Checking your Innovation Vitals

by Becca Leonard

A s innovation is scaling across the globe, the corresponding need for speed in corporate innovation decision making is not keeping up. Especially in the worlds of corporate insurance and financial services — building consensus and gaining trust to implement a disruptive idea can often become a long-term, slow-moving project.

But — there are critical elements that any founder or innovation leader can do to speed things along. First (and most importantly), have a great solution to a real problem. Beyond that, work to find the right leader with the right mindset, or — BE that leader if you’re in a large company. As that leader, work to create a rising tide that encourages innovation and disruption internally.

Ultimately, speed to trust is critical in developing transformative partnerships. This is where working with a strategic partner like SixThirty can also help, by nurturing collaboration among startups <> corporations in all that we do, through our investments, Go-To-Market Program, mentor relationships, and the test & grow mindset we offer.

To demonstrate the value of creating these strategic alliances, we invited five top corporate innovators and startup founders to “check their innovation vitals” with us and share their candid views on how well incumbents and startups are really collaborating, and what they can do to improve.

We discovered that truly innovative ideas are likely to succeed in the long run ONLY when the right balance of eagerness to (C)ollaborate and (D)isrupt exists among partners.

Hosted on February 19, “Checking your Innovation Vitals: Are you getting enough Vitamin (C)ollaboration & (D)isruption?” was presented in partnership with JobsOhio.

Panelists included: Brent Hammer, AVP, Enterprise Innovation Officer of Grange Insurance; Kate Lybarger, SVP, Head of Innovation at Huntington National Bank; Steve Lekas, Founder of Branch Insurance; Majd Maksad, Founder of Status Money; Michael Dritsas, CEO of Vlot. The panel was moderated by Atul Kamra, SixThirty Managing Partner.

Below is a summary of the discussion and a comprehensive video with key time stamps and corresponding audience polls highlighted:

Q: (Atul — SixThirty) 13:54

How do you evaluate the collaborative quotient of a potential partner? What are the tell-tale signs?

A: (Brent — Grange Insurance)

The best scenario is when you have people at the table who are “T-shaped,” meaning they have really deep acumen and expertise in a particular area that complements you, but then they also have a broad enough understanding of the basics of the problem you’re trying to solve as well.

A: (Steve — Branch Insurance)

All of the best long term deals are built on trust, understanding and mutual benefit. You really want to find strategic alignment and an opportunity to create value. If you’re trying to change the world, it won’t work if it’s all one-sided. It needs to be 50–50.

A: (Majd — Status)

I don’t think collaboration is stalled because of inability of startups to be ready to collaborate — it’s usually the other way around. I’ve seen a lot of companies create centers of innovation and global digital initiatives, but in most cases, these are pet projects that die or get transformed with a change of the guard every couple of years. I’ve learned how to assess out who might be a potential corporate partner by making sure they’re actually going to go through the process and not just checking some boxes internally.

Audience poll: 83% of respondents say their organization actively engages in startup <> corporate collaboration.

Q: (Atul — SixThirty) 17:40

As an up-and-coming player in the insurance industry, how do you think the industry is responding to change and disruptive ideas?

A: (Michael — Vlot)

The industry is not very agile in my opinion. When I worked for one of the largest insurers in the world, we had $1 Billion we would give out to startups each year. When you realize how many of those startups ideas have actually been integrated, it comes back to — how truthful are you in your commitment to really making a difference?

I’ve found that it’s only about the Mr. X or the Mrs. X in the big company. If you find the right person with the right mindset, you can go incredibly far. Otherwise, you’ll just be on the innovation tour cruise to Disneyland — it will be fun, it will be interesting, but you will not get any business results.

Audience poll: 57% of respondents say the insurance and financial services industries are getting there but have a lot of work to do when it comes to responding to disruption and embracing opportunities to collaborate with startups.

Q: (Atul — SixThirty) 25:20

As heads of innovation, do you find that you need to prove yourself on things that are more incremental before you introduce something more disruptive?

A: (Kate — Huntington National Bank)

I have to be really strategic and deliberate about the types of things I want to accomplish. There’s nothing more valuable for me to do up front than to spend my time proving to the executive team my understanding the strategies they’re executing against. The early work can often feel quite incremental, but the exposure you gain to what they’re really thinking, the trust you’ll build and the other insight that you’ll suddenly have access to gives you a lot of opportunity to nurture the relationship.

Then suddenly you’re a very different type of resource to these executives than you would be if you come in guns blazing. Until you prove that you can respect where they’ve been and where they’re trying to go, you don’t find a lot of people are willing to open doors.

A: (Brent — Grange Insurance)

It’s few and far between that you find an executive that is open to being challenged, but you quickly find out who those people are. I focus all my energy on those people at first.

These are the evangelists who say, “Hey the innovation team did this for me, they can do it for you too.” Find those people who are willing to give you a win and then push them out in front of the rest of the organization to tell your story.

Audience poll: 45% of respondents say their organization is focused on incremental improvements towards innovation and 30% say they their organization is integrating some transformative ideas, while only 10% are focused on disruptive ideas.

Q: (Atul — SixThirty) 29:35

What do you think is one of the more misunderstood perceptions around innovation? Who is ultimately responsible for innovation in your organization?

A: (Kate — Huntington National Bank)

Innovation is not something I go at alone across the organization- there are a lot of pockets of creativity and people willing to take chances and try stuff out. When you’re cultivating this inside of an organization, how do you create the rising tide? There’s certainly a spark that comes with being the team titled innovation, but it’s also about how you pull in some of these other folks and empower them and create exposure for things they’re not yet thinking about. Then you start seeing some different types of movement across the organization — what’s misunderstood is that we have to go at this together.

A: (Brent — Grange Insurance)

At the end of the day, you want to create a culture that feels empowered, but it takes a long time and lot of patience to shift from a trusted enabler of innovation to a trusted disruptor to the core business.

Audience poll: 55% of respondents say that everyone is responsible for innovation.

Q: (Atul — SixThirty) 47:41

Speed to market and speed to scale is key in this time of rapid change and connectivity. Yet decision making at incumbents is increasingly consensus driven. What can you do to accelerate consensus building?

A: (Steve — Branch Insurance)

We’ve had tremendous success in large company partnerships and getting access to the people that are in decision making seats has had everything to do with that kind of success. It has a lot to do with WHO creates a tail wind at your back. You don’t do these things by yourself.

A: (Kate— Huntington National Bank)

I think it’s a question of what are you trying to get out of this thing we call innovation. If you’re if you’re setting it up such that you need the safe space within the enterprise to be able to test concepts with users, I wouldn’t put a P&L against that, because you are influencing outcomes that are misaligned with the objective. If you are looking to stand-up businesses that may or may not go into market and stealth mode and fold back into existing business models or become new business models that you own and operate, I think P&Ls become healthy in terms of what you’re working toward and how you’re measuring progress.

Audience poll: 48% of respondents say one or a few individuals make the majority of key decisions and 38% say most decisions are made by a consensus across the organization.

Q: (Atul — SixThirty) 53:42

2020 has in many ways accelerated some of the things that we’ve wanted to have happen in the world of digitalization and customer adoption. Looking at 2021 and beyond, how are you gearing up your innovation roadmaps, partnerships and strategies?

A: (Majd — Status Money)

I want to come back to something that you said earlier, which is the speed of innovation and how the speed of decision making is not catching up.
There is an unspoken element here which really is determining how organizations make decisions, which is trust — Do you trust your people to make the call? That’s really what it comes down to. Are you, as a senior leader, making the calls yourself because you think you’re better equipped, because you think you’re smarter, or are you relying on consensus? Or — are you distributing decision making? When looking at this, I think there’s this element of trust that we really need to address.

In terms of looking ahead, the world’s going to continue to change so either you change with it, or — you’re dying. As a start up in a growing company, we are building that future, and we’re trying to accelerate that change. We’re paying attention to every data point that’s out there on the macro and micro scale. But — at the end of the day, partnership and collaboration is where we all benefit.

A: (Brent — Grange Insurance)

I think you really hit on a nerve in terms of the trust element. In the corporate world, the captain who’s at the helm needs to be sending a message that you have permission to break a few eggs and ruffle a few feathers. My goal for 2021 and beyond is to move that needle from being a trusted enabler to trusted disrupter.

A: (Kate — Huntington National Bank)

I think the the pandemic really accelerated mobile adoption across some generations who maybe weren’t quite as comfortable moving into that type of interaction. But — when branches weren’t an option, banking didn’t cease to exist.

As I look upon what lies ahead — it’s how is that relationship between a financial institution and human continuing to evolve? Not just in how I’m making a deposit but how I show up and help solve the things they’re trying to accomplish. I think we will continue to accelerate and capitalize on how the engagement within our customer base is is evolving from a mobile perspective, but also how we see financial services show up.Certainly, with the push and the pull from the FinTech arena, but the big tech movement is also really impressive and and I’m anxious to see how that continues as well.

A: (Michael — Vlot)

This year has led to change that a lot of us have believed in and has been long coming, but it required a pandemic for this seismic shift to really enter the consumers minds. The awareness of your financial situation is enormously important.

Giving consumers a better understanding of where they stand, maybe even more-so in these critical times because people’s finances are going to be strapped so they’ll want to know how they can close gaps, insure themselves, and understand where they stand is going to become more and more important.

I will at the same time also put out of message of caution: It is not so that the big players are willingly changing, and I think it will take longer for distributions to leave their custom models and really embrace digital as a native distribution model and going through those channels, I still think they’re in a too comfortable position. Maybe I’ll be wrong — I hope so, but I think the change is still going to take longer than we expect.

At SixThirty, this is our mission and the model on which we operate: We believe startup <> corporate collaboration is the key to sustainable competitiveness and allowing these big, bold ideas to scale. Through our Go-To-Market Program, we align FinTech, InsurTech, Digital Health and CyberSecurity entrepreneurs with corporate mentors to grow them into to great businesses.



STL #venture firm investing in the most innovative ideas across globe. #fintech #insurtech #digitalhealth #cybersecurity

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STL #venture firm investing in the most innovative ideas across globe. #fintech #insurtech #digitalhealth #cybersecurity