their jobs are at risk, not because they are going to be fired, but because the market is not waiting for anyone. It’s a matter of time and changing the companies’ inertia of several years is not an easy job.
SmartMonkey has been on numerous different types of corporate open innovation contests: Aigües de Barcelona, Heineken, Cofares, Volkswagen, to name only a few and what I can tell you from my own experience, this is one of the ways to start working with open innovation: As investors are looking for the unicorn, trying to fill their deal flow, corporates have the same hard task; it takes time and it is very difficult to see potential fits between corporations and startups but someone must do it. So, my personal advice for the top management will be to assign one of the most experienced people in the company; someone with the big picture in his mind, someone who knows perfectly the internal processes or at least have experience in several departments, to be responsible of the matching between the company and the startups. He needs to be a leader, to be trustworthy and on good terms with the rest of the employees since he will ask for help, he will ask for favors, or he will have to shortcut the internal bureaucracy. Give that person support and innovation will appear.
Last but not least, my final advice goes to the startups: if you don’t meet people from operations but you just see people from the marketing or communication departments, RUN (Unless your products and services solve marketing issues). Sure, they will convince you by the amount of chances that you stand but trust me, this is just for the picture, no business is planned to be done behind those meetings, they just do it because they must do it. I name that “La farandula emprendedora” – “The entrepreneur show business”. So, believe me, don’t waste your time and run.