Outsourced innovation: a model for juggernauts to remain nimble

Most if not all companies aspire for greatness. A yardstick often times associated with growing ones staff base, opening more branches, reaching more consumers and to crown it off an IPO that thrusts one into the big leagues. Listing in the NSE, JSE or LSE would be the dream of any company but with it comes additional baggage that is hidden, only to become apparent when some lean startup takes a swipe at ones market share moving with speed and pivoting at will, akin to an attack on a castle from all four cardinal points.

Not only in the West are startups taking on the behemoths across major industry verticals but we are starting to see the trend in Africa, where hitherto protected cash cows are being milked by the underdog thanks to lowered barriers of entry courtesy of technology. Having consulted for a number of listed companies on deployable value adding technology, it has become apparent that a certain rigor mortis hits the organizations on the innovation front as soon as they list.

The biggest challenge facing the executives at these companies is that of processes, policies and governance; that while key to running big or listed companies actually stifle innovation. I have opined at my various interactions that these companies should seriously think of having off shoot companies – startups to say it plainly who will benefit from a research and development budget from big brother. These outfits will play in the innovation ecosystems well and ensure that big brother is up to speed on trends and better still afford the opportunity to quickly built out prototype services in stealth in response to market stimuli that may indicate a shift in market preferences and consumption patterns.

The terms of engagement can be flexible too, if the option of a pseudo independent startup is frowned upon. Research and development partnerships can be forged with established development houses that have full fire hose access to data from big brother under a retainer and revenue share deal that allows for innovation on a budget; as issues of human resource and day to day operations are done away with.

Also with numerous hubs and labs springing across the continent; a well thought out partnership will give companies access to both feelers and a working talent group. The feelers will give a pulse on industry trends with ready talent for rapid build outs made available by the labs, who are open to new models for revenue generation to ensure sustainability for their programs.

There is no acceptable excuse for a corporation to lose its edge and ability to innovate based on its given the different models available.

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.

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