The journey of corporate officers to participate in a regional innovation center can seem like a long road to ROI. Officers that I have spoken with where strong skeptics of the value proposition and time horizons. The level and ways of participating were very unclear initially. Paying forward in both the regional capabilities and for services seemed a risky proposition. Not being able to predict, plan or guarantee success in the innovation space also seemed like a minefield to navigation. Those brave enough to explore the potential have now become the strongest advocates for the model. Let’s explore the types of value they discovered on the journey:
- Paying upfront: In the philanthropic phase of center development created new regional capabilities around registration, data collection and ultimately visibility into the opportunities within the region. This created a platform to discover start-ups, corporate partners, international partners, investors, mentors, subject matter access, industry expertise, new channels, new commercialization capabilities, etc.
- Deal Flow: The data platforms allowed early access to the funnel of start-ups, ideas, and partnerships. This allowed for a competitive advantage in getting early access to the most innovative ideas in their developmental stage. The opportunity to act early became empowering and a key input tor strategic planning of corporate direction and investments
- Disruptive Innovation: Early access to deal flow could also identify disruptive ideas and trends that business would need to prepare for. Again critical opportunity to act or plan accordingly
- Partnerships: By offering directly at the center, with dedicated staff, companies placed themselves at the nexus of deals, ideas, and partnerships
- Co-opitition: By directly collaborating with other companies at the center, strong collaborative relationships where formed. Exploration, ideation, investments, and risk could be shared between B2B partnerships. The ability for consortium partners to invest in a much larger portfolio of innovation and bring all the support and assets of the consortium for commericalizing at less cost/time became a reality
- Research: Academic institutions providing training and research programs directly into the centers made these immediate accessible for start-ups and corporations
- International Networks: Global companies and government delegations frequently visit centers and directly office and invest. Opportunities abound for international joint ventures and market access
- Talent Development: Corporations can rotate personnel into the centers to expand their access to ideas and trends. Training and mentoring opportunities to develop new skill sets. Sponsoring students as interns working on corporate projects is a good way to develop new talent for recruitment.
- Culture Shift: Integrating more corporate talent into the center can help shift older culture norms to stay current with prevailing business trends and agility of organizations
- Fund of Funds: New funding models letting investment sit in portfolios of start-ups can spread the risk and scale the number of new ideas corporations have a vested interest in
- Internal Projects: Internal projects of a corporation can access the services, labs, research, and subject matter experts of the centers
- Analytics: The combined resources of the corporate members can help in more extensive market analytics and research.
- Industry Parks: Have corporate facilities and personnel in the a joining industry parks speeds collaboration and in accessing the centers
- Best Practices: Methodologies, processes, research ,etc are all learning opportunities for corporations to adopt these practices internally
- Boards: Joint boards of cross industry expertise can help board members stay on the pulse of innovation and organization needs of their own companies
Seeing existing center swelling with corporations having dedicated office space and personnel. The number of corporate facilities being built in the adjacent industry parks. The number of joint ventures and joint patents. The number of start-ups being accelerated, incubated, and commercialized through the centers are all good indicators of the attraction of the value propositions. In some examples, corporations are relocating their global HQs to the industry parks seeing that the advantages at being at the nexus is critical to their business success and influence in the market. In less than a few years most centers outgrow their facilities due to demand.
Many companies today participate in centers across the globe. For many this experience leaves them wondering why they don’t exist in their own region. For the corporate officers evaluating the journey, it is not a matter of speculative investment but and imperative to have the strategic advantage of participation, engagement, and influence at the centers.