(Photo by Tony Abraham)
The innovation economy is not exclusive to startups. Large companies need to play a role in stimulating it, too.
That’s why, as part of the recently concluded Philly Tech Week 2015 presented by Comcast, four representatives from large regional companies came together at the Comcast Center last Thursday to talk about the incubator opportunities, investments and partnerships available to entrepreneurs and startups through their corporations.
The panel — titled “Innovate. Transform. Lead.” — was moderated by Philadelphia Business Journal editor Craig Ey, and featured:
- Diane Fanelli, Head of Global Operations at SAP
- Aljit Joy, Senior Vice President at Comcast Innovation Labs
- Tom Olenzak, Managing Director, Strategic Innovation Portfolio at Independence Blue Cross
- Mike Smith, Vice President of Constellation Technology Ventures at Exelon
“We have 20,000 plus people, literally our engineering and development organization, who have a program that incubates fantastic ideas from people in our company,” Fanelli said of SAP’s intrapreneurship program. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a super senior person or doing a college internship.” SAP engineers and developers submit their ideas, which are then reviewed by a panel and either accepted or denied.
Fanelli also mentioned SAP’s Palo Alto venture fund, Sapphire Ventures, and its open innovation space in Germany, SAP AppHaus. “As a technology provider, we’ve realized our platforms and solutions are better when developers create their own applications on top of it,” she said.
Exelon is doing something similar. “We started a methodology to programmatically capture the great ideas from our 29,000 employees, vet those ideas, figure out how they should be funded, and create intrapreneurs that way,” said Smith.
He also spoke of how the energy industry is finally changing. Exelon, he said, is deliberately choosing to participate in those changes through Constellation Technology Ventures, which invests Exelon capital in disruptive technologies like electric vehicles.
The folks at Independence Blue Cross are all too familiar with adapting to a changing industry. Olenzak called changes to the healthcare system a “once in a generation” type of restructuring. “This is why we need to fundamentally change what we’re doing,” he said. “And it’s not something we’re going to handle inside our building.”
IBX, Olenzak said, is embracing the principle of open innovation and community engagement through the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation and DreamIt Health. “We’ve found we really need to work with entrepreneurs,” he said. “We’ve found that when we work together, we can accomplish tremendous things.”
Then there’s Comcast. Besides the fact that it’s currently throwing up the Innovation Center downtown, Joy talked about the multiple windows of opportunity for local entrepreneurs and startups to engage with Comcast — such as Comcast Ventures or Comcast Labs.
“We make sure we can connect where we are now to where the economy is heading,” Joy said. “How we do that is by developing innovative technology solutions through partnerships with startups.”
The takeaway? Corporations not only need to engage the entrepreneurial and startup community, but they need sandboxes — room where ideas can grow under a different set of rules — in order cultivate innovation from within.
The event was sponsored by MIT Enterprise Forum Philadelphia and co-hosted by Comcast.
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