2018 Year in Review: The Global Innovation Landscape –  of and by Corporations

The Corporate Challenge: How to gain and maintain competitive advantage?

Our 2018 Year in Review looks back at the innovation landscape with a focus on corporations. After all, what types of innovation these players want; where they invest their resources; and what they ultimately bring to market, influences activities by business incubators and accelerators—and their startups. It’s a feedback loop that some would argue begins with corporations’ business strategies and their ever-present need for competitive advantage.

At the start of the year, UBI Global surveyed 78 multinational corporations across industries, each operating in at least ten countries and each describing themselves as “innovation-ready”. We wanted to discover what their biggest needs were in 2018 and what their attitudes were related to the greater global innovation landscape.

The survey results revealed what these leaders believed their corporations should focus on – and how innovation could be sourced and applied. We confirmed that their feedback does tie into the activities and focus areas of incubation programs and startups operating internationally today. We saw that clearly there are opportunities for nimble startups and established corporations to meet and work together. In fact, we saw that throughout 2018, incubators, accelerators, and their startups have already been actively participating and contributing to corporations’ “hot” areas of interest.  

What Corporations Want

In 78 in depth interviews with corporations conducted over the past year, UBI Global has learned that almost 30 percent of companies look to innovation to solve problems in the following areas:

Nearly a quarter of corporations listed strategic direction (including transformation of the business framework) as a top focus. Remaining competitive and offering their customers more value, are deep concerns for corporations with this focus. After all, they strive to grow and outpace their market peers.

The survey also revealed that maintaining a continuous pipeline to market (22%), staying on top of the industry (14%), boosting their own in-house accelerators (9%), and finding new clients (5%), were among other areas of focus.

The big picture looks like this:

2018 Year in Review: The Global Innovation Landscape –  of and by Corporations

#1 Innovation for Problem Solving

Problem solving is top of mind for corporations when considering applications for innovation (27%). However, at its core, problem solving is a reactive approach that seeks to fix shortcomings or failures. Corporations often focus on what is wrong with current products and services— or even operations. In contrast, by being proactive about challenges they face, corporations have a better opportunity to source and apply innovative products and methods. They can collaborate and partner with innovators at business incubators, for example.

One way companies have been proactively problem-solving in 2018 is by focusing on data. In specific: what it is and how to use it for predictive modeling. Zeroing in on “big data” and how manipulating information can solve problems, has been a key area in which corporations have collaborated with incubation programs and their startups.

“Demand for big data technologies is expected to generate $210 billion in revenue by 2020 and that industry growth is spurring a steady stream of startups developing innovative big data products,” according to CRN.

Data analysis and new ways to uncover patterns of behavior is what big data promises. It has been applied, with the help of startups presenting new approaches, to improve customer retention, new product development, and even attraction and retention of a company’s own employees.

#2 Innovation to Bolster Strategic Direction

Next comes “strategic direction” as preoccupying corporate minds (23%). Typically, corporations establish an internal structure that clearly defines the vision of the company and its brand(s) and the role of each department and employee in supporting it. Open communication of goals and a transparent structure are key to achieving set strategies. But how does one look to innovation to help with this business practice? And would a company easily recognize a start up’s market offering as a potential solution to its strategic woes?  

The answer is to develop an innovation strategy or an innovation mindset when setting and evaluating current business strategies. And though startups do not necessarily help a company communicate its current strategy, they can offer different services and products that could perhaps compliment or bolster a company’s current offering. Adding, replacing, or improving an offering can be seen as “bolstering strategic direction”. The innovation landscape is filled with startups capable of helping corporations and their current strategies; in general, the corporation needs to consider innovation-for-strategy as a way of thinking:

  1. An innovation strategy needs to be truly inspiring and should describe a desirable future state for the company.
  2. The innovation strategy needs to be ambitious in terms of providing the basis to break away from the competition, beat the competition, and create new spaces.
  3. The process of developing the strategy needs to be open.
  4. An innovation strategy must also be specific to the time in which it is developed, as it is grounded in the reality of a company’s environment, and it reflects the available capabilities, technologies and gaps that may need to be filled.
  5. An innovation strategy needs to be adaptive and to evolve over time, i.e. incorporate learning, allow adjustments to the desired course and maybe even allow an organization to cut its losses if required.

#3 Innovation by Startups and at Incubators to Feed a Product Pipeline

Corporations are ever-concerned about keeping their offers fresh and in synch with— and even a step ahead of— consumer demands. From our survey, 2 of every 10 multinational corporations (22%) state that sourcing new products and improvements on current ones is why they would seek outside help (from incubators and startups). Called, “continuous pipeline strategy”, it is a straightforward, repeatable deployment process with a goal of providing delivery of new or improved products to the customer. With this approach, corporations employ short cycles. At any stage, the product or service can be released and experience success in the market.

