Tour of Garden Fresh Farms

Garden Fresh Farms

I was able to meet with a leading start-up and MN Cup Winner Garden Fresh Farms.   As a pioneer in urban farming they are one of our regions leaders in urban farming.   We had an opportunity to tour there Minneapolis facility and see the technology and processes in action.  The first thing that impresses in the layout of the vertical farming system.  The ability to optimize space turning 1 acre into 100 acres of productive farming creates a whole new scale of agriculture.  The conservation of water and use of fish tanks in closed systems also adds to the economy of the production.   Given the indoor nature,  optimized growing conditions can be implemented and it eliminates seasonality and geographic conditions.   These capabilities to produce fresh food sources all year round and reduce transportation costs of traditionally geographically located crops to being produced locally.
The uses for the technology are both boundless, breakthrough, but can also be disruptive.   Given the small footprint of the technology it is possible to place urban farms on top of corporate building, apartments, campuses, or inside of existing building like old warehouses that can be used to renovate older sections of town and create new jobs.  Fresh produce can be available in stores, restaurants, and cafeterias daily and year round.  Lack of growing seasons means steady work in stead of a migratory work force.   Local growth means a massive reduction in transportation that the food industry relies upon now.  These are all benefits but disrupt the status quo of current systems.
Urban Farming Impact
Urban farming is going through many interactions and advancements of technology.  New forms of lighting, filtering, and monitoring is constantly improving a system with waste advantages.   Does technology spell the end of traditional farming.   No,  the need for food production is only going to increase, but with more land being used to raise animals for the growing demographics of meat eaters, this could be a vital companion to traditional farming.  With the new capabilities to produce food in an urban environment now possible, it will be interesting to watch which countries and cities will become the leaders in this area.





MN Secretary of State Visit to Carlson School of Mgmt

DW presenting NorthStarI hosted Minnesota Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, at the Carlson School of Management today to review the North Star Initiative that I have been leading.  This effort is studying Innovation ecosystems and models of Innovation Centers to established potential models and approaches for implementation in US cities.  Our visit today would be to share some of the leading trends and practices from the study and look at potential state support and corporate network contacts that could be engaged in the initative.
One area of immediate alignment was with the World’s Fair initiative being lead by the secretary.   With Minnesota on a path to win the bid to host a World’s Fair by 2023, it puts the state on a tight timeline for a whole spectrum of infrastructure investments.   World’s Fairs have been used by recent fairs for extensive investment in the cities infrastructure to make it more competitive in the future and creative an environment and lifestyle suited to attack talent and investment in the region.
A benefit of building Innovation Centers now is it would allow them to be thriving and driving various cluster level initiatives by the time the fair would bring the world to the MN doorstep.   Bringing international exchange corridors to the centers would also increase the exchange of tech and talent with other countries around the world.   This would increase international partnerships for the fair and set the stage for increasing the development of exchange  corridors to other countries we would host.
While Minnesota has been a cluster leader in areas like high tech and medical device the future lies in the worlds cities that become global cluster leaders and become the centers global networks for trade, tech, and talent.    Innovation Centers are a key component to enable this journey and the build of durable business cluster services that are recognized and relied upon around the world.  While Innovation Centers are springing up around the globe,  Minnesota is trailing behind by a ever widening gap to other states in the USA.   The world’s fair could be an catalyst to invigorate the state around a shared agenda to aspire to a larger leadership role in global business.

Economic dev galleries:

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Society of Continuous Process Design (SCPD) at 3M

3M 2014 SCPD Event

This week I was a speaker at the Society of Continuous Process Development (SCPD) chapter in Minneapolis hosted at the 3M event center.
Many speakers shared internal experiences trying to launch a innovation team.   The event was well tended and I was able to sponsor 4 graduate students from the UMN.  SCPD was started by the government for defense contracts but Steve Jobs brought it to apple and now the community is spreading.
My topic was focused on real world case studies of corporate organizations that had built internal innovation units and the learning from each attempt:
Story Telling
Case Study 1:  Corporate Venture
This was a detailed study of a fortune 100 that started a new venture group as a skunk works team reporting directly to the board.   Given board alignment,  they pursued several new pilots that were building new markets.   With luck and good timing, the first three attempts produced great results.   The problem the organization ran into was that the success created both political and operational problems overall.   Politically, senior LOB leaders resented the innovations and became obstacles in supporting them as those business grew and needed to rely on the enterprise operations.   Attempts where made to try and integrate more people into the innovation process, but that stalled the progress due to the culture clash of people reporting to more than one boss via dotted line relationships.   Finally,  the forth pilot stalled,  it produced fantastic market insights and needed to pivot,  but with no past experience in pivoting it was viewed as a failure and everyone was fired because the innovation team couldn’t guarantee success.    While originally a poster case of innovation,  it demonstrated the dangers of not really changing the overall corporate culture while shifting strategic direction into new markets.
Case Study 2:  Start-up Venture
This study looked at a start-up that build a business platform between adjacent industries which became a massive catalyst for business change and growth across those industries.    It was a success story of both inter sector integration and eventual big data capabilities across the industry.   Initially the start up was viewed as a neutral party that was acting on everyone’s behalf.  In the true spirit of co-opitiion they formed many strategic partnerships and joint investments that propelled the start-ups growth.   As it became clear that this truly was a major innovation in the market, one of the largest partners acquired the start-up.   This proved to be disastrous for everyone.   The start-up team was assimilated into the large corporate structure and the beurocracy stalled the productivity.   The network of partnerships collapsed because neutrality had been lost.   A critical lesson for big companies to learn as their markets are disrupted and evolve.  Market growth is sometimes best shared vs. controlled and limited.
Case Study 3: Independent Venture
This was a case study in an individual with a new consumer electronics product.   They had spent years trying to get investors to off set the cost of partnering with US manufactures.   The proposed costs where in the millions to design and manufacture, plus most of the IP would have to be given to the companies partnering with.   Pivoting on partner strategy vs. product, he began to explore global internet based business bidding sites.  Within a few weeks he had the circuit boards designed in Australia,  manufacturing occurring in China,  brand and marketing out of Argentina, assembly and shipping in the USA and retailing on online commerce sites.   The cost was around $10K in comparison and the timeframe was months vs. years to be in market.   The business is happily growing.   Another good lesson for major corporations to see the power of the global service economy and ease of networking now possible.
I also looked at the Innovation Landscape as a series of 6 major factors that should be considered while designing the business model canvas for a new initiative:
Innovation Landscape
Take aways that resonated across the speakers:
– Need to engage the board to support the innovation initiative.   Bring them into the process and leverage their experiences.
– The Innovation team needs to support the LOB teams.  Make the LOBs successful and be seen as a resource to them.
– Internally, the innovation team needs to run skunk works projects to prototype ideas to have more insights to bring to the business,  there is a great art to running stealth during proof of concepts phases before making thing visible for scrutiny.
– The innovation team needs to staffed appropriately with diverse roles.  Everyone needs time to learn and stay plugged into trends.
– Have virtual team members from the LOBs rotate in and out to become more apart of the culture and build advocates that know the process.
– Create home teams and away teams.   Away teams are out interning customers and in direct contact with the home team that is rapidly incorporating feedback into the ongoing pitch.   Rotate so people meet the customers and work internally.
– Some companies are using 3D printing in product design,  they are making prototypes rapidly and testing with consumers every day.   They make consumer products and take them directly into the home to pilot them for real world feedback.
– Failure is a critical component of exploration.   Success should be measured by the number of pivots and the insights learned about the market, not by artificial metrics.
– Collaboration tools are key,  they must be used across the organization
– Most companies have an innovation portfolio that is more enhancements than disruptive, much less the few who are actually creating new markets.   Need to have good portfolio management that is governed by the board and c-suite to have the backing and mandate to take risk.
See more event images in the gallery

Conversations with Potomac Institute

Potomac InstI connecting with the Potomac Institute to discuss the Northstar Initiative in Minnesota for creating innovation centers.   The resources of the institute are amazing in terms of expertise,  network, and overall reach.   Partnership opportunities abound, but it will be governed by the speed at which Minnesota can move forward in creating the innovation centers and strategic alliances required.



KPMG Minneapolis Innovation Council

KPMG logoI was a speaker / members at the KPMG Innovation Council meeting in Minneapolis today.   I’ve attended several of these meetings in the past and it is a large group of Innovation and Technology directors from the twin cities.   My talk was focused on Innovation trends and the impact and key capabilities needed to be developed by corporations.   This was a great topic to involve this audience in as the Q&A really got the audience participating and sharing what their orgs are doing or how they are approaching key challenges.

Some insight that where shared by the group:

  • Most of the organizations realized that innovation was becoming a key competency to remain relevant and competitive.
  • Most organization where underway,  but struggling to find the right organizational model.
  • Many only had a small skunk works team.
  • Almost all lacked the major capabilities of a mature innovation competency.
  • Many struggled with funding and ROI metrics.
  • Many acknowledged they did not have a culture that understood risk/reward,  exploration, iteration/pivot, or failure/learning in general.  This greatly complicated how people in the innovation areas where treated and the reward/punishment dynamics.
  • Most looked at innovation as an internal function and there was a lot of questions about my examples of corporate collaboration & co-opition.   Though several did say they were starting to put a focus on looking for start-ups.
  • Most didn’t have formalized venture funding models.

