Four Lessons on Accelerating Innovation

At the Customer Innovation Centre in Calgary, learning is a given. GE’s Chief Innovation Officer Gandeephan Ganeshalingam oversees a program that is constantly seeking efficient and creative ways to address critical challenges for industry. Working with startups and collaborating with industry partners, Ganeshalingam has a unique vantage on what’s happening at the front lines of digital industrial innovation.

2016 was no exception. Here are some milestones from the year, and the insights that Ganeshalingam drew from these experiences.

1. Celebrated the launch of an accelerator hub in downtown Calgary

The CIC opened Zone Startups Calgary, an accelerator to foster tech startups and support the emergence of digital industrial innovations. Before the end of the year, two of these startups merged to create a powerful combined solution for industry.

What makes an accelerator like Zone Startups Calgary successful?

“One of the most successful elements of this accelerator is that it’s embedded inside an industrial company. Typically, the challenge with small companies is that they are solutions looking for problems. We’re playing the role of matchmaker, because we’ve opened a window into GE for our startups. At the CIC, we’ve got 7,000 customers coming through here every year, and they all bring their own sets of challenges. These we can now match with like-minded partners.”

2. Fostered a culture of rapid collaboration and efficient innovation among startups

The CIC used GE’s FastWorks strategy to help emerging enterprises based in Zone Startups Calgary to iterate quickly, find strategic partners, and win big industrial customers.

How do you facilitate relationships between startups and industry?

“You have to build trust. That’s the foundation of any relationship. The first step is to spend time immersing yourself in the challenge for the customer. Then, instead of talking and power-pointing, actually build something that the customer can touch and feel. It’s better to build something quickly and cheaply, and test it out. Then you can work closely with industry partners like GE to understand how best to refine it.”

3. Introduced a suite of software tools to help industry make smart decisions faster

In November, the CIC launched GE Adaptix, a set of software that uses machine learning and adaptive intelligence to increase efficiency and break down silos between operating divisions of a business.

How can you encourage companies to adopt new technology? 

“The best way to accelerate adoption is to immerse yourself in the problem, in the time and place it’s happening. The days of innovating in a lab and pushing out solutions are over. You have to collaborate from the beginning and grab feedback early.”

4. Hosted industry leaders and sponsored solutions to challenges facing the Canadian economy

The CIC gathered key innovators to share their latest tools and products to help companies, and consulted with industry to identify challenges and seek solutions.

How do you identify a valuable solution for industry?

“Anyone can come up with a market study that says it’s worth a billion dollars or ten billion dollars. You can make up those numbers pretty easily. What you cannot invent is three companies lining up to be lead customers, because they have a bleeding-from-the-neck problem and they want to help you solve it. If you can co-create a good solution quickly and cost-effectively with industry, then it’s worth an initial seed investment to validate the real market opportunity.”

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