Five things an accelerator can teach enterprises about innovation 

Guest post by Ekaterina Petrova 

Innovation has long been a buzzword in business. The ability to innovate is seen as a marker for success; those that don’t, die. Look at Kodak, Nokia, Motorola – all one-time leaders that failed to innovate and are now shadows of their former selves, if still operational.

Yet for such a desirable asset, the very notion of innovation has a certain intangibility. Everyone knows when they see something innovative, whether it’s a product, service or business model, yet explaining what it is, or how a company can become more innovative, is less clear.

It is vital, however, that businesses can regularly generate ideas. These innovations can be a company’s tool to overcome crisis, opening opportunities to find, analyse and test new products and processes. Having the right tools, the right processes and the right culture is critical in businesses’ ability to implementing innovations that can serve as a decisive factor in outperforming competitors in the future.

As an accelerator that specialises in partnering large corporates with disruptive start-ups for mutual benefit, we spend a lot of time looking at how both enterprises can be more innovative. One thing that we’ve learnt over the years is that there is no tried and tested formula – different tactics work in different organisations, and what has proved successful for one major corporation has not had any impact in another.

There are, however, a number of common themes that keep coming up, irrespective of sector or company size. Of course, culture is at the heart of everything – a conservative, blinkered and arrogant company will always struggle to innovate, as it lacks the receptiveness and hunger to learn that those with a culture of innovation possess.

Five ways to build a culture of innovation

Within that catch-all culture are certain elements that can be put in place. By themselves, they can have a significant impact; together, they can be the foundation for a true culture of innovation, one that empowers even the most traditional of corporations to devise and develop services with the speed of a digital disruptor.

1. The importance of supporting intrapreneurs – we all have our own strengths, and the fact is that some people are naturally better at generating ideas, of being innovative. Within a large corporation, it is important that there is a process in place to identify and support these individuals. This doesn’t equate to special treatment, but rather provides them with opportunities to put forward ideas and develop them, either individually or as part of a team.

2. Why starting small is the best way to grow big ideas – there is nothing wrong with ambition, with wanting to change the world. The issue is, having a big idea can be challenging for other people to understand and buy-in to it.

Being able to explain the value of any innovation is critical to garnering support, and the majority of people will be able to grasp concepts if they can demonstrate tangible gains. The best way to do that is to be able to incubate small ideas that can develop into larger projects.

3. The importance of credible feedback – ideas can be fragile. Too much criticism, too early on can derail promising projects. While feedback is critical to developing a robust idea, it needs to be gathered at the right stages, and from the right sources. One approach would be to develop the initial idea, then secure buy-in from two or three trusted individuals, who can provide feedback and additional input to develop the idea further.

Then it can be rolled out to a slightly larger, more diverse group, and the process begin again. This can be repeated, creating a project that has been road tested thoroughly, has significant backing and momentum and is ready to be shared with the wider organisation as a tangible service.

4. Deploying in real-life scenarios with minimal risk – much of business today is about minimising risk. Many people are scared of making mistakes, not because of the embarrassment, but because they be accused of wasting precious resources. One benefit of partnering corporates with start-ups is that the latter can be introduced to multiple potential users within the organisation.  

They can then road test the start-up’s services in a controlled environment – the corporate gets early access to a potentially valuable product, while the start-up gets live feedback from real users, but all within a controlled, low-risk environment.

5. Celebrate failure – a favourite maxim of start-up culture, celebrating or embracing failure is starting to gain ground in larger corporations. The theory is that, if employees are not afraid of the consequences of failure, they are more likely to take risks, which in turn will lead to more innovation.  

By positioning failure as learning opportunities, rather than as a cause for punishment, corporates can start to develop a culture that is more open to innovating, as they will be more open to the understanding that not all ideas can reach the market, but that they still have immense value.   

Being able to become more innovative is rightly seen as a key ability for enterprises, particularly in the current climate. Following these steps can help those companies to build the culture they need to generate ideas that can become tangible products and services that have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Ekaterina Petrova is Managing Director of GenerationS Corporate Accelerator