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With the explosion of disruptive tech startups who innovate far faster by leveraging their smaller size and advantages in technology, all corporates are now faced with the obvious problem – evolve or become extinct.

We have seen many examples of this such as Blockbuster. In 2000 Netflix CEO Reid Hastings approached the then CEO of Blockbuster John Antioco to sell Netflix for a tiny $50m, Antioco, believing the then loss-making DVD mailing service was too niche and passed. However, there is a huge gulf between being a manager and a visionary and I am sure he is now reminded of the error in his judgment whenever he sees a for rent sign on former Blockbuster branches and a $59.7Bn Market Cap for Netflix.

For a visionary in the upper echelons of a global organization of today, they will be well aware that the concept of “too big to fail” is no longer the case, so Innovation is a pre-requisite of longevity.

Innovation is easier said than done, for a corporate with huge numbers of employees dotted all over the world, with logistical problems such as translating and communicating step change to so many employees (who may have preprogrammed reservations) but to further frustrate the speed of change, there are various other factors such as legacy technology and regulatory issues.

So what do corporates need to do to embark on a journey of innovation?

I was Rainmaking Summit earlier this week. It is an event that is designed to empower corporates to discuss, learn and explore what works, what doesn’t, and what is best for their companies in terms of innovation.

The agenda is structured around three themes designed to provide the practical advice that is most relevant to the individual challenge each corporate face.

  • Dealing with yourselves: looks at internal innovation. Idea generation. Idea validation. And internal communication.
  • Dealing with startups: focuses external innovation. How are accelerators evolving? What makes a good startup? How do you successfully partner with startups?
  • Dealing with everything else: examines the areas where the entrepreneurial environment meets corporate culture. Can you empower entrepreneurs to thrive inside your organization? 

The three themes are split across 3 areas of the event space and consist of simultaneous talks, presentation’s, and workshops.

The first session I attended was How Hackathon? and spent a few minutes listening to the panel discussing what should be done after a Hackathon, for a session at 9 a.m. I felt the talk was too slow paced, I am sure as it progressed it would have gained more momentum, but wanting to cover as much ground as possible (and seeking more action and value) I changed to How Accelerator? walking into a moderately heated debate, with panel members Gary Stewart (Director of Wayra UK – Telefonica‘s startup accelerator) and Roberta (Innovation Manager at Inesa Sanpaolo’s London Hub) who had passionate but differing views on the impact of accelerators. The Panel was very well balanced with Liz Lumley (Managing Director at Rainmaking) and Nektarios (CEO at Startupbootcamp FinTech) also providing interesting opinions and insights.

After the panel discussion, a gentleman in the audience (who clearly was an elder statesman in the banking world) explained that 20 years ago the major banks joined together for a FinTech project that didn’t work because of regulation and he feels that unless regulation keeps up with innovation then he feels history will repeat itself in that most FinTech products will not scale.

Next up was a workshop to define the key stakeholders in an accelerator. My immediate observation was that in my group (made up of mainly corporate people) there was one person who self-appointed themselves to pretty much single handily do the task, with the rest of the group remaining largely silent and making no contribution other than an occasional nod of their head in agreement. There was no pause to introduce each other or even identify each other’s experience or strengths and then strategically contribute equally. I found this fascinating and believe this is reflective of corporates, in that there are the usual “loud people” who feel they are the smartest and everyone else runs in the direction they point to, without stopping to ascertain if it is the right way to run.

After a short break, I then attended the “How Culture?” panel discussion, on how to bring entrepreneurial culture to an organization. It was an interesting panel moderated by Ghela Boscovich and made up of Ricky Knox (Founder of Tandem), Natasha Kyprianides (Head of Innovation at Hellenic Bank), Kristian Hart-Hansen (from LEO Innovation Lab) and Emilie Stage Tingskou (Director at Novozymes).

I really enjoyed the discussion, Ghela made a great point “You have to determine what you are, before you determine what you do” as did Emelie “You have to communicate what success actually looks like to your team” and Kristian “Bring in people who want to be empowered but also are prepared to be accountable for delivering”

I also loved Ricky’s plugging of Thriva (who he has angel invested in) Thriva is a Seedcamp portfolio company that provides blood tests by post giving a personalized health report. Ricky explained the founder had the idea whilst working for Tandem and Ricky not only supported him to leave and launch, he also invested in him. I feel this is remarkable and a testament to an open culture at Tandem, because employees have entrepreneurial ambitions and ideas, but their CEO would be the last person they tell, for fear of looking uncommitted or distracted.

There was another workshop afterward to build a marshmallow tower and this was followed by a very healthy and tasty lunch.

After lunch, I attended the “How Work?” panel discussion, which debated the future of work.

The panel was moderated by Catherine Stagg-Macey and made up of Neville Bourke (HR Director at Bank of Ireland), Will Bentinck (Founder of Makers Academy), Georg Runge (from Tech Venture) and another chap who stepped in for Mike Francis (from Tesco) who was unable to attend.

Neville said “We spent the last century turning humans into robots and now we are turning robots into humans” he also explained that it is now essential to “Change your specialism every 10 years” and that he feels that “The concept of a 30 year career on the back of one skill is gone” he believes “What separates you is your ability to deploy around the “4 C’s” of Communication, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Creativity”

Will said that he feels “There’s a big difference between agreement and alignment” and that the reason software empowers startups to have an advantage over corporates is because software engineers can admit mistakes and say “Hey I made a mistake, now how are we going to collectively solve it”

Again wanting to cover as much ground as possible, I switched to the How Engagement? Panel discussion, which was moderated by Rachel Barnes (from The Future Laboratory) and the panel was made up of Conrad Poulson (Founder of Huq Industries), Jordan Schlipf (Partner at Rainmaking), Vaidas Adomauskas (CEO of WoraPay) and Diane Perlman (CMO at MassChallenge)

This was an interesting discussion around how corporates can best collaborate to achieve successful MVP’s, pilots and investments.

Diane explained that large corporates send their staff to spend time at MassChallenge because they want them to soak up startup culture.

Afterward, there was an interactive workshop to define how best corporates innovate, communicate and collaborate with startups.

The day was ended by a ceremonial funeral, to symbolically bury barriers to cooperate innovation.

To further set the scene there was a marching brass band, whilst canapés and wine were served for the corporate “mourners” whilst Buzzwords, Bullshit and Bureaucracy were laid to rest. A unique ending to a unique event!

Corporates know why they need to change but struggle to grasp how to change and Rainmaking Summit certainly helped many of these dilemmas start to be answered.

What I liked was the humility of the event, many events I have been to are full of speakers who regurgitate the same old stuff and people leave feeling they didn’t gain more value than a handful of business cards. I very much doubt anyone who left Rainmaking Summit felt that way, everyone in attendance was submerged into a day of tackling and solving the key problems relevant to them.

Clearly, a huge amount of planning and thought went into the concept of the day and I felt the event was a huge success and a strong foundation from which to build upon for future events. Well done Rainmaking Summit!

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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