Why startups and corporates should work on their “innovation fitness”

Startups and larger businesses should approach innovation like a fitness regime, Salesforce vice-president for strategic research Peter Coffee says.

Based in LA, Coffee has been working to build a global community of app developers and innovation leaders to create better outcomes in service and success for businesses around the world.

Speaking at the Melbourne leg of the Salesforce World Tour, Coffee joined innovation heads at York Butter Factory, Australia Post and NAB Labs to discuss ways businesses and startups can drive innovation.

“We were not born innovative,” Coffee says.

Becoming innovative takes a shift in mindset, changes to behaving with technology and a commitment to making things work, he says.

Now a billion-dollar global company, Salesforce still has a global head of startup relations – Ludo Ulrich – whose main responsibility is working with tech startups around the world to help them grow in alignment with the organisation’s own vision.

Ulrich says more than half of the Fortune 100 companies have some type of startup engagement where they make a deliberate effort to interact with the sector.

Salesforce itself has acquired more than 30 startups across major cities around the world such as in India, Japan and Canada.

“Don’t seek [large organisations] as a source of cash but see them as providers of unfair advantage,” Ulrich says.

Exercising with startups

Speaking at the event, Skedula co-founder Matt Fairhurst said working with startups requires companies to adopt a “startup mentality” and principles like working lean, being agile and failing quickly, which can be difficult for big businesses to adopt.

Being open to the startup approach and empowering small teams to work on projects is one way bigger companies can enjoy some of the innovative ideas, products, services and value this can lead to.

“Innovation is essentially creativity and implementation,” York Butter Factory general manager for innovation Shelley Laslett says.

When trying to be innovative, businesses should be clear on what problem they’re trying to solve, why they’re innovating and how the innovation objective supports their broader strategic vision.

“The critical part of that is having a process to go alongside that journey,” Laslett says.

To facilitate this, corporates like Australia Post and ANZ are starting to open more doors to the startup sector.

“Very few are doing it right but a lot of [big corporates] have intent now which previously they didn’t,” Melbourne Accelerator Program director Rohan Workman says.

Shifting mindset

Australia Post chief technology officer Ti Tien Mak says shifting attitudes to become more innovative is not about technology but about having a business model that supports and leverages change.

“The postal industry is 205 years old,” Mak says.

From the creation of trains to the introduction of the internet, postal agencies have been through an incredible amount of disruption, he says.

“What is new is the pace of change and how rapidly that it’s occurring,” Mak says.

To address this at Australia Post, he focuses on figuring out ways to adopt new mindsets whether that be the lean startup approach to business solutions or integrating new ways of working.

The corporate is also launching an accelerator program which will be aimed at connecting great ideas in the startup ecosystem with the scale and reach of Australia Post.

The company also runs ‘intrapreneurship’ programs to cultivate startup mentality to hac solutions within the organisation itself.

Mak says they run “hack days” where selected employees get to pitch their startups in a Shark Tank-style for the opportunity of seed funding and going into an external accelerator.

Other well established organisations like the ABC are also reinventing themselves with startup mentality.

“This process has created such a buzz,” Mak says.

And it puts the responsibility of being innovative to all employees instead of keeping it at the top with the CTO.

“It’s everyone’s job to own this process,” he says.

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