Start-ups are a hotbed of innovation: Their willingness to take risks, creativity and flexible structures facilitate the development of groundbreaking products and technology. This makes start-ups especially interesting for established companies. “It is impossible and unnecessary for us to invent everything ourselves. There are also young companies developing interesting technologies,“ says Dirk Nachtigal, Managing Director of BASF Venture Capital. That is why BASF invests in startups that develop technologies with new materials based on chemistry. More and more large companies are putting out feelers into the start-up scene – via equity capital, coaching programs for entrepreneurs or with their own start-ups. This benefits both sides: While one side gets its hands on new technologies, the other one receives capital as well as access to the resources and know-how of a global company, for example, in R&D or marketing.
The culture at W. L. Gore & Associates sets the company apart. It avoids nearly all the typical trappings: Instead of hierarchies and job titles, Gore’s employees – known as “associates“ – communicate directly with each other in a flat organization. The model encourages experimentation and is based on intrinsic motivation rather than duties. Everybody takes on responsibility and can allocate up to 10% of his or her working time to developing their own business ideas, initiating projects and getting colleagues on board to help with them. The firm operates on the “waterline“ principle: Everyone at Gore must consult with other associates before taking any action that could cause damage to the company’s success or its image. Gore thus achieves a steady stream of new product innovations, ranging from breathable GORE-TEX® membranes for clothing, to power plant filter hoses and medical implants. In order to maintain a structure that promotes innovation as the company expands, Gore splits teams that have grown to around 200 associates into smaller units – just like cells divide in a living organism.
No one has all the answers, but together we might just get there – this is the defining thought behind General Electric’s (GE) Open Innovation Manifesto. The U.S. technology company has innovation in its DNA. From its founder Thomas Edison onward, the company has always been imbued with a spirit of experimentation. With the publication of its Manifesto in 2014, it declared a fundamental shift in the way it does business: embracing open collaboration to address customer needs more effectively. Like a market of ideas GE aims to bring needs together with expertise and capacity to create solutions. One key statement of the Manifesto is to build a relationship with the global solver community that is transparent and mutually beneficial. Indeed GE’s commitment is so deep, it sees all innovators, external and internal, as one team – the “global brain” – working together to solve the world’s toughest problems.
A red box is turning Adobe employees into innovators. Participants in a two-day innovation workshop receive a Kickbox, which contains methods that help them develop ideas as well as a prepaid credit card providing a development capital of $1,000. The employees can use up to 40% of their working time to advance their own innovation projects. Adobe is trying to motivate as many employees as possible because the more ideas are pursued, the likelier it is that something new and promising will result. The red boxes, which were first distributed in 2013, have already helped more than 1,000 employees develop their ideas. So far, 23 innovators have received a blue box, which awards additional resources to those employees with marketable ideas. The platform Creative Cloud Libraries, for example, has its roots in the Kickbox.