With software challenging conventional business strategies in virtually every industry, innovation is becoming not only a priority, but a necessity for many of the world's largest organizations. New technologies are enabling products and experiences that previously could only be dreamed of. However, the opportunity is not without great challenges to bare.
Below, we evaluate the strategies and approaches of the most innovative organizations. This list is in no particular order.
French aerospace, defense and security firm Thales, recently launched Thales xPlor to search for partnerships and technologies that can help grow Thales’s businesses. The xPlor team identifies promising ideas, tests them with customers, and develop them into solutions that can turn into businesses. CEO Allan Pellegrini describes this program as “a catalyst for connecting our initiatives at Thales to all of the exciting entrepreneurial ideas flowing from research institutions and small business startups in the U.S.” One pioneering product is the Dragonfly, an augmented reality display originally used by military fighter pilots, and now successfully being implemented by Texan neurosurgeons.
Leaders: Pete Roney (CIO)
Imagine you could have a say in the latest innovations and creations of your favorite food brands like Cheerios, Häagen-Dazs or Pillsbury. Well, in fact you can. G-Win Digital, an off-shoot of G-Win (General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network) seeks the public’s input and ideas in emerging technologies and digital capabilities. A big believer in connected innovation, General Mills successfully partners with external innovators, startups and consumers for current product enhancements and new product development.
Hallmark founder J.C. Hall has built a multi-billion dollar business built on creativity, collaboration and innovation. With over 25,000 books in it’s library and 5,000 art supplies at their fingertips, they have been keeping their customers inspired for decades. If however, the company's creativity happens to stray, employees can also tap into the LEap (Learning Exploring and Prototyping for Tomorrow’s Hallmark) Lab. Here they can use the latest technology and prototyping tools, including access to a 3D printer and a wood shop, to test their hands at new product innovations.
Leaders: Paul Barker (SVP Digital Innovation)
Learn More: Innovation at Hallmark
Intel is one of the most successful and innovative companies of all time. However, having mostly missed the boat on the mobile revolution, this tech giant is determined to anchor down in the IoT (Internet of Things) market which is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2020. Through its IoT Platform, Intel aims to accelerate IoT innovation by delivering to market faster, decreasing solution complexity and offering customizable and repeatable building blocks for devices to deliver data to the cloud.
Cultivating a customer-centric mindset was a key component to growth at Ingersoll Rand, when Paul Camuti took to the newly appointed Vice President of Innovation position. In 2012, revenue from innovational totaled $3.3 billion. That same year, a lab opened in the Czech Republic focused exclusively on research and development and improving time to market. Installing GPS systems in golf carts that can be used to calculate yardage or order a sandwich before the next hole, is just one example of this diverse company delivering innovative new products.
Leaders: Paul Camuti (SVP of Innovation and CTO), Michael Wynblatt (VP, Innovation and Emerging Technology)
Learn More: Innovation at Ingersoll Rand | Innovation Drives Growth at Ingersoll Rand | Engineering and Technology Center
LumenLab is the hub for innovation at MetLife. Originally considered a gamble for this 145 year old enterprise, the Singapore-based lab continues to prove the success of experimentation. Through its LimenLab, this leading provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs develops new products to better serve its Asian market’s needs. Adopting the startup culture of Silicon Valley, MetLife creatively adapts western-centric innovation to cater to the health and wealth requirements of its Asian customers.
Leaders: Gary Hoberman (EVP and Co-CIO), Tom Wolf (EVP and co-CIO), Jim O'Donnell (EVP and CTO)
Learn More: LumenLab | MetLife Invests in Innovation Center to Redefine Insurance Industry in Asia | MetLife takes a gamble on startup culture
Through My Starbucks Idea, customers’ ideas such as free birthday treats, cake pops and mobile payment drives-thrus are brought to life. The current tally is at 277 ideas and it continues to grow. This omnipotent coffee corporation has taken coffee to the cloud, with its innovative Clover coffee machines that digitally control temperature and brew time, update recipes according to customer data and record barista performance. Starbucks also plans to make coffee the first sustainably sourced agricultural product in the world. Who knows what they’ll brew up next.
