The Nimble Hippo has been sharing a lot of information over the past couple of months about how corporate innovation is evolving. Companies want help to move beyond ideas and develop products. They also want to do a better job of predicting the future by learning from how others see their industries and businesses.

The companies that occupy innovation outposts at Communitech are among the leaders in a new, open and collaborative model, one that sees global brands reaching out to connect with customers and technology ecosystems to drive maximum value from their innovation efforts.

The Nimble Hippo will now scan the local Waterloo Region ecosystem to see how these large organizations are helping to build it up.

We will also introduce you to the newest hippo on the block, the Nimble Hippo podcast. This new audio feature will launch shortly with a series of interviews with leading innovation thinkers from around the globe. The Communitech Hub receives more than 12,000 visitors a year, so when interesting people come, we’ll make sure we have our mic ready to ask the right questions.

Over the past few years, we at Communitech have built a corporate innovation model that helps global brands get the most out of their innovation efforts by connecting them with our thriving technology ecosystem.

Often, our enterprise organizations default to thinking that acquiring or partnering with startups is the best way to connect to the ecosystem. It’s one way, and we discussed how they can do that here, but there are other ways for these companies to gain value from organizations like Communitech, who build world-class ecosystems.

Let’s get into a few ways that companies can accelerate their innovation activities by docking with ecosystems.

When big companies tour the Communitech Hub, they are often surprised by the diversity of businesses that operate outposts here. Automotive. Insurance. Retail. Photography hardware. Finance. They’re used to the more common model, in which innovation labs are grouped together in industry-specific clusters such as fintech, with a critical mass of companies focused solely on financial technology. Or cleantech. Or biotech. The list goes on and on.

But, as highlighted in our last post, many big-company problems transcend specific verticals and can crop up in any industry. Talent, speed to market, and the ability to see what’s coming next top the list.

Industry-specific clusters can miss out on opportunities to learn from how other industries are grappling with the same problems. Getting to know other large companies and what they are working on can also lead to unexpected and beneficial partnership opportunities.

These are exciting times to be working in technology, and in collaborative environments. It’s also exciting to be a big enterprise.

Communitech hosts a number of Peer to Peer (P2P) groups to connect people in similar roles and job functions. One of our most popular groups is our Women in Tech P2P, with more than 500 members. Its two major sponsors are TD Bank and Deloitte – two traditional, non-tech companies.

The global battle for talent is real, and companies are looking for any advantage they can get, and sponsoring these types of events puts them in the middle of an ecosystem that is producing some of the most qualified and valuable engineers on the planet. TD and Deloitte want to be part of the conversation when these engineers and technologists look to move into new roles.

Corporate venture capital is another growing opportunity in Canada. As our largest organizations look for faster ways to get products to market, they are increasingly looking to invest in companies that can help them.

When big companies advertise that they are investing in startups, an interesting thing happens: They get a glimpse into the future. We like to call this future-casting.

When a company invests $500,000 in an ecosystem (for example, five startups at $100,000 each) they get applications from a broad spectrum of companies. These startups present their ideas of the future, why the big company should invest in them, and hopefully speak to the alignment of their new technology to the goals of the large enterprise.

If they see 200, or 500, or 1000 applications, they get a wide-ranging look at what their future partners and competitors think about their particular line of business. It’s a little like looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future.

The value here might not lie in the five startups they invest in, but actually in the 500 applicants and their visions for the future.

There is no single reason why our global brands connect with our technology ecosystem. As the number of enterprise partners grows here at Communitech, the more models we see emerging, focused on tapping into the ecosystem to drive value from innovation efforts.

Product development, talent recruitment and future-casting are all big reasons why our corporate partners love our ecosystem. We’ll continue to follow their efforts and successes and show you how they evolve over the coming months and years.

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.

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.