Simon Hill, CEO of Wazoku, the award-winning innovation company, tells us the story of the business and the driving forces behind it.
We launched Wazoku in 2011 to help organisations capture, manage and develop ideas, and worked with organisations such as Waitrose, Oxford University and the BBC. But we’ve really evolved our proposition over the years. We acquired US firm InnoCentive in 2020 and Latin American open innovation crowd Channge in Q4 2021, and they now operate as the Open Innovation Marketplace component of our Enterprise Innovation Platform. This is a unique market proposition comprising Idea Management Software, an Open Innovation Marketplace and Innovation Consulting services.
Our platform is explicitly designed to provide sustainable and scalable innovation to enterprises. Our Open Innovation Marketplace is a global network of millions of ‘solvers’ – entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, technologists, CEOs, start-ups and more – that solves challenges on behalf of organisations. It has a success rate of 80%+ and can be used for all manner of challenges, such as how to provide low-cost clean drinking water, or reducing the carbon footprint around industrial chemical production, a recent project for Shell.
How did you decide on the name Wazoku?
Eleven years on from when we launched, this remains the most common question I get asked! Wazoku means ‘great idea’ in Swahili, which seemed like a perfect fit for us as we help organisations crowdsource ideas and innovation. When we first launched, idea management was a nascent sector, and we were bringing something very different to market. I felt that the name should reflect that, hence Wazoku. It’s still an icebreaker and conversation-starter to this day.
You won the silver award for Leader of the Year at the recent UK Business Awards. How would you describe your approach to leadership?
The team would probably be better placed to answer that! I’ve always tried to maintain a flat hierarchical structure and focus on employee development. That doesn’t just mean that I join in the tea-making rounds, but that I’m always approachable and willing to take input from others. The business simply wouldn’t function without that flat structure. And I love seeing team members progress within Wazoku. Our Director of Software Engineering joined us an intern in 2012, and she has consistently progressed and developed during that time, to the point where she is one of the most important members of our team.
I know incentives are important, so we offer a wide range of employee benefits. These include unlimited holidays, office hackathons, flexible working, food & drinks, pension schemes, summer parties, mental health services, Perkbox, training opportunities and much more. But what sets the company apart as a place to work – and something that I’ve always tried to foster – is our longstanding focus on living our own values of being passionate, customer-focused, collaborative and accountable. This means making a positive social impact through our work, a commitment to diversity, a pledge to a more regenerative future and a belief in supporting and nurturing our employees.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Life as a CEO is busy and undoubtedly has its moments of stress. Acquiring a US firm in the middle of a global pandemic was definitely one of them! But I honestly enjoy all the ups and downs of my working life. I’m surrounded by amazing people who are all bought in to what we are trying to achieve and that genuinely makes a difference.
We have an overarching company mission – To Change the World, One Idea at a Time – and adhering to that is very gratifying indeed. What with climate change, health crises, water shortages and more, the world is facing many challenges right now. To play a part in helping to address those is rewarding and enjoyable.
Where to you hope the company will be in ten years’ time? What would be your view of success?
We are building and defining a new category of Enterprise software – developing an Innovation Operating System (OS). That is a big challenge and takes a lot of time as well as sheer determination, sweat and a few tears! Over the next decade we will continue to evolve our vision for the Innovation OS, providing software that helps global organisations to deliver impactful innovation at scale. We are lucky that we get to build incredible software that has a really tangible impact, not only for those who use it, but for the wider world. Over the last 12 months we have helped to drive innovation outcomes that will safeguard hundreds of millions of homes across Indonesia vulnerable to earthquakes, reduce the cost of providing safe, clean drinking water to hundreds of millions globally by over 90%, and advance the shift to green energy solutions with leading firms such as Enel, A2A and more.
Innovation at scale requires both capability and capacity. We are committed to providing the technology solutions to reduce the inherent friction that exists across all aspects of current innovation and change projects within organisations and to developing the capability for global organisations to drive impactful innovation at scale. We are investing significantly in product development, community development and skills development to bring truly valuable solutions to the market that will help our clients to deliver efficient, effective solutions with real value today and into the future. We are focused on helping to change the world, one idea at a time.