Throughout the year, curious executives and leaders from companies and governments from all over the world come and tour the Communitech Hub in Waterloo Region. Invariably, they are astounded by the mix of startups, mid-sized companies and large multinationals all working in the same building.

The executives typically ask about intellectual property rights, where the offices are and how people have meetings. Given the openness of our space, it’s difficult for them to comprehend. But by the end of the tour, after talking to the outpost lab leaders who run our corporate incubators, the visitors are able to see the true opportunity that this collaborative model of innovation provides:

By getting out of the office and learning from others, you will see and learn things that you never would have on your own.

True disruption from within is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for most large organizations. There are many reasons for this, but most of them can be summed up by two words: culture and process. The culture of the organization is often slow, risk-averse, hierarchical and methodical. Processes developed over many years have been built to slow things down and encourage thoughtfulness, but inherently result in redundancy. There are good reasons for these processes, but these same reasons can kill innovation activities within.

The outpost lab model enables large organizations to build teams inside an existing entrepreneurial ecosystem – and importantly, outside corporate walls – where they can develop their own cultures and processes. Although these new cultures are meant to disrupt their parent organizations, they must also be aligned to their goals to ensure the labs stay relevant and create long-term value.

Collaborative innovation also enables you to see your business as others see it from the outside. At Communitech, more than 100 companies, from startups to large enterprises, simultaneously work together and separately to solve urgent problems for businesses. When large organizations immerse themselves in this diverse and dynamic environment, they see first-hand how startups and other companies view them. And because startups are by nature more nimble and experimental, they can provide fresh and critical insights into the state of your industry.

It’s exciting and scary at the same time, but our enterprise partners need to see and learn from these interactions.

As large organizations seek to understand how to keep up with the pace of change in their industries, they should make a collaborative model of innovation part of their strategy. If culture and process are inhibiting true change, slowing down idea generation, and destroying your company’s ability to disrupt from within, then get outside your walls and find an ecosystem that can help accelerate your innovation agenda.

The Nimble Hippo looks at how large organizations can build innovative cultures and disruptive strategies by taking the best lessons from startup ecosystems and applying them in a big-company context.

Photo: Mouth Wide Open – Hippo by Kimberly Brown-Azzarello is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

About The Author

Craig Haney
Director, Corporate Innovation, Communitech

Craig is leading the charge for corporate innovation in Canada. His work with Canadian Tire Innovations helped launch the LeanLab project at Communitech, helping large, non-tech companies become faster and more innovative by engaging with startups. As Director of Corporate Innovation at Communitech, his focus is to grow the ecosystem by exposing small companies to big problems they can solve for some of Canada’s largest players. Craig has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technonogy (MBET) from the University of Waterloo.