Innovation & Strategy Conference: Driving Home Disruption

Insights from Paula Quintana and Kim Ayers

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The Innovation & Strategy Conference, held November 14th in the hip-while-retro Innovation and Design Building in the Seaport area of Boston, offered attendees insights to corporate innovation from a wide variety of perspectives.

Karen Madden, VP Technology and Innovation of PerkinElmer, provided first-hand experience and advice on how big corporations can drive impact by cooperating with startups: “It’s not an option anymore, if you don’t team up with the disruptive, you’re going to get disrupted.” Using the David and Goliath metaphor, she outlined the pros and cons for both parties. She also gave examples of when done right, the synergy between the two entities brings success to all – even increase sales growth to both David and Goliath:

Innovation and Strategy Conference_Slide from Karen Madden_PerkinElmer
Presented by Karen Madden, PerkinElmer, at Innovation & Strategy, November 