Converting challenges to opportunities: embracing innovation - 19/03/14

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Bailey Fisher Executive Search first became involved with innovation in the corporate market back in 1998, when engaged with BT Brightstar, the technology incubation company set up by BT’s research and development unit. Since then we have seen corporates adopt an ever more entrepreneurial approach to how they engage with the disruptive tech market, having managed key entrepreneurial hires into corporates including Head of Innovation for British Sugar & General Manager Smart Mobility for Castrol innoVentures, and been part of the debate on what entrepreneurs can gain from partnering with corporates.  A panel discussion hosted by Bailey Fisher last year on corporate venturing, with the Head of Acquisitions & Investments at CISCO and Head of Corporate Investment at ARM illustrated that the appetite from corporates is strong and that entrepreneurial tech companies can stand to benefit from engaging with the corporate sector.

We talk to two entrepreneurial individuals, playing a key role in corporate investments in disruptive technologies.  Claire Cockerton is Deputy Head of Level39 Technology Accelerator at Canary Wharf and CEO of Pivotal Innovations, and Angel Gambino is Founder of The Alchemists Collective, currently working with Castrol innoVentures, the corporate venturing arm of BP Castrol.  Claire and Angel share their insights into how corporates are converting business challenges to opportunities by embracing innovations from the high-growth technology sector.

Challenge-led innovation at Canary Wharf

Claire Cockerton is Deputy Head of Level 39, Europe’s largest technology accelerator for financial, retail, cyber security & future cities technology businesses.  She is also CEO of Pivotal Innovations, the company that partners with Level39 to provide the customised content and accelerator programmes to bring the Level39 ecosystem to life.  A serial entrepreneur, Claire previously helped design the business incubation strategy for Richard Branson’s ‘Centre for Entrepreneurship’. With a personal mentor at the Judge Institute, Claire cites the Cambridge Cluster as an inspiration. “Cambridge is a fantastic benchmark for the genius of invention and the entrepreneurial spirit.” 

Level39 opened in Canary Wharf last year with the aim of transforming the financial, retail and smart city industries.  The initiative brings together high-potential entrepreneurs with some of the world’s most influential technology buyers, clients, mentors and investors, using an accelerator programme model focused on content to attract the best start-ups.

Best in class corporates are flocking to support the accelerator using open challenge-led innovation to develop solutions through partnership with disruptive, creative start-ups. If a start-up has a solution the corporates will engage by providing funding from a corporate venturing arm, expertise, technical resource or piloting opportunities.  Corporates gain by partnering with agile innovators and obtaining new technology to respond to the needs of the market.

Big banks are learning from the start-up sector, responding to the threat of the proliferation of disruptive technologies offering consumers new ways to bank, from peer-to-peer lending and social media banking to apps that teach children responsible financial management.  Level 39 provides start-ups with access to the world’s largest banks on their doorstep.  Claire sees the sector divided into two camps – companies looking to sell solutions to the banks and those that want to completely disrupt the structure and dynamics of the industry.

A pioneering future city project, Canary Wharf is a microcosm offering start-ups in the Level39 accelerator a unique opportunity to pilot their technologies in a live environment.

The accelerator is situated atop a hugely successful retail mall, currently piloting technologies to better engage the high-yield consumer base that frequents the space. Start-ups have access to a “living-lab” controlled environment within which to experiment with new retail technologies, from smart new ways to pay to managing data & loyalty rewards programmes.

Castrol innoVentures invests in the future Smart Mobility vision
Castrol innoVentures is the corporate venturing arm of BP Castrol, founded in 2010 to develop disruptive technologies and build the Castrol business beyond motor oil.  Angel Gambino (@gambino) is a US/UK serial entrepreneur and Founder of The Alchemists Collective, currently working with Castrol innoVentures to build a new business globally for Castrol in the Smart Mobility space.  With a track record of commercial leadership, strategy and digital roles, Angel was instrumental in developing the iPlayer for the BBC and masterminded consumer engagement for Westfield Shoppingtowns during the London 2012 Olympics.   Angel shared the drivers behind Castrol innoVentures’ recent investments in the Smart Mobility sector.

The challenge driving innovation 
The growing trend for electric cars combined with the increase in sophistication in automotive technologies means there is less need for motor oil in some future scenarios. The negative impact on Castrol’s business has driven innovation and one area of focus is Smart Mobility, which can be anything from embedding Spotify in your dashboard or telematics to new business models such as car sharing.

Connected car
Castrol’s main area of focus within Smart Mobility is creating a go to place for all your car care needs enabled by the connected car.  There are many driverless car initiatives in development. Much of the hype centres around Google’s offering, but closer to home, Milton Keynes is experimenting with driverless pods.  Semi-autonomous driving is very here and now, with cars talking to each other to improve safety, fuel efficiencies and environmental impact, whilst also making the driving experience more enjoyable.  A recent investment for Castrol is US-based Peloton, specialising in platooning, where a fleet of vehicles communicate wirelessly to regulate speed, as a result taking advantage of the fuel efficiencies of slip-streaming. For large corporates this can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings and make the driving experience safer.

Onboard diagnostics

Another new investment is Zubie, whose transformative technology converts any car after 1997 into a mobile information and communication platform upon which Castrol can build services.  The car is a computer, communicating to your smart phone everything from the need to refuel, or change the oil, to whether your teenage son is driving safely when he borrows the car.

Embracing innovation

It is clear that corporates are increasingly adopting a more entrepreneurial approach to how they engage with the disruptive technology market.   As an entrepreneur with disruptive technology, it is worth talking to the venturing arms of the big corporates as potential investors or buyers, as well as looking to the traditional VC market.

Bailey Fisher Executive Search is an independent executive search firm specialising in the high-growth technology sector.  Founded in 1998, with a passion for Cambridge, the UK tech market and entrepreneurial business, Bailey Fisher has played an integral part in building the boards and management teams for some of the most ambitious companies to have emerged from the sector.  The company operates internationally from offices in Cambridge and London.

This article first appeared in Cambridge Business Magazine, April 2014 edition.  The article appears on pages 81- 83.

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