How Big Businesses Are Today's Incubators For Innovation


Eric Haller
11/08/2017

Across North America, 93 percent of business incubators are small nonprofits, according to the International Business Innovation Association. Statistics like that align to the common assumption that entrepreneurship lives solely within startups, stand-alone incubators, and business accelerators.

However, the days of startups holding a monopoly over entrepreneurial spirit are over. In fact, they have been over for quite some time.

Today, large corporations, in an array of industries, are cultivating entrepreneurial energy – and putting significant resources behind it – to drive business innovation and solve pressing problems.

There are many different examples of this. Take, for example, AOL’s startup incubator Fishbowl Labs. Their model is simple – to support startups with the resources necessary to operate, from everyday workspace to auditoriums for hosting big events.

Or, Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center. They are investing their own capital and expertise to help innovators find solutions within the world of connected devices. Or even GE Ventures – an incubator that partners with startups interested in advancing industries and improving lives. Through these partnerships, GE uses its expertise and resources to grow and commercialize their ideas. Experian DataLabs is also excelling with regard to innovation.

Like many other aforementioned companies, at Experian, we’ve learned that placing a nimble team in front of a complex problem – and providing them the resources they need – produces a winning result both for our business but also for our clients. It allows Experian to seize the competitive advantage of startups, which is that they’re often unencumbered by a bureaucracy and staffed with individuals that are go-getters by nature.

Yet the way we operate is different. We build teams of data scientists and other problem solvers and work with clients to identify their toughest data-related problems, which we work to help make sense through the development of products that solve their issue.

Then, once our core client’s problem has been solved, we work with our business teams to see if there’s a greater need in the market for the custom-developed product. When there is a market need, we roll out the product within an industry or broader group.

In the more than five years Experian DataLabs has been operating, we’ve grown to three locations (Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States), we’ve solved countless problems and introduced a number of products into the market.

Large companies are always at risk of creative destruction, only 12 percent of the 1955 members of the Fortune 500 still exist. For Experian, DataLabs has been key to ensure our continual evolution so that we power new opportunities for our business, our clients, and their customers both tomorrow and into the future.

Key to our success are the data scientists that staff our DataLabs. We have learned that our keys are hard-won; the war for talent is very real. The data scientists that we prefer to hire, those that are go-getters, are the same people that would be equally as comfortable taking risks to start their own businesses as they would joining some of the best known tech giants.

To win the war for talent, we take advantage of our unique differentiators. For Experian, that involves having our American DataLab outside of the Valley in sunny San Diego, and promising our data scientists that no day will ever be the same – that they’ll be exposed to real-world problems that have real-world applications that often go beyond the realm of “digital”.

Our data scientists are often working with municipalities, NGOs, and companies to forge better tomorrows for everyday people around the world. And they work with some of the biggest companies to untangle major problems and produce outcomes that have big impacts on their topline or bottom line figures. We also equip our data scientists with resources that would be unimaginable to most startups.

For companies that maintain a positive corporate culture like Experian, the promise of a high quality of life and a good work/life balance is a strong selling point. At Experian, data scientists know that they’ll work hard, but they certainly aren’t required to be “on” round the clock as they would at startups.

While startup-driven innovation is often glamorized, serious R&D that drives advancements can only be done by established firms. They’re learning every day the lesson that we’ve learned at Experian, which is the benefits of building an agile workplace.

Global companies are embracing the positive trend of building their own incubators, and by sponsoring internal incubators, to go a step further in fostering innovation—far beyond the scope of any small company on its own.

They’re building the nimble infrastructure and then attracting the best entrepreneurial types with the promise of a good quality of life and resources to apply to solving major problems.

This blog originally published on Forbes

Eric Haller is the executive vice president, Experian Global DataLabs.