When you think of Michelin, you probably think of tires. In particular, the tires you’re about to replace on your car. The 126-year-old French company evokes images of reliable, durable rubber tires for all kinds of vehicles. “Pushing the envelope” or “cutting-edge innovation” probably aren’t the first phrases that come to mind. Yet pushing the envelope is precisely what the company’s Michelin Incubators is designed to help a corporate entrepreneur, or intrapreneur, do.
Led by SVP and Director Ralph Dimenna, Global Incubators was created to accelerate innovation outside Michelin’s core rubber tire business. The program works like a startup incubator, but it recruits teams from within Michelin. Corporate entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to executives to win a round of funding. Once they close on the funding, they put together a team and form a startup that works on the idea full time. The team tests its hypotheses in the market until they either find the product/market fit or pivot to something else.
MIT Sloan Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst
Earlier this November, the British-American Business Council’s New England chapter (BABCNE) hosted an inspiring event in Boston that brought together nine high-ranking foreign diplomats, members of international business associations and business leaders to discuss how innovation can increase productivity and income opportunities through cross-border participation. The fact that the event was organized by Susie Kitchens, HM Consul General of the United Kingdom is no surprise.
National Mind Shift
The UK is mobilizing a strong and quite deliberate push for innovation-driven business development—domestically and globally. And nowhere is this more evident than in London. As a British “subject” (yes, that’s still the term!) who now calls the USA home, I am struck by a truly seismic cultural shift taking place in Britain—the nation’s stereotypical attitudes toward risk-taking and shunning conspicuous success are at long last changing, and quite visibly. Having lived and worked in London for several years, I may be partial to its continuing progress as a major center of cultural, academic and economic influence, but the changes I see during every visit are undeniable. Especially so in the last couple of years.
MIT Sloan Visiting Associate Professor Aurélie Thiele
It is a truism in career development that you should only do one thing and do it well. You don’t want to pursue multiple business endeavors—that would scatter your energy. Offer a consistent image to the world. Focus.
When I moved back to Cambridge for my sabbatical at MIT, where I earned a doctorate in engineering a decade ago, I thought I knew what to expect. The revitalization of Kendall Square, the Innovation District in South Boston, the new MBTA stop in Somerville, pharmaceutical companies building their new headquarters within walking distance of the Charles River, Google opening an office nearby: I was aware of all these. They were aligned with Greater Boston’s brand as an innovation hub in science and engineering. Left-brain innovation, I call it. For me, that was Greater Boston’s One Thing.
But I was most struck, after I came back, by the amount of right-brain innovation going on—new arts-related offerings that customers pay for. (It is not innovation if it doesn’t have marketplace value.) Everybody knows Boston’s reputation in science, technology, and engineering. But an innovative mindset is sustained by right-brain activities: spend an hour at the museum or two in a theater and view the world differently, especially if the cultural offerings are on the cutting edge. Of course, Boston has all the events that residents count on in a metropolis: open artists’ studios on First Fridays, a book festival every October, a film festival, a jazz festival, community programs at local museums, authors’ events at indie bookstores, and so on. Every large city with any hope to attract the educated, however, does the same. I like to think that Boston is more successful at it—I’ll argue that the Boston events involve writers and artists of a caliber rarely seen elsewhere—but those events alone don’t make Boston special. What does is the role of new works in the city’s cultural scene, and what they mean about Boston’s identity.
Valuing a company is always a mix of science and art, especially for startups. Historically the science has been pretty simple: Find comparable companies and do a multiple of earnings or revenue.
However, three drivers of startup valuation have emerged that are changing the game. “Acquihire,” is the act of buying out a company for the skills and expertise of its staff. It has become so well-known that it is even listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. When Facebook buys a company like Hot Potato, it’s not for the revenue stream or products — it’s for the employees.
Knowledge and innovation generated at universities can lead to the creation of high-impact spin-off businesses. Whether it is through the licensing of intellectual property, partnerships or other informal arrangements, the tech transfer process can play a critical role in shaping new industries and regional economic development.
Research by Eesley and Miller and Eesley and Roberts has demonstrated the role Stanford University has played in shaping the development of Silicon Valley and MIT’s contribution to building a world-class innovation hub in the Kendall Square district of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
While those are examples of successful academic-industry-government ecosystems, the technology transfer system at many universities in the US and Europe is in need of a major overhaul. Its focus is historically rooted in revenue generation rather than in helping innovation. Technology transfer offices in many universities can act as bottlenecks rather than partners in knowledge transfer for economic and societal good.
Thomas J. Allen is the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, Emeritus and Professor of Organizations Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Dr Rory O’Shea is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also serves as a faculty member at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD.