Incubating innovation

As corporations continue to recognise the importance of innovation, more and more of them begin to look outside of the box to improve their innovation efforts.

In 2013 the Coca Cola Company launched their Coke Founders platform to help solve ‘shark-bite’ problems the company faces, that is those problems that cause “a whole ‘nother level of pain” according to Coke’s VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, David Butler. Since its launch, Coke founders has partnered with a global network of experienced entrepreneurs, investing in people, not products, selecting the entrepreneur/founder before they develop their start-up. 

By doing this, Coke’s considerable resources become available to experienced entrepreneurs, who use lean methodology and innovative approaches to solve Coke’s shark-bite problems.  A good example of the Founders platform in use was when it addressed Coke’s ‘Out-of-Stocks’ (when stock runs out in a retailers store) problem, which annually cost them around $1 billion in missed revenue.  Coke shared the problem with some San Francisco based entrepreneurs who created an on-demand model that works similarly to Uber, calling it Wonolo.  When a retailer sees they have an empty shelf, they send the job through to Wonolo.  Users of the app can accept the job, pick up the new stock from Coke and deliver it to the store, getting paid through the app just like Uber.  Now, with Wonolo operational, Coke is just one of 70 companies using their service.

Lego takes a different approach to innovation. In 2008 they founded their Ideas Platform, created with the intention of co-creating with the community and gaining access to the multitude of different ideas that consumers have for Lego products.  The platform allows fans to pitch their own ideas for Lego sets, creating an environment where they can gather support from the Lego Ideas community, similar to Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  Those ideas/sets that gain 10,000+ supporters are put up for review by Lego and if approved end up in stores, with the creator of the set being given a percentage of the sales, recognition for the set’s development and five complementary boxes of the end product.  Since it was started the Ideas Platform has lead to numerous products including Minecraft, Lego Architecture and the Ghost Busters 30th anniversary set being released to the market, often allowing Lego to attract consumers from previously untapped market segments.  Lego Ideas is a good example of a large corporation looking outside of their own four walls for ideas and innovative solutions in order to expand their reach and increase their appeal to consumers.

Starbucks runs a similar initiative, also launched in 2008 called ‘My Starbucks Idea’.  The online platform allows people from the public to suggest improvements that they would like to see in Starbucks cafés.  Suggestions then gain support through up-or-down votes from the online community. Those that gain the most support are reviewed by Starbucks and actioned if they fit the brand.  Starbucks’ initiative to offer free WiFi in their cafés was one of these ideas that was suggested and bought to life through the platform. 

IKEA also has a different approach to expediting innovation.  Based in Copenhagen, IKEAs innovation lab, Space 10, operates by bringing together creatives from the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design to explore the major challenges that are faced by people around the world, such as sustainability and energy consumption.  Space 10’s first experiment was the ‘Fresh Living Lab”, which ran over two weeks and revolved around helping people to live healthier, smarter lives.  One of the resulting innovations was “Heat Harvest”, created by design students Sergey Komardenkov from Moscow and Vihanga Gore from Mumbai.  Their device was created to capture wasted heat from everyday objects, such as a coffee mug or a recently used pot, transforming it into free green electricity through thermoelectricity.  Their solution works either as a stand-alone device or can be integrated into household objects such as tables.  One of the displayed uses of the device is to wirelessly charge a phone by harvesting the heat of a coffee jug placed on a table.

Ikea’s Space 10 lab allows the company to experiment with unique ways of solving problems that are faced the world over, giving them the opportunity to resolve them and then commercialise them in ways that are accessible to the mass market.

Early in 2015 Previously Unavailable founder James Hurman had the opportunity to interview Coke’s David Butler.  During the interview he asked him if there was an opportunity for Auckland to be part of the Founders platform. David’s answer was that “any company can do this [model], can go out and work with start-ups to try and get solutions to challenges that they can’t solve internally or quickly”. This is what these models do.  While Butler was specifically talking about the Founders platform, any of these ideas are applicable and usable. They all allow large, established corporations to try solve problems they face from outside of their corporate walls, letting them move faster and work leaner. This is the true key to incubating innovation – working outside of the confines of a corporate environment to be truly innovative.

For more Previously Unavailable ideas and innovations, check out previously.co