Washington DC – Collaboration on Innovation

By Carl Bohlin with Jeremiah Owyang

Washington DC was the recent stop for The Catalyst Companies Innovation Council Spring Summit. Our Council Members – Innovation Leaders from cross vertical industries like Energy, Entertainment, Health and Beauty, Hospitality, Insurance and more – gathered at the AARP Innovation Hatchery, for a lengthy day of discovery, insight and innovation best practices.

Our day and a half events are designed to have a mixture of interaction, inspiration and useful content from other innovation peers. We’re often hosted at our members’ locations, this time at AARP.


Day 1: Where we explore various venues in the ongoing effort of innovation. We started our day at 1776, a startup incubator. Members had the opportunity to explore the facilities, learn about engagement between 1776 and the start-ups and how they leverage the Union Platform (assisting startups with connections, education, investments, resources and partners). We also learned more about the Challenge Cup competition which is a 75 city competition to identify promising start-ups. Members also had the opportunity for discussions with start-ups and the experiences they had while working with 1776.

Local Motors was the next stop on the excursion. Cool and wow come to mind as wrap up words. For those that don’t know, Local Motors produced the world’s first 3D printed car, Strati – talk about a game changer for auto manufacturing! They also produce the more commonly known autonomous shuttle, Olli. We hear often about advancements in autonomous driving but not as much on the manufacturing side – imagine printing a custom vehicle with electronics embedded into the body, replaceable body parts (and reusable materials) that know when wear, or damage from an accident requires attention to only that specific part which can be manufactured and sent direct for replacement.

We also learned of the open development platform Launch Forth. Launch Forth, a SaaS platform enabling the crowd to participate in rapid, open development, often through prize monies. Examples provided included Rally Fighter as the first co-created vehicle, GE’s Opal nugget ice maker (reducing time to market by as much as 44 months while gaining critical customer insights) and Dominos use of the crowd for its new pizza delivery vehicle, DXP. The HP Mars project will be kicking off soon with the crowd participating in making a dream into reality.

The council gathered afterward for private dinner discussion and reflection.

Day Two: AARP hosted Catalyst Companies members at their innovation lab, The Hatchery. The openness and aesthetic nature of the lab further enhanced Council discussions.

Members of the council presenting case studies of innovation included AARP and Comcast. Members were also treated to insights and learnings from NASA. Blockchain was also a topic with Jeremy Epstein providing his insight along with our own Jeremiah Owyang discussing the latest member directed research on Blockchain.

Common threads of the tours, presentations and discussions included;

Policy is good: Policy provides a starting point to build from. Everyone has one and should look at ways to enhance their policy to allow flexibility to foster innovation. If the federal government can overcome obstacles it can be done in large organizations. Persistence and flexibility with an “eye on the prize”.

Importance of Prototyping: Early, often and iterative. Right from the first day we discussed the importance of prototyping – along with what to do and more importantly not do. Don’t let design principles and flow overtake the importance of the prototyping and incorporating end user feedback.

Start Small: Big budgets set expectations of big delivery. Start small with an appropriate budget to ensure the solution is heading the right direction; if it veers off course, it should be killed quickly. When moving forward, improve it iteration by iteration to meet expectations.

Prizes Matter: From government to private entities we shared stories on the importance of prizes to engage the audience. If you want to get something done at a lower cost, and have users incorporating what they want, engage internal, external or all channels of the crowd. As one speaker mentioned, Gold, Good, Guts and Glory are the reasons people donate their time.

Blockchain IS coming: Although case studies are few they do span across industries. While many feel it’s off too far in the future, start-ups (or barbarians ready to tear down the walls said one) are working intently. When the technology is ready it will have far ranging implications for the middle layer of transactions.

Large Organizations are like Groupies: The allure of the start-up culture and nimbleness will always continue to nip at the heels of large entities – rightly so as some have the ability to completely smash the current business model. There are various forms of engagement from incubator, accelerator, innovation labs, partnerships, prizes, competition etc. Large organizations need to stay vigilant and fully vet how they view, engage, incorporate or partner with this external community. If done right huge success can be had by all, but external development brought into the “mother ship” can cause real angst.


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