Monday, February 8, 2016

Collaborative Innovation – Winning Big By Getting Small

By Stephen Paljieg

Vice President, Corporate Partnerships

The Real Innovator’s Dilemma

How do I innovate my way into new areas of business while delivering reliable performance on the core?  How can I afford to explore new pathways for growth?  How can I afford not to?  These challenges are familiar to many of us.  Yet, new tools and approaches to overcome the challenge of innovating in the increasingly fast paced, ever changing world of today have been shockingly rare.

But there is hope.  Through crowdsourced innovation programs such as Huggies MomInspired and collaborative innovation and investing platforms such as Portfolia, big companies are discovering that they can win big by getting small.

Collaborative innovation can develop new growth opportunities by embracing the small entrepreneur, investing in their success, and creating win-win commercial propositions rooted in a start-up’s in-market performance.  Because these smart bets are made in the cash obsessed, fast to learn environment of the entrepreneur, larger companies can easily find themselves placing 10 – 15 small, but smart innovation bets for the cost of a single, conventional, internal development and qualification program.
The Need For A New Perspective

What role do the consumers of your brand play in helping to create its success?  Do they just consume the goods or services you provide or do they add value in other ways?

Challenging and expanding the role for consumers within our brands is not a task we typically take on as marketers or innovators.  More often than not, our thoughts are focused on plans to optimize the commercial programs that are designed to act on our target audience.  We design advertising and promotions that reach out to influence the way our consumers think and change the way they act.  In the course of pursuing the best way to talk to our consumers, modify their actions, and service their needs, we spend countless hours and dollars on traditional market research studies.  These studies often rely on tools and techniques designed with the sole purpose of informing the brand building “innovator” with the information to, we hope, delight the product- or service-consuming “innovatee”.  In the end, however, it’s all about what we do for the consumer.

As a result, our innovation labs are largely closed systems.  They are somewhat permeable to the needs of the external environment, but only on our terms and only in response to the questions we ask.

We can be so busy innovating in our traditional way that we periodically forget to pause and consider why and how we do the things we do.   We ignore a key innovation imperative to relentlessly innovate the way we innovate.  We forget to ask the question of how the consumers we sell to can be market makers in other, even more powerful, ways.

The Huggies MomInspired™ Program

There are over 6 million entrepreneurial moms in the U.S.  Seventy-nine percent of these “mompreneurs” developed their ideas after their baby arrived, giving them a powerful, first-hand look at and understanding of unmet needs in the baby- and child-care category.

What exactly is the Huggies® MomInspired™ program?  Each year, Huggies® makes an investment in the entrepreneurial community of moms, advancing the cause of these start-up businesses, curating the innovations they produce, and solving more problems for moms and babies via the enterprises it supports.  Selected mompreneurs get a $15,000 grant, innovation mentoring, a support community in other grant recipients, and perhaps most importantly, validation by one of the premier brands in the baby- and child-care universe.  Now in its fifth year, the Huggies® MomInspired™ program boasts a crowd of 69 grant recipients.  Each entrepreneur in this community has an insight, an execution, and a story that confirms our belief that mothers have a unique and compelling take on innovation in the baby and childcare space.

The Huggies® MomInspired™ program is not a charity.  It is not corporate philanthropy.  It is, at its core, a value creating, commercial relationship between an entrepreneurial mom and the Huggies® brand. 

Huggies® wins in two ways.  The first is by gaining access to new innovations that can advance the expansion of the brand into new domains.  Huggies® sees high quality ideas developed by real moms with firsthand experiences in child rearing.  By journeying forward with these moms and checking in periodically on the success of their businesses, Huggies® gives these smart bets a chance to mature into enterprises which can create new commercial value for all.

Does this really happen?  You bet it does.  Meet Allyson Phillips, a mompreneur from San Diego, California and one of the original Huggies MomInspired™ grant recipients.  Allyson is the inventor of the Tilty Cup™, an inspired reinvention of the sippy cup and the first true training cup for toddlers.

Can you tell I like the Tilty Cup™?  You bet I do!  But more importantly, so does Evenflo Feeding, a Kimberly-Clark subsidiary, and a business in search of innovation to reset its toddler feeding accessories business.  It is an innovation marriage made in heaven, so much so that Evenflo Feeding has completed a licensing agreement with Allyson for the rights to manufacture and sell Tilty Cup™ throughout the Americas.

The second way that the Huggies® MomInspired™ program builds value for Huggies® is by the advocacy of its participating mompreneurs and the recognition of moms in general who see the good the brand is doing.  Since its inception, over 100 million brand impressions (times when consumers talk about the brand) have been attributed to the Huggies® MomInspired™ program.  Each and every one of those impressions has something good to say about the brand and the work that Huggies® is doing with its crowd of inventive moms.  What’s not to like about a brand investing money in mominspired businesses that seek to solve problems for moms and enhance their parenting experience?  It makes for a really good story.

Portfolia – Investing Together In Companies You Believe In

Now, let’s take the concept of collaborative innovation one important step further.  Let’s add new, meaningful sources of capital to the big company – small entrepreneur equation.

Portfolia is a unique, collaborative investment and innovation platform where female investors, women entrepreneurs, and the big companies serving female consumers are making markets together. Porfolia is built on three strategic opportunities:  1) inviting, educating, and supporting accredited women as angel investors; thereby correcting their significant underrepresentation in this space, 2) providing access to capital for investment-starved, female-led, consumer facing start-ups, and 3) developing Focused Micro Funds which enable big companies to place small, leveraged, de-risked bets on a range of start-ups that suit their growth ambitions.

These are exciting times in innovation and joining the “by women for women movement” offers the rare opportunity to do well by doing good, accessing some great innovations, but also helping to address the inequities challenging women in early stage investing and entrepreneurship.  It’s a great consumer/shopper, employee, and stakeholder story, but most importantly it’s a way to find and incubate business-building innovations.

All of us have seen businesses, companies, and even markets disrupted by an agile start-up with a new view on the opportunity, innovation, and/or business model.  Winning big by getting small is the way for large enterprises to develop a line-of-sight to the potential disruptors, help enable their development/growth, and ultimately create value together.

Stephen Paljieg has been a Senior Innovation Leader with Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark and is now the Vice-President for Corporate Partnerships at Portfolia and the Owner/Funder of eXo Innovation LLC.  Steve can be reached at

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