One of the other speakers showcased the partnership between Optum, Mayo, and UMN around data sharing and analytics in health care.   As I was working at the UMN,  I had some insights into this collaboration.   This was a great supporting example of how multiple entities could combine assets in a co-opition model where all would benefit and drive their respective business together.   The analytics demo they showed was an amazing example of data visualization of healthcare information.   They where able to visual show patterns and track cause and effect of various conditions and procedural outcomes.    Given they are so far ahead in this area it suggests that some significant disruptions could be coming to the health care industry sooner than later.   Especially when you could see correlation to what insurance pays for and what actually works and the impact or lack there of around pharmaceuticals.

We also had a presentation from the State of MN CIO and Director of Innovation covering their initiatives around public data.   Their goal is to create improved access, integration, and APIs to the public data sources of the state and support the eventual crowdsourcing uses of this data through promotions and contests.   At Microsoft I had worked with a number of companies that where following this model of making some of there data public.   The results I saw where very impressive in terms of the partnerships it attracted and the fantastic solutions that the contests produced that became new solutions for the company.

This group tends to meet quarterly and I’m looking forward to continued participation in the group!





Norway Delegation visits Minnesota


As a follow on to the Minnesota delegation visit to Norway to meet with business and Parliament the MN MIT and Harvard Clubs hosted several Norwegian debates to Minnesota.   The reception was held at Marquette Place and in attendance included the    Mayor of Telemark, Mr. Terje Riis Johansen ( former Minister of Petroleum and Energy.). The Telemark region is developing a business and higher education strategy that focuses exclusively on the Midwest (Minnesota and North Dakota).   Partnerships around business, research, and education are being explored.    A larger delegation of Minnesota representatives is being planned for late summer of 2015.   

Innovation Master Class / 3M & Conference Board

3M innovation center

This week I was a speaker and panelist at the Innovation Master Class hosted at the 3M Innovation center in partnership with Conference Board.   The multi-day event featured top speakers from around the country spanning corporate verticals and institutions.  Topics spanned internal innovation practices,  culture,  cases studies, international, and markets.   Well attended,  the event was very active in networking and had breakouts and tours of the 3M facilities.
My presentation focused on developing Innovation Ecosystems.   I showcased patterns of how corporations, start-ups, universities, institutions, gov agencies and venture groups could co-create in new forms of collaboration and co-opitition.   I looked at the rise of next generation innovation centers and research/industry parks around the globe and broke down core services and platforms needed to make these ecosystems thrive and provide sustainable operations for an innovation culture.
There where many learning and inspirational speakers,  two that really stood out where:
  • Douglas Terrier, Chief Technology Officer NASA:  spoke on the global innovation culture NASA supports and in core to its mission.   NASA is truly in the business of innovation literally going where no-one has gone before.  NASA engages industry and academics around the globe and brings them together in new ways to solve exceptional challenges.   These examples illustrated a path that corporations, universities, and governments need to develop to maintain sustainable relationships for mutual & shared value.   The challenges that NASA is taking on make the current world’s grand challenges seem solvable with mutual benefit and collaboration.
  • Sharon Wong,  Cisco:  Launched the British Innovation Gateway  creating some of the first accelerators in the UK.  They are running large competitions engaging broad groups of start-ups and corporate partners.   The are incorporating recognition, Promote and Reward aspects into their own culture to promote innovation.
Overall Themes that resonated across experts:
  • Innovation requires cultural change
  • Collaboration within and outside of the organization is essential
  • Failure and pivoting is the most valuable part of exploration
  • Disruptive innovation is not the same as creating new markets
  • Innovation is opportunity centric not goal centric
  • The best ideas and opportunities can come from anywhere around the globe
Take away:   The tone of innovation conferences is slowly changing.   Innovation is moving from the “new” to the “now” and becoming business as usual for leading companies.   Competitive advantage of the future may rest with the companies that have built the internal capabilities and business units that can provide the exploration, discovery and integration of the new ideas.    We are a century past the industrial revolution that centered on building cultures of operations and efficiency.   Now we are in a century that has to build new management paradigms around agility and exploration.   Companies have to face the challenge of integrating incentive systems across those two paradigms.   Companies, and countries for that matter, are waking up to the fact that innovation happens around the globe and you won’t remain competitive if you think your future only resides within your corporate walls.   New assets have to be built in terms of global networks, partnerships, and general understanding of the new innovation cultures.
See more images and content from the event in the gallery