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Make innovation a priority if you want your business to survive

Looking beyond your “corporate walls” is also key in a fast-changing world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 10:12pm

Fostering innovation needs to be a priority for any company that has ambitions to be in business for the next decade and beyond.

Industries are evolving and morphing at speeds hitherto unimagined. We are now rethinking how cars are driven, the players involved in space exploration and creating new concepts such as cryptocurrencies.

To keep pace, looking outside your corporate walls and across industries also needs to be a priority. It is no longer realistic to think that every groundbreaking idea will be created in-house.

For the past three years I have witnessed many of Hong Kong’s financial institutions walk the talk of embracing innovation by mentoring financial technology (fintech) startups in Accenture’s FinTech

It is no longer realistic to think that every groundbreaking idea will be created in-house

Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific. Much of their work has taken place quietly, with rolled up sleeves, behind closed doors. But it’s worth highlighting what they do: exemplifying best practice for encouraging new ideas to come to market.

Consider this year’s Lab. In August we announced that eight companies had been chosen for the Lab and would be mentored by leading financial services executives during the course of 12 weeks through a series of workshops, panel discussions and coaching sessions on product and business development. At the end of this year’s program, five of the eight participants will be selected to present their concepts to potential investors and financial industry executives.

During the past few weeks these startups have been on a whirlwind “speed dating” tour, meeting up with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Credit Suisse, Generali, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, J.P. Morgan, Maybank, Morgan Stanley, Sun Life Financial and UBS.

The startups present their business ideas, and the banks, who have put together the appropriate experts from their stable, listen and offer initial feedback. Each bank has its own style for these first impression meetings and, just like in the real world, sometimes they call back and request a second date!

The lesson for bigger, established companies is that taking the time to mentor startups is worthwhile

Some of the banks have held these sessions at night, with a fleet of staff to vet the ideas from a variety of perspectives such as tech, business case use, compliance, cost and user-friendliness. Others hold smaller sessions in quiet boardrooms with just a few select bankers on hand who have deep-dive expertise in each startup’s speciality.

Across the board, ultimately the questions become increasingly technical and practical, boiling down to how does it work? Is it fit-for-purpose and cost-effective? Do we need it?

The advice has ranged the spectrum. Sometimes it’s tough love: telling startups they have seen this before, their tech isn’t innovative enough, too complicated for a simple problem, or not scalable. In the past two years some startups have taken on board this feedback, developed a more refined product, and subsequently managed to raise venture funding or develop relationships that led to business.

Many of the mentors say the process challenges their thinking on the status quo. Many of the startups say it gives them unprecedented access to experts they might otherwise not have had the chance to talk to.

The lesson applicable to bigger, established companies is that taking the time to mentor startups is worthwhile – while you teach, you may also learn. The lesson for startups is that mentors can accelerate your business development with practical advice.

The feel-good takeaway is that Hong Kong is supporting this nurturing of innovation.

Adrian Seto is Accenture’s director of the FinTech Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific, which is based in Hong Kong