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How these Clorox and Comcast execs are considering the future of corporate innovation

Navin Kunde, head of open innovation at Clorox, and Danielle Cohn, VP of startup engagement and head of LIFT Labs, discussed virtual work and faster responses to consumer needs at Introduced|Virtual.

Danielle Cohn, Chris Wink and Navin Kunde at Introduced|Virtual 2020. (Screenshot)

The most innovative products come when a company is able to identify and respond to key problems.

It’s a common business mentality, but it’s especially important when life as we know it changes day by day, as Navin Kunde, head of open innovation at Clorox said Thursday, during’s Introduced|Virtual conference.

“A good corporate innovation group will always do that,” Kunde said of identifying problems that need solutions. “The ones who don’t are essentially solutions looking for problems, or they have some idea out there they’re trying to push, or they’re companies who have lost touch with who they are.”

Clorox has seen the opposite happen lately, instead using the pandemic to get back to its roots as a “health and wellness company” and what matters most to the consumer, he said.

Last week, we dove headfirst into the big questions biz leaders are asking right now in the first all-online version of our annual conference that introduces the ideas, people and opportunities that build better companies. (Look for the IRL version to return during Philly Tech Week 2020 presented by Comcast this September.)

Kunde and Danielle Cohn, VP of startup engagement and head of LIFT Labs at Comcast, spoke with Technically Media CEO Chris Wink about how they’re thinking about their work in corporate innovation — a descendent of R&D — during the coronavirus pandemic.

Couldn’t attend live? Watch the full panel below (and skip a few minutes ahead to reach the start of the conversation):

Philly-based Cohn said her team at LIFT Labs has stayed focused on its core mission — helping founders make the connections needed for their startups to grow while piloting, say, a proof of concept. But now, there’s a recognition that they need resources and accurate information to navigate the current moment, too.

Some other key takeaways? This pandemic has changed how we get our jobs done now, as well as the future of work.

Resistance to digital has fallen away, said Kunde, who’s based in the Bay area. That hasn’t really been an option lately, as the majority of workforces who can do so have gone to remote work.

“It’s hit me hard that there’s some people that will definitely need to be in the labs and the plants, and others that never need to go back to the offices,” he said.

He’s also wondering about how digital collaboration can be valuable for small- or medium-sized problems, but said that for big problems, we might need to retain those interpersonal connections that build long-term relationships. Therefore, corporate innovators might return to some practices, such as traveling for conferences or some meetings where interacting with someone IRL is essential for building trust.

Cohn agreed that in-person meetings are still incredibly important, but said she believes getting people connected in the way they best communicate will be important. Work from home might work for me, she added, but it may not work for everyone else in the way they function. Corporate entities — long seen as inflexible and bureaucratic — are going to have to reckon with that.

And Comcast’s LIFT Labs Accelerator was already sourcing for companies that focus on the future of work, and they’ve been asked to dive even deeper into that work because of the pandemic. Because people are forced to create things on their own, Cohn said, it’s an exciting time to see what entrepreneurs will come up with.

Video calling, virtual events and meetings are all things she predicts will stay in the “return to work,” even if folks start coming back to the office. And both panelists said right now is probably too early to estimate when that return to office life is.

Two things that come to mind for Kunde is how the pandemic has furthered globalization, and made corporations aware of the need for speed at a reasonable quality.

“People in the startup world, think in minutes, hours, days, maybe weeks if they’re slow,” Kunde said. “The corporate world, if they are fast think in weeks, months, quarters, hopefully not years. But the intersection is at the weeks, and they’re realizing they can move much faster.”


Catch the full day of panels on YouTube.

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Philly Tech Week 2020 is more like Philly Tech Year, with more virtual events like this coming throughout the next few months. Get updates on speakers, sessions, attendee specials and more by signing up for #PTW20 emails today:

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Companies: Comcast
Series: Coronavirus
People: Danielle Cohn / Christopher Wink
Projects: Builders Conference / Philly Tech Week

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