How Innovation Labs Can Keep You Ahead Of The Curve

24 November, 2016 / Articles

I’ve written a few times about the growth in open innovation, and the swelling appreciation that companies need to be sat at the heart of innovation ecosystems where they can easily learn from and work with startups, academics and non-profit organizations working in their field.

It’s resulted in a growing number of companies establishing innovation labs to help cultivate this ecosystem, and as the number of labs has grown, so to have attempts to understand them.

For instance, a study published last year that was led by academics from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), looked at a number of innovation labs to try and find similarities among them.

The Key Traits Of An Innovation Lab

It found a degree of commonality between the various innovation labs around the world, with the following traits coming to define what an innovation lab is.

  • ‌Imposed Innovation Topic – so rather than allowing innovations to emerge naturally, innovation labs tend to have a clear topic that they wish to address upon their formation
  • Large Scale Challenges – the labs tend to focus on large and challenging topics rather than smaller or more iterative ones
  • ‌Revolution Rather Than Evolution – this is typified in the desire to revolutionize the field they’re exploring. The labs aren’t really interested in gradual change
  • ‌Autonomous Setup – the labs are generally standalone entities. Whilst many might have sponsorship from various organizations, they seldom sit within any
  • ‌Diverse Participation – the broad aim of each lab is to engage a wide range of participants to encourage heterogeneous participation
  • ‌Collaborative – the labs have a strong collaborative ethos to them in order to uncover the best solutions possible
  • ‌Long Term Perspective – the labs certainly aren’t short-term in their outlook, which is just as well given the ambitious plans many have
  • ‌A Diverse Set Of Tools – the labs generally employ as many approaches and methodologies as is required to get results. Whether that’s prototyping, design thinking, crowdsourcing or RCTs, the labs are open to using whatever it takes
  • ‌Going Beyond Ideation – the purpose of the labs is to create solutions. Therefore, they’re not there just to create ideas, but to be active throughout the innovation process

 

I met up recently with Pete Roney, Chief Innovation Officer at Thales, ahead of his presentation at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in New York, and we discussed the launch last year of xPlor, an innovation lab that aims to help Thales tap into the wider ecosystem.

Building an innovation ecosystem

The platform consists of three core pillars of success.  Firstly, it aims to ensure that the existing capabilities of Thales are fully utilized and there aren’t hidden pockets of expertise siloed away somewhere.

Secondly, the platform aims to support Thales in positioning themselves at the heart of the startup community in areas such as defense, aerospace and security.  Lastly, it attempts to do similarly with the academic community, supporting the development of strong relationships with key institutions.

“Our future, and the future of global enterprises like ours, will be shaped not by the capabilities within, but rather by those of our partners and customers. It is essential for our success that we embrace open collaboration so that we may harness the tremendous strengths of the communities in which we operate,” Roney says.

An early initial success of the platform was the launch of a new product, called DragonFly.  This is a surgical display that is worn on the head to allow surgeons to use augmented reality in their work, whether it’s in the simplification of procedures or enhancing the surgeon’s awareness during the operation.  By utilizing xPlor, the product went from conception to marketplace in just 6 months and is already making an impression in the market.

The team are exploring similar projects in areas such as big data and analytics in the airline industry, and the utilization of AI to support smarter policing.  The initial success of the platform will feed into the launch of xPlor 2.0 later this year, which will increase the capacity of the company to engage with the ecosystem.

Innovation As A Service

Of course, much of this represents a culture shift for many organizations, which has led to companies such as the VTC Group emerging to offer this kind of innovation lab as a service.

They do all of the legwork, whether that’s recruiting the right participants for the lab, following the trends in the industry and ensuring the right dots are connected to one another.  They have already worked with companies such as Lockheed Martin on a cyber security innovation lab that contained over 70 startups and 13 leading universities.

“The virtual nature of the VTC Group means that entrepreneurial IT startups don’t have to consider moving their operations in order to access large corporates, potential customers, partners and advisors. The virtual nature also means that startups benefit from access to large organizations and expert scale up advice through webinars and video master classes. As each Cluster also welcomes SMEs and listed companies, startups are also able to collaborate with smaller, more established companies,” Auriol Stevens, CEO of VTC Group told me recently.

What appears increasingly clear is that whether you manage such innovation labs in house, or outsource it to specialist companies to run for you, innovation is increasingly a contact sport that requires you to leave no stone unturned in your hunt for the next big thing.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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