Michael Fruhling's Blog

A bunch of stuff about innovation…

Change the Game

Posted by mdf4u on January 22, 2010

Over the course of 5 years, I have dramatically redefined my business model and service offering to accomodate the realities of corporate external innovation and to better address my clients’ evolving needs.  This has allowed my business to grow and thrive.   Without having taken this action, I’d now be doing something else for a living    

 

Back in 2004, I naively thought that I could make an attractive living by representing technology providers to big name consumer packaged goods companies.  Why not?  Companies were starting to express interest in external technologies.  I have strong ability to attract and cultivate attractive technologies and providers.  I have excellent relationships and contacts at a diverse array of companies.   

Since then, I’ve made scores of unsolicited technology submissions to a variety of companies.  How many of these have been adopted?  Ummm….Two.  Why has my batting average in this area been so abysmal?  In hindsight, it’s actually quite simple to understand. 
 
If the problems were easy to solve, the companies would have solved them by now.
The largest companies engaged in external innovation are looking to fill technical needs that their considerable internal R&D resources have been unable to fully satisfy.  
 
Stiff competition:
While many companies routinely accept external innovation submissions to satisfy unmet needs,  they are simultaneously proactively pursuing multiple alternate approaches.  If it’s truly important, then companies will allocate money and resources to try to solve it.  They’re not just waiting around for an unsolicited solution.  Proactive search efforts may include designating technology scouts (internal and/or external) to search for solutions, placing incentivized challenges with companies like NineSigma, Innocentive and Innovation Xchange.  
 
Companies are looking for the Right technical solution, not just a solution:  
Many of the top companies have exacting requirements.  They can choose to be as rigid and/or as patient as they desire in addressing these.  They likely have a variety of solutions to choose from.  They may just not have found the optimal one yet.
 
Savvy Companies, Smart Solutions and Game Changing:   
In recent years, I’ve been pretty successful in getting technologies (and providers) adopted by client companies.  Importantly, I’ve achieved this from the “inside”, not the “outside”.  Through a combination of corporate technology scouting, new business opportunity creation, and technology brokering, my business has grown by about 200% in the past two years alone.  The reason for this success is primarily because I’ve significantly revised my value propositon.  As opposed to 2004, where I almost exclusively represented external technology providers, now, I primarily provide technology scouting /intermediary services for major corporate clients.  My clients KNOW what they want.  Instead of me guessing at needs and their nuances from the “outside”, I can be far more successful by collaboratively and iteratively identifying and evaluating multiple technical and product solutions.
 
Technology scouting absolutely remains an essential component of my work.  However, beyond solving precise “need gaps”, it fuels active collaboration to help my clients identify distinctive new business opportunities.  An intriguing “found” technology or new product can inspire my R&D clients to develop seed new business ideas.  I assist them to conduct early stage, exploratory on-line consumer reserach to build the foundation for new opportunity discussions with their Business Teams.  As my clients are actively involved and engaged in the creative process, they take ownership of select opportunities and will advocate for these with colleagues.  A technology that is intriguing but may not be “quite right” can prompt incubation and become an inspiration for further new opportunity creation.  It can prompt additional search and/or development efforts in which I can participate. 
 
I’m personally convinced that collaborative development via external innovation solution identification can offer companies robust opportunities for business growth.   The ones that choose to play this game and play it well can be big winners.  I’m happy to be able to join and assist some of them in this pursuit.    
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