As expected, reliance upon startup incubation is heavy for this approach. Corporations have begun to form delivery teams, with development, operations, and testing departments working together with startups as a unit to shorten the release cycle for innovative, exciting products. The benefits of continuous pipelines include:

In fact, it is well-known that startups have a key hand to play in helping corporations “pivot”.

Pivot is a lean start-up term that refers to the concept of introducing a product, understanding how customers react to the offering and then changing the offering to better align with the customer needs based on the learning from the product introduction. Lean has introduced the idea of a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) to our lexicon.”

Examples of how corporations turn to startups to feed their product pipeline and more easily pivot are found here.

What About Supporting In-House Accelerators?

One of the least mentioned areas of interest among the multinational corporations we spoke to is a focus to boost their own accelerators, or home-grown centers of innovation. This is likely because not many corporations have a separate incubator associated with their Research and Development or innovation-centered activities. This makes sense from what we have been seeing in 2018. As we have noted, even in our own community of incubation programs, there has been a spike in collaborations between corporations and startups.

It’s called “corporate venturing”. The term describes established firms that collaborate with startups (whether through corporate venture capital, scouting missions, hackathons or “excubators”) as a way to source new ideas and expand their own offerings. According to Forbes, large companies such as Intel, Siemens, Xerox, GE, IBM, Lucent and Merck have been corporate venturing for years:

“Between 2010 and 2016 in fact, the use of corporate incubators and corporate accelerators among the 30 world largest companies in the world rose from just 2% to 44%.”

The Incubation Connection

The needs and requirements outlined by multinationals in UBI Global’s survey echo the activities within the incubation ecosystem. Throughout the Best Practices and World Benchmark reports, university-linked incubation programs have demonstrated that their goals and objectives are in line with what corporations need in order to innovate in their sector.

It makes sense for corporations to turn to startups and incubation programs that guide them. It’s a great match, according to Forbes:

“Large corporations are like big, slow ocean liners: difficult to steer when it comes to innovation at the pace the market requires. Standardized processes, bureaucratic management, risk aversion and lack of creativity are some of the reasons for this. In contrast, start-ups desire to challenge the status quo, have potential for rapid growth and the capacity for a continuous flow of new ideas.”

UBI Global offers a strategic way to connect to the incubation community worldwide for both corporations and the incubation programs guiding the next generation of startups. Corporations can learn how to efficiently collaborate with exciting programs and their startups. Incubation programs can better connect with insightful information and each other through our UBI Connect platform. Our own “year in review” looks like this:

UBI Global 2018 Year in Review: Innovation Community, Events, Research


What do serious professionals in the innovation landscape really need?

Social networking and communication platforms are a dime a dozen these days, right? Most everyone belongs to at least one, and most people are only somewhat active, posting- or reacting to others’ posts- occasionally. And despite invitation-only contact lists and “friending”, it seems one is still bombarded with unwelcome guests (advertisers). Perhaps the level of user inactivity (or boredom) is because of a lack of relevant content?

We considered the average experience within the online communication space and then asked ourselves: what do serious professionals in the global innovation landscape need? What’s currently available to just them to really help them get better at what they do? What kind of content would be most useful- and interesting?

Get ready to Activate Your Innovation with UBI Connect

The product of our brainstorming and countless rounds of input from business incubators and accelerators is now being launched. Meet UBI Connect – The Global Engagement Platform for Innovation Hubs.

We designed it to be the only online platform of its kind, designed specifically to support and enable the global incubation ecosystem to be effective and successful in fostering and launching their startups. UBI Connect is now available to UBI Global Members, and we are proud to say that, although it is a work in progress (we never stop taking input from our community!) it is set to become not just an online place to communicate (or simply react to posts) but the place to engage with your peers in the worldwide innovation ecosystem. Members will be able to share, receive- and enjoy content- that is interesting, relevant, and ad-free.

UBI Global members will be able to collaborate, get smarter, and share best practices. Through the platform, we will offer news, insights, and event updates, as well as program-specific, secure transfer of personalized information- such as program rankings and benchmarking information.

UBI Connect embodies everything powerful about being a UBI Global Member. Not only will incubation programs have access to peers and their advice but will be able to reciprocate by becoming contributors, thus sharing their own best practices. Users will also be able to search UBI Connect for peer-level programs to emulate, plus top-ranked programs to contact directly for introductions and advice.

In short: UBI Connect will cut through the noise found on the average social network and get down to what really matters: innovation and all the interesting conversations about how to support it, from members of your own community around the world!

Connections matter- and that’s why we built UBI Connect

From the start, UBI Global recognized the importance of connecting and networking with peers. We saw a clear need to be better able (and more easily!) share, promote, and motivate one another within the worldwide incubation ecosystem. This is what we heard from program after program; that geographical distances had become a hindrance to developing connections. So within the UBI Connect engagement platform, members will be able to connect with one another digitally- of course.

They will also be able to engage with each other and with useful information from each other. This includes original research and insights from UBI Global (including the World Benchmark Study and the Best Practices and Startup Success Stories Reports). The information contained in these original reports has inspired other programs to increase their own value to their ecosystem, by improving services to their client startups and to their university partners and other stakeholders. We saw that sharing information- and learning- is a key way to connect, too.

