The national senior leadership team from a large global company recently came in to Communitech to talk about corporate innovation, and how it could be applied to their business.

As we went through the day, we talked in great depth about startup ecosystems around the world, specifically here in the Toronto-Waterloo Region corridor, Silicon Valley and Israel.

Inevitably the question comes up about who to watch for. What are the most dangerous startups that may target this large, global brand and disrupt it? I provided a few non-specific answers that kept the conversation going, and finally I got to the point.

The disruptors probably don’t exist yet, and that’s why you can’t find them.

As I spoke about in my last post, companies spend millions of dollars researching their markets and competition. These are very important things to do, as it helps bring some clarity to strategy and how to battle known competition.

But it misses the emerging trends in many cases.

Startups that aren’t public, that haven’t received large rounds of capital, are often skipped in these reports. When you add together the information from large firms, and the information you can gather by putting your own ear to the ground, you get a better sense of what the future holds — and what others may be missing.

So how do large organizations connect to the emerging trends and companies in Israel, Silicon Valley and the Toronto-Waterloo Region corridor? By undertaking a few strategic initiatives and having a global perspective.

The first one I want to talk about is corporate venture capital. I am going to write a longer post on this in the near future, but let’s touch on a few of the high-level opportunities here today.

Corporate VC funds differ from institutional VC funds. The goal of corporate VC is not primarily a financial return on investment. It’s to invest in a limited number of startups that will hopefully provide value to the organization in the future. No guarantees and no timelines.

The second primary goal is trend-spotting. While a corporate VC fund may invest in only five companies a year, it probably sees 200 business plans and applications.

This provides a unique window into how young companies think and operate. What they see with fresh eyes may give you some insight into whether your own customer and marketing strategies are up to date. (See the earlier Nimble Hippo column on Hiring Outsiders for another view on getting a fresh set of eyes on innovation.)

The second initiative I want to talk about is stepping outside your geographic and business borders to get a broader, global perspective. I will use global in two contexts.

First, if your business is primarily located in North America, then you will spend the majority of your time in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. This will give you a certain perspective about markets, talent and competition.

If you dive deep into other markets globally to find out how successful companies are marketing and profiting from their efforts, it may expand your perspective on taking advantage of your local market. You don’t have to grow globally to leverage the global world.

The second aspect of ‘global’ is looking outside your own business. If you are a financial services business, you could learn a lot from retail, banking, healthcare services, etc. You could apply some strategies other industries use to attract customers, profit from activities, and take advantage of market trends.

Make a concerted effort to learn from others outside your industry and apply your specific context for a unique market opportunity.

The strategies above can help you identify the trends you need to understand, the startups you need to meet and the partnerships you need to build. Without the willingness to get outside your own walls and expose yourself to the unknown, you’ll never be ready for that disruptor.

By enabling teams within your organization to be exposed to new markets, new technologies and new people, you will inspire them to apply their contexts to these new opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to enable your teams to see the future in a new way.

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.