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#BostonInnovationFest Day 1: Patterns and Perspectives

Divestiture is the new specialization device in corporations.

A number of years ago we were involved in the branding of a divestiture from Fiserv, Stoneriver Software Solutions. It was a billion dollar startup spun out of a ten billion dollar financial services software company. This was the start of my fascination with divestitures — and what it means for spin-off and the spun-off from brand.

Our first panel is Alexa Dembek and Neal Gutterson facilitated by David Matheson. It is the classic story of two becoming one, then becomes three. Dow, Dupont merge to become one large business, then split into three. Corteva, Dow and Dupont. We get to see old, heavy industrial, becoming new, fresh and curious.

Yes, curious in agriculture.

“Whats” and “Hows”. What are we going to work on? How do we go there? If you work on the how without having the what defined — it leaves you aimless. Alexa Dembek, speaking to how they structure innovation at DowDupont.

Agriculture is going to look dramatically different in twenty years; how is Corteva going to prosper in this new environment? Having clarity as to why we’re investing in certain areas — essential to know where you’re innovating, from Neal at Corteva.

Is it real, can we win, and is it worth it? Easy to say, hard to actually do.

DowDupont uses The Learning Machine; two people, one technical, one business; interview with 100 people; Kevlar in new markets; and all front end discoveries. After this “The Learning Machine” team came back with results, the decision was “no investment” because the market wasn’t there.

The brand triplicate (Dow, Dupont, Corteva) should talk to Facebook on splitting?

The world didn’t organize opportunities for innovation around the structure of businesses? Well, well, very well said Alexa. Science and materials by DowDupont, in one area they are the leading supplier of probiotics — this came from an external partnership effort when the team was open to outside ideas. The larger the organization, the harder it is to make dramatic changes, like those that come with innovation.

The spinning off from a larger corporation creates new energy, breaks old norms and has the potential to dramatically improve culture. Doing it deliberately, with a focus on what splits and how that sets a path for the historical and new venture, individually.

After the panel we had three MIT solvers share these three ventures:

Olivier Ceberio talking about an MIT Sloan school project — to source energy from ocean waves and bring energy to communities where access is nascent.

Melisa Corto starting Education Modified — cleaning up the data mess in special needs classrooms. Kids with special needs is the most vulnerable and likely to be forgotten population. Melisa’s technology simplifies the transfer of data between teachers about students with special needs.

Ram Katamaraja, Refractored AI, is using advanced technology for workforce professional training in underserved populations.

The networking app Brella Network needs credit for reconnecting me with Mike Hatrick, Volvo Trucks. We connected at table seven, he dropped a big one on me. Autonomous Volvo Trucks, in a design ideation effort with LEGO they discovered kids were frightened by the robotic nature of their truck innovations. They gave ‘transformer’ signals and the kids feared what they had hoped they’d love. So, the team added smiles and eyes, to humanize the technology for the surrounding community. Robots are scary if they don’t exhibit human behaviors and cues — this was a great drop in conversation. More on this important discovery, soon.

Chris Hintermeister, an innovator at Gatorade in the PepsiCo machine. “Everything is Awesome” Chris starts off with a few examples including LEGO as a case for adjacencies and revenue growth in hidden areas. Gx, 50 years ago Gatorade is invented to solve a problem at the University of Florida … now the long term innovation team is technology to personalize fuel, respecting the fact that every athlete is different.

“Help us win” was the ask from Brazilian team in World Cup. The Gatorade team used experiments to gather data from the team. The “kick the cooler” moment needs a video, all the water bottle caps lit up to test all the caps are working to measure hydration consumption in athletes, reminds us all of the Russian cosmonaut pencil story, ask if you don’t know it.

What can we learn from Chris?

When you launch, be prepared to learn or you will fail after you think you’ve succeeded. Measuring set up separate from core business, in order to be objective and keep different KPIs specific to the innovation group. Dedicated long-term innovation team at Gatorade — that was the center of gravity for this adventure.

The next session was a set of panelists who gave a perspective on big goals.

Managing Moonshots — this panel includes an accidental innovator (Michelle Popowitz), a FoodShot innovator (Sara Eckhouse) and an entrepreneurial facilitator (Mark Bunger) to talk about large organizations achieving audacious goals. The result is a tolerance for risk and seeing the risk of not making change as a larger motivator.

Patterns and Perspectives.

  1. No one innovation method works for any one organization, you need to design your innovation process to match your culture, industry and financial models.
  2. Humanizing innovations is any easy miss for corporations taking on robotics, technology and artificial intelligence — don’t forget the human attributes.
  3. Continuing to push, iterate and redesign an idea until it works for your audience; the conference’s Brella Network app is a great example of this effort working out.

Enjoy and we hope to see you around the halls or at a numbered high top table.

Aaron Keller (aaronkeller@capsule.us) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule (capsule.us), a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.

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