In sum: UBI Connect embodies the five biggest benefits of connecting with your peers in the incubation community, which are:

1. Peer Advice – Tap into knowledge not otherwise accessible from the innovation community at large. Getting to know the best performing incubators and accelerators means gaining their advice and learning their approaches. This practical information from fellow professionals supports initiatives for improvement, growth, and sustainability.

2. Business Opportunities – You never know what opportunities are around the next corner.  Becoming visible and heard in the global ecosystem, is an easy way to meet peers and uncover chances for impactful collaborations. Meeting in real life becomes targeted and effective, after establishing a connection online first.

3. Friendship – Like-minded innovators exchanging information and experiences within the UBI Connect platform will encourage each other, meet regularly at events such as the World Incubation Summit, and form a strong bond of friendship and support. Surrounding yourself with positive people, after all, encourages one to grow and thrive.

4. Personal Growth – Regularly sharing knowledge and useful information makes one smarter and increases one’s reputation as a thought leader. Relationships developed thanks to UBI Connect can further careers, too. Missed opportunities to improve, operate more effectively, or learn of useful coaching will no longer be a bother.  

5. New Ideas – Perhaps the most obvious benefit of becoming active in UBI Connect, is being able to connect with peers in the same community and build relationships. From these connections and the trust they are built upon, come new ideas and opportunities for growth- unrestricted by borders or geographies.

Great functionality, and more

UBI Connect offers an easy to navigate menu that is both intuitive and smart. Sharing ideas and posting thoughts on UBI Connect is easy through the Live Feed area of the platform. For longer discussions, there is a Forum section with categorized topics. The Forum is where we would like member feedback and thoughts about the platform. Separate sections for News and Events are used to inform users of the exciting activities that programs are participating in all over the world. Finally, the Incubators & Accelerators, People and Companies areas of the platforms are where users can find important networking contacts, post new ideas and best practices, and share useful solutions.

Exclusively for members, by members

UBI Connect is the only platform of its kind for the innovation community, designed to meet requirements and overcome challenges faced by incubators and accelerators alike. Unlike other B2B or social networks, UBI Connect will not allow advertisements or targeted communications from outsiders but instead focus on offering access to relevant, interesting information. UBI Connect will be populated with information and insights from UBI Global and senior level influencers and decision makers in the world of innovation.

The engagement platform offers a strategic, focused way to interact in the wider community on a new level. Discussions with peers are more productive because everyone is on the same page, with deliberate connections and potential contacts that evolve into long-term partnerships. UBI Connect will build genuine authenticity with its forum discussions and provide value for the members

See and be seen, as they say!

Because UBI Connect is exclusive to the incubation community and accessible only by UBI Global members, including incubator and accelerator programs, universities and soon, corporate partners, it becomes the place to see and be seen. All the news and updates are completely tailored to incubation professionals, and conversations and interactions create a hive buzzing with ideas. Ultimately, it is not about whom you know, but rather who knows you that can lead to future opportunities for both parties in terms of advice, motivation, and innovation. For those of you who are too busy or have too many budget constraints to attend live networking events, UBI Connect brings the network and all its benefits right to you.

Members of UBI Global can make the most out of the UBI Connect experience by following these four rules of networking:

  1. Be authentic and be yourself
  2. Listen and be curious about others
  3. Make an effort to stay in touch on the platform
  4. Share useful information and be someone the community can count on

Remember: participation fuels innovation

Networking on a global scale has its own challenges, and building the perfect platform takes some time- which is why we are inviting our members to create their profiles now, while UBI Connect is still in the beta test stage. Members can create their profiles with the login details sent by the UBI Connect system. Each can populate his or her profile with all the important information about the organization, its leadership, and the startups supported. Just like in other social media platforms, the more detailed the user profile, the more easily understood one becomes- and in one’s own voice. Members: This is your chance to share your success stories, list your projects, and more!

After profiles are completed, we invite members to explore UBI Connect and give us feedback through the Feedback Forum section. Feedback is vital to us so that we can finetune and refine the direction of the platform. We want the UBI Global members using the platform to have an experience as impactful as the platform itself! Our goal is to spark collaborations, spread relevant information, highlight successes, and foster relationships. But before we launch the final version in January, we welcome member comments and suggestions to ensure we did not miss any ideas or desired functionalities. Innovation takes a village!

Not yet a UBI Global member? It’s easy to apply.

If you are not already a UBI Global member, it is not too late to apply to join your peers in over 1200 incubation programs in more than 90 countries. With membership, you will be able to access opportunities for impactful collaborations, and these are certainly captured in UBI Connect. Other exciting opportunities to activate your innovation through membership include UBI Global’s World Benchmark Study, the World Incubation Summit, and even the World Startup Challenge. Learn how we can support your program through membership within the UBI Global interactive learning community.