Just one innovative development lab is not enough for this powerhouse retailer. Staples now boasts three labs in total: Sustainable Innovation Lab (research committed to reducing the environmental impact of office supplies), Velocity Lab (a race car themed workspace that fosters collaboration with a focus on mobile commerce), and Development Lab (tapping into start up talent on the West Coast). Staples is fast taking over the ecommerce space with accelerated time to market. In just 9 weeks the Innovation Lab launched digital wallets – Staples’ fastest deployment ever.
Through Simply Innovate, members of the public are invited to step up to the plate and help this electronics giant innovate. Philips believes that great ideas often come from outside the company and is open to collaboration with the community as well as with academic and industrial partners. At its Innovation Open Contest, participants from around the world were invited to pitch their novel technological ideas. First place went to four industrial design students from the UK with the potential to revolutionize oral health care through their ultrasonic technology.
Leading sportswear company, Reebok, is one of the frontrunners of innovative apparel engineering. "At Reebok, we are committed to technological and engineering innovations that will help people be fit for life," says Paul Litchfield, Head of Advanced Concepts. In 2014 Reebok was named CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award Honoree for its cutting edge Checklight designed in collaboration with MC10. This innovative skullcap uses multiple motion sensors to create actionable impact data used to determine an athlete’s physical condition before continuing play.
Leaders: Matt Montross (Director of Development - Advanced Concepts at Reebok), Bill McInnis (Vice President, Reebok Future at Reebok), Kevin Leary (Director of Product Development, Innovation at Reebok)
The Thomson Reuters Labs is a “vibrant innovation centers that supports academic research projects in partnership with world-class universities and accelerate tech start-ups.” With its newest Waterloo Lab, Thomson Reuters looks to turn its one-off start up relationships into long-term commitments, setting down roots in this high tech hub. The $12.5 billion information solutions company is making a rapid shift from acquisition to innovation from within. Drawing from a newly created catalyst fund, innovation has taken center stage with newly appointed innovation champions, an innovation network and enterprise innovation workshops all playing key roles.
NBC Universal Technology Center is the catalyst that keeps this global media and entertainment giant at the forefront of innovation. Designed specifically to foster collaboration and co-creation between its offices across the world, this $17 million investment is a lab for innovative technologies. To complement this initiative, Media Labs is a secondary space that works with start-ups, venture capitals and research groups to develop new ideas.
Healthcare giant, Kaiser Permanente’s Innovation Consultancy takes a customer-centric approach to healthcare innovation. The team uses drawing, writing and photography to record how healthcare professionals interact with each other and with patients. This unique blend of anthropology, journalism and customer empathy creates a treasure trove of qualitative data which can be used to improve the health care service reaching 8.6 million members. The Garfield Center, equipped with an entirely virtual medical-surgical unit, from waiting room to radiology suite, is where innovative ideas and practices are tested developed in their native environment.
Leaders: Chris McCarthy (Director at the Innovation Consultancy)
Global healthcare leader, Johnson & Johnson, has joined forces with entrepreneurs around the world to positively impact human health through innovation. This takes place at their hubs in Boston, California, Shanghai and London, where scientists, academic institutes and biotech startups combine new ideas, the latest in medical technologies, healthcare products and pharmaceuticals. This behemoth company recognizes how crucial providing the best care possible to patients around the world is, and their innovation centers keep them at the cutting edge of these healthcare solutions.
Learn More: J&J Innovation homepage
In a bold move, Ikea has invited potential disrupters to innovate and create right beneath their nose, and on their tab, too. The Swedish furniture incumbent recently launched Space 10 - themed labs that run for three months at a time and provide innovators from across the world the platform to present and brainstorm the latest in urban living prototypes. Whether these prototypes mature into products or not, Space 10 helps Ikea stay on the pulse of consumer trends inhome design and ahead of possible market disruptions.
Proving you can’t put a price on the value of innovation, world leader in education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has launched a cool $100 million innovation fund for the development and delivery of tailored learning solutions and technologies. Their HMH Labs, which serves 50 million students, teachers and adult learners worldwide, has firmly established this education giant in the lucrative edtech market. The purpose of the labs, says CTO Brook Colangelo, is “to rapidly simplify the delivery of educational technology solutions in the classroom and at home.”
Leaders: Claudia Reuter (SVP Labs)
From associates equipped with First phones (walkie talkies that can also process card payments), Paypal Wallet payment options and updated self-checkout facilities, Home Depot’s innovative technologies make the purchasing experience a pleasure. The engineers, analysts and scientists at acquired start up Black Locus, comprise the innovation team behind such development. Additionally, Home Depot collaborates with students at Georgia Tech through its debut research and development based research center, The Home Depot Technology Center, to bring in a steady stream of young, fresh ideas.
Leaders: Jeff Jacobs (Director of BlackLocus)
eBay CEO John Donahoe has kept eBay ahead by bringing in new entrepreneurial talent from over 20 acquisitions in just three years. This fresh creativity has lead the Innovation and New Ventures Group to introduce exciting new technologies such as Connected Glass, a digital storefront that window shoppers can browse and buy off even when the store is closed. Many of these technologies stem from eBay’s secret innovation lab, aka the “bat cave” nestled inconspicuously between the Campbell public library and historical museum.
In 2013, Delphi Automotive, a $20 billion vehicle components manufacturer opened Delphi Labs @ Silicon Valley to strengthen partnerships and invest in startups. The lab hosts 10 employees - mostly engineers working on in-car entertainment and information systems. By branching out from it’s Gillingham, UK headquarters, the company is closer to it’s customers as well as new technologies that have the power to re-shape the industry.
Daimler Business Innovation is a lab dedicated to the development of new business models in the automotive industry. The team in the lab aim to recognize trends early in order to create new products and businesses. There is also a platform which enables any Daimler employee to submit ideas. One of the success stories of the lab is Car2go, the largest car sharing company in the world as of 2015.
With “the bank for a changing world” as its slogan, BNP Paribas truly lives up to its reputation for innovation. In 2014 “The Hall of Next” showcased an impressive array of internal innovation projects for increasing productivity and customer offerings. Key to this innovation is l’atelier lab that connects startups and major companies for the co-production of digital products and services through coaching, mentoring and up to 100k€ funding. Additionally, the Cardif lab does research, co-creation workshops and innovation conferences.
Leaders: Héloïse Lauret (Head of Innovation)
Amid significant innovation in the financial services industry, BBVA has named digital banking head Carlos Torres Vila as president & COO and charged him with responsibility for leading a fresh management team for which technology transformation is identified as the bank's "main strategic priority". The group is working on incubating new digital products and businesses. In addition, BBVA has acquired banking startup, Simple, hosts startup competitions to expand their reach, and invests in startups via their Venture Capital arm.
Leaders: Scarlett Seiber (SVP of Global Business Development), Gustavo Vinacua (Innovation Center Director), Jose Olalla Hevia (Head of Business Development and Digital Transformation USA), Carlos Torres Vila (CEO)
More Disruption Please (MDP) is an initiative by Athenahealth to connect like entrepreneurs, companies and investors bent on reinventing the healthcare industry. The program is comprised of three pillars. MDP Accelerator gives startups a headstart with exclusive access to a wealth of resources, clients and over 64,000 providers; athenamarketplace delivers innovative third party apps and solutions; and MDP Network fosters collaboration and sharing of ideas by means of community events.
Leaders: Mandira Singh (Director of More Disruption Please)
Learn More: MDP homepage
CVS launched it’s Digital Innovation Lab in Boston to develop cutting-edge digital products to improve it’s customers shopping and health experience. The primary focuses of the Lab include mobile, personalization, multi-channel e-commerce, connected health and digital therapeutics. CVS Health furthers its innovation efforts through partnerships with promising startups and mature companies alike in the digital and health care space.
Leaders: Brian Tilzer (Chief Digital Officer)
Since 1923, Disney has been at the forefront of entertainment technology innovation. The company continues to push through technological limits, bringing creativity to life in ways never seen before. Disney Accelerator provides exclusively chosen companies a range of resources and creative expertise to fast track their own innovative new entertainment experiences and products. Disney has also established Disney Research Labs and ID8 Labs to further fuel its adoption of technology.
7-Ventures is 7-Eleven’s venture capital arm, focused on investing in consumer-facing technologies that compliment 7-Eleven’s core business by improving the experience of shopping at their stores. They have partnerships with such e-commerce players as Amazon and Walmart. With Amazon, they're bringing the popular Locker program into 7-eleven stores. They've also invested in startups like Belly (a loyalty card firm) and KeyMe (a digital locksmith).
Fidelity is one of the world's largest providers of financial services, with assets under administration of $4.7 trillion. And for financial services companies, the need to look outside the office for emerging technologies is becoming clear. That’s where Fidelity Labs comes in. The lab aims to identify new technologies and incubate solutions that can help the firm stay ahead of the curve. Some of the technologies on their radar include wearables, robotics, artificial intelligence, and crypto currencies. Fidelity Labs applies Lean and Design thinking to build products that meet their customers’ needs.
Coca-Cola describes its Founders initiative as a “pre-seed, co-creation platform.” This is different from an internal accelerator or a corporate venture capital initiative, in that they are partnering with entrepreneurs (outside the company) before they have a company or even an idea. Coca-Cola is opening the kimono to the company’s most important and valuable challenges for entrepreneurs to solve. The company also provides connections to executives in their business units and access to Coca-Cola’s relationships, resources and reach. All this before an entrepreneur even has an idea! In return, Coca-Cola gains access to innovative ideas, entrepreneurial minds outside of their company, and (hopefully) solutions to their biggest business problems.
Leaders: David Butler (VP Innovation)
As the digital arm of the Westfield Corporation, a $20B retail shopping center company, Westfield Labs aims to create and integrate the next generation of shopping technologies. Westfield Labs’ incubation spaces exist inside the malls themselves. There the team launches new experiments in an effort to learn more about their customers and how to combine online and physical retail experiences in the most valuable way possible. One of their tests involved giant “shoppable” screens set up in the Westfield Centre in San Francisco. They partnered with Ebay to offer customers the ability to swipe through products on the screens and then either find those items in specific stores within the mall, or order them from their own mobile devices.
Leaders: David Blumenfeld (SVP)
Google Ventures, is the venture capital investment arm of Alphabet. The firm operates independently from Google and makes investment decisions primarily for financial gains (rather than strategic opportunities with the parent company). Google Ventures has $2.4 billion under management and has invested in 300 companies, a number of which have achieved billion dollar valuations, including Uber. After it invests, it provides portfolio companies with access to operational help with design, product, marketing, and engineering.
Many of Google’s most successful products, including Android, YouTube, Maps and Analytics, have originated from acquisitions. However it’s acquisitions are not a replacement for other methods for growth and innovation, they are instead quite complimentary. Google's acquisition strategy achieves multiple objectives for the organization. One aspect of Google's acquisition strategy that is particularly unique and effective is it's effort to acquire companies with entrepreneurial people and cultures that match their own. Google has acquired more than 180 companies for a total of over $24.5 billion.
Leaders: Don Harrison (VP of Corporate Development)
X is an experimental product development lab where projects such as self-driving cars and Google Glass have been hatched. It marks Google’s first significant excursion from software and first investments in futuristic “moonshot” projects. X is exemplary of the company’s willingness to put short-term earnings at risk in order to create the next big breakthroughs in business and technology.
With e-commerce changing the shape of retail, it’s no surprise that WalMart, the world’s largest retaier, would bring its chips to the table. WalmartLabs incubates next generation e-commerce solutions to help customers across the globe. They’re facing online competitors head on by bridging the gap between the separate worlds of offline and online shopping.
Leaders: Jeremy King (CTO and SVP of @WalmartLabs)
Adobe Kickbox is an innovation process originally developed for Adobe alone, and then open-sourced so any company can use it. It is both a process for individuals and a system for deploying across an organization. It’s designed to increase the effectiveness of innovation, accelerate the innovation itself, and improve innovation outcomes. When Adobe launched Kickbox, they sent boxes to 1,000 employees all over the organization. Each contained a pre-paid credit card for $1,000 to be used to validate ideas, instructions on how to do it, tools to make it easier, and finally, a Starbucks gift card and a candy bar. Kickbox is about providing simple, concrete steps for getting big ideas off the ground.
Leaders: Mark Randall (VP of Creativity and Creator of Kickbox)
MasterCard has a reputation based on stability and security - which doesn’t play well with the process of innovation. That’s why MasterCard Innovation Labs was built. It serves to be a space where employees can safely work on innovative new ideas. Labs is charged with looking ahead to market opportunities, taking risks, failing smart, quick, cheap, and learning something along the way. The products developed at the lab are ideally shared with the broader MasterCard organization.
The Marriott Innovation Lab is located two stories below the company’s headquarters and is dedicated to new product innovation. It offers rapid prototyping with instant feedback capabilities and multiple avenues for customer participation. There is also a floor-to-ceiling white space which offers a clean slate for anyone – whether architect, designer, employee, or customer – to share their ideas.
Idea House is an open platform for inventors from across the nation. Anyone can submit their unique ideas. Under Armour provides their strong brand association to help bring great products to market. They invite the top 20 submissions from Idea House to present their ideas at the Future Show. The winners get a contract with Under Armour along with the tools and resources to help get those products to market.
Citi Ventures, referred to as the “innovation engine” of Citi, seeks to conceive, launch and scale new ventures with the potential to transform the future of the financial services industry. They invest in startups, pilot new technologies, and work collaboratively to test new products and business models through the Citi Innovation Labs and Citi businesses. If you've payed for a product or service using Square, you’ve used a product that Citi Ventures invested in.
Leaders: Debby Hopkins (CEO of Ventures)
FastWorks is a program introduced to GE in 2014 that combines a set of tools and practices designed to build better products for customers, faster. It’s built upon the principles in Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup” methodology. In the first year of FastWorks implementation at GE, Ries trained about 1,000 GE executives on Lean Startup principles. One of the main objectives of FastWorks is to decrease cycle time for product development in order to learn more, faster.
To stay on top of the latest technologies and opportunities in financial services, The American Express Innovation Lab is developing new products to appeal to consumers in new segments. The group is experimenting with facial recognition software, wearable devices, and mobile payments, often focused on customers traditionally underserved by financial services companies.
Partnering with or investing in innovators outside the bounds of a large organization is an approach many companies have taken. Samsung, one of the world’s largest electronics companies has applied the accelerator model to doing so. The Samsung Accelerator provides capital, and product and strategic support to entrepreneurs building market-driven software. Samsung’s portfolio of companies are hard at work creating new user experiences that respond to emerging needs in the virtual reality, the internet of things, payments, and consumer wearables technologies.
BMW Ventures is not your average corporate venture capital team. Instead of just investing, BMW ventures serves as a customer to their startups and provides them with access to suppliers, advisers and team members in the automotive industry. However collaboration with startups is not restricted to companies in the automotive sector. It extends to any technologies that can applied to automotive.
Leaders: Matthias Meyer (Founder and Head of BMW startup garage)
The financial services industry has shown two indications of the possibility for disruption: unsatisfied customers and extreme profitability. Fortunately for Capital One they’ve made innovation a major priority. Capital One Labs is venturing to build the next generation of financial products by partnering with Capital One business teams to tackle their biggest challenges. Capital one also invests in startups via its Growth Ventures teams.
From Henry Ford’s famous quote about building a faster horse to the assembly line, Ford has been at the peak of innovation since it’s inception. And the innovation continues with their investments in digital technologies. Ford is now sourcing and developing technologies to bring their automobiles into the 21st century. Specific areas of focus include in the areas of autonomous driving, car connectivity, human-machine interface, smart mobility and big data.
Learn More: Innovation Center homepage | About the Center | Ford thriving amid techie neighbors in Silicon Valley | Ford Goes Open Source to Speed App Development | Ford accelerates tech efforts with new Silicon Valley lab | The OpenXC Platform
Pearson’s Future Technologies team works on identifying technologies and building prototypes that may have the potential to reshape the future of education. In addition to the research the development of new technologies, the group helps teams across Pearson find innovative solutions to challenges in their line of business and builds partnerships with promising startups in the edTech community to introduce them to groups within Pearson.The company also has implementation coaches that help product teams create and run experiments across all stages of the product lifecycle.
Retail giant, Lowes’s, started it’s innovation lab to provide more technology driven solutions to their customers their beyond the physical products they sell in stores. Projects include augmented reality to allow customers to “walk” through a floor plan of their dream home and robots that help shoppers navigate the store quickly and easily. CMO Tom Lamb describes their approach: “The strategy that we’re pursuing is creating a deep connection with our customers through meaningful messaging.”
Hearst is one of the nation’s largest diversified media, information and services companies with more than 360 businesses. One might think 360 is enough, but to innovators at the company, it’s not. In addition to venture capital investments and M&A, Hearst includes the Hearst Health Innovation Lab, which is a part of Hearst Health, and aims to improve patient experiences by utilizing product concept prototyping and market evaluation internally as well as with external companies, entrepreneurs and inventors. Each year in the U.S., care guidance from the Hearst Health network reaches 84 percent of discharged patients, 177 million insured individuals, 44 million home health visits, and 4 billion prescriptions.
Leaders: Justin Graham (Chief Innovation Officer)
After acquiring self-driving car startup, Cruise Automation, for over $1 billion, and investing $500 million in ride sharing startup, Lyft, General Motors made an even bolder move by establishing a new business division called Maven. Maven is an engineering team dedicated autonomous driving as it pushes to build self-driving cars and other connected car technology. Thinking about the future of transportation, GM is clearly staying ahead of the curve.
Gamespot Technology Institute (GTI) is an innovation lab whose main focus is collaborating with leading technologists and academic institutions. One result, PowerUp, enables GameStop store shoppers to aim their phones at beacons by Microsoft to obtain product information, game overviews, and video game trailers. Every customer with the GameStop app who is also a PowerUp user is greeted with a customized message containing discount info, as well as promotions related to their personal interests or items on their wish list. These are just a few of results of the collaboration GTI has enabled.
Leaders: Jeff Donaldson (SVP)
Learn More: GameStop Launches the GTI | Location Spurs Innovation At GameStop | GameStop Is Taking Retail Innovation To The Next Level | GameStop In Partnership With Researchers And IBM To Improve Customer Services
This $94 billion pharmacy benefit management company is, in the words of CIO Gary Wimberly, “a technology company that happens to focus on the PBM [pharmacy benefit management] space”. This healthcare behemoth leads through a scientific, test and learn approach. Recently Express Scripts effectively addressed the $8 billion in annual pharmaceutical waste by developing Express Path, a new tool enabling physicians to manage 100% of prescription spend, rather than rely in part on the medical space.
Leaders: Gary Wimberly (CIO)
EMC’s Innovation Network, led by the Office of the CTO, seeks to solve the company’s most pressing business problems. Their Innovation Roadmap outlines the process. The roadmap begins with executives posting challenges. Then, in a competition- like manner, employees then submit their solutions and winners are chosen. Those winners present at an Innovation conference whose participants are partners, customers, and other external stakeholders in addition to EMC employees. Those solutions then enter the incubation period where the idea is prototyped and tested before implementation.