Corporate Innovation & Covid-19: Lessons, Challenges & Opportunities

Corporate Innovation & Covid-19: Lessons, Challenges & Opportunities main image

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an education for almost every citizen of Earth old enough to comprehend what is happening to some degree. As such, corporates and startups alike have gathered considerable experience in working in a severely disrupted business landscape.

Remote working, remote managing, remote pitching, remote networking, condensed work-life balance and more besides have presented towering challenges. And yet there has been an abundance of opportunity to explore and experience new approaches, learn fresh lessons and hone the craft of innovating.

On the 24th June members of our Corporate Innovation Community remotely gathered to take in a panel exploring the impact of COVID-19 on corporate innovation, the lessons, challenges and opportunities, and what the new world of corporate innovation might look like.

The Expert Panel

The panel was hosted by Whitespace’s CTO, Dr. Rachel Gawley, a respected leader, engineer, entrepreneur, researcher and innovator with a wealth of experience in many sectors and spaces.

Rachel was joined by some of the finest minds from across the UK Corporate community. Her panellists were:

  • Alex McCracken, Managing Director at Silicon Valley Bank, UK
  • Marianne McKevitt, Opportunity Evaluation Analyst at BP
  • Gordon Merrylees, Managing Director, Entrepreneurship at Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest and Ulster Bank
  • Bruno Moraes, Country Manager at Wayra UK

Key Talking Points & Key Takeaways

The following summarises the key talking points, insights and takeaways from across the panel.

How can COVID-19 be an opportunity for innovation?

  • It is an opportunity to explore new working models, approaches, delivery modes and technologies.
  • The response to COVID-19 may not be a choice, but that response can be seen to a degree as an immense scale innovation project.
  • Everyone from the layperson to the CEO is innovating their own working practice now. The pandemic is absolutely insisting that all corporate staff innovate their working, networking and communication approaches, which may seed more internal innovation and intrapreneurialism.
  • It is a chance to demonstrate the value of innovation within corporations and across the corporate landscape.
  • Equally, it is a chance to establish what can be achieved remotely; which in turn makes innovation more inclusive and accessible. That may lead in the long term to more diversity and representation in innovation. There was agreement on the panel that we may see a hybrid remote/in-person model emerge as standard practice as a result of the pandemic.
  • The pandemic is arguably focusing and expediating innovation efforts, and in some cases progressively leading to greater efficiency at an individual and organisational level.

What are the key challenges COVID-19 presents to corporate innovation?

  • Networking and community are vital to the collective effort of innovation, and to many remain harder in a remote world. There is still a bounty to learn about getting remote working and collaboration right.
  • There is a greater reliance on trusting virtual networks to enact basic innovation functions.
  • The advantages brought by carefully curated physical spaces that serve incubation, accelerator or other functions are very hard to replace in a remote world.
  • Similarly, one-to-one mentoring was agreed to feel less productive at a distance.
  • Physical innovation spaces and the visibility of innovation teams and initiatives can also serve to assert the presence of innovation within a corporation.
  • As we all explore ideas to generate ideas and identify challenges remotely, there has been talk of standardising new processes of remote ideation.

How has COVID-19 impacted the narrative around innovation within corporations?

  • If the legacy of COVID-19 is that the ecosystem and convention of work and society shifts to a more remote model, there will be a need for corporations to refine and diversify current revenue streams, or find entirely new ones. That is becoming a key concern at some corporations. There, again, innovation may become increasingly important and recognised as a core function. Having a greater diversity of revenue streams will likely be key, and taking better insight from data will become increasingly valuable.

Motivating internal innovation, letting innovative thinking permeate other departments and encouraging intrapreneurship may be yet more vital during and after the pandemic. How can that be fostered?

  • Installing your devoted innovation teams with team members that have entrepreneurial experience can deliver powerful results in this context.
  • Supporting internal knowledge sharing and education around innovation’s needs and goals can be valuable – at an organisation-wide level. Consider hosting workshops and talks that share the aims, impact potential of innovation – as well as the challenges – across all departments.
  • Welcome colleagues from other departments to do ‘placements’ within your innovation team. These efforts can help install an ‘internal intrapreneur network’.
  • Consider means to allow those from outside of innovation teams to explore innovation practise hands-on, without fear of failure. It may even be worth providing self-contained internal initiatives that simulate an innovation project, without there being real consequence or impact. As a counterpoint, impact and consequence can be key learning tools when exploring innovation as a newcomer.
  • Develop an explicit innovation coaching mindset, and encourage non-innovators to be free to join any innovation effort.

What efforts, tools, mindsets or methods have become important during the pandemic?

  • Maintaining a sense of community and cohort has become a central focus for those running or otherwise enabling incubators, accelerators and similar natives in the new remote world. That can be done in part by providing access to a range of communication and efficiency tools, being responsive and proactive within those communication channels.
  • Simply being human is an increasingly important ‘tool’. Be understanding of staffs’ struggles balancing work and home life, or that some people may need to keep different hours from others. Formality and outward professionalism may currently not always be possible.
  • Finding means to allow for ordinary socialising and interaction that isn’t solely focused on work, efficiency, innovation and COBID-19 planning is perhaps more important than ever.