Despite the world economic crisis, how can startups continue to play a key role in Corporate Innovation

Year 1928 has something interesting to say about it, the birth of the modern jet engine and penicillin. What’s more interesting is that it required the push of the 2nd world war crisis to find global adoption and transform their respective and allied industries forever. Some of the most common things we use today like stainless steel, zippers, kleenex, pilates exercise and many more were derivatives of efforts made during world war one. It is a well known fact that the rate of technological innovation during the world wars was at its best. Many think tanks across the world credit spike in industrial revolution to world war one and computer revolution to world war two. Today’s smart devices where you are reading this article is nothing but a turing machine that evolved post a global crisis and has the potential to transform any business in a short time.

Last economic crisis also has left few breadcrumbs on innovation for corporations to study. Startups like Uber, Airbnb, Glassdoor, Square etc. were founded during that time and became successful in a short period of time. It is also observed that the year 2008 & 2009 have seen the most number of companies founded in the US that have over $100 Million funding today. Undoubtedly COVID-19 has pushed us into a global crisis. Today deaths climb daily around the world while the economy globally continues to fall. I am optimistic that once again, the crisis can serve as a catalyst for transformational innovations for giving us a better future.

Speed is the key

Our interactions with various innovation leads and strategic decision makers have clearly indicated that covid-19 crisis has upended the roadmap and strategic actions in their short, medium and long term plans. It is also suggested that quick investments in transformation and digitization of traditional processes will make corporations prepared for future uncertainty. Gartner’s latest survey has also suggested the decision makers to be aggressive about seeking open innovation and expect their competition to do the same. 

Embracing open innovation is inevitable as planning ahead in the volatile environment is not easy. Many corporates strategy today can be segmented into following 3 phases: 

  • Business Continuity: Use costavation (innovation to cut costs) to reduce opex and increase focus on running a profitable business with core skill sets.
  • Work with Virus: Create processes to empower our resources to dodge the effects of the virus and help corporations to upkeep.
  • Welcome the New Normal: Strategize and adopt business models to generate revenue and create a significant role for the corporations in their domain. 

Corporations today cannot afford to have interia and wait for consumers to behave the same as pre-covid times. Businesses quick to think anew and act anew will rise up like a champion and find more avenues than ever to serve their customers. However, transformation at light speed for a big organization is an audacious task and extremely difficult with legacy processes and models at the back. 

Startup Ecosystem: Where companies should look for innovation.

Big corporations are the entities who have suffered the most during the pandemic, as they operate with higher capital expenditure and their spread across geographies. Global presence for corporations are also making them slower to act uniformly due to varied effects of pandemic in different locations. Imperative for a leaner, more agile structures and an ability to pivot quickly is now directing innovation strategy leaders to look towards startups. 

  • Shorter learning curves: Research organizations and creative entrepreneurs across the world are constantly experimenting new approaches to deliver products, services and experiences. Now it’s time for big corporations to learn from them instead of reinventing the same.  
  • Asset Light Models: Higher adoption of technology has resulted in lower dependence on human capital for startups. This phenomenon has given rise to aggregation models and low touch asset light models. Joining hands with these organizations will certainly revolutionize the current business models of big companies.
  • Fail fast attitude: Startup’s agile approach gives them a power to conduct experiments and pivot with minimum damage. This ability can be used by big companies to explore finer nuances of customer behaviour and adopt the best approach for quicker success. 
  • Quicker implementation: Successful startup founding teams are intelligent and subject matter experts in their domain. Additionally flat structures give away for quick decisions resulting in swift implementation. This ability needs to be harnessed by transformation leaders in the corporate world for a successful future.

— Rama Iyer, Chief Innovation Officer, T-Hub

The article was originally published in TechCircle on 24 July 2020, with the title “Startups and corporate innovation amid Covid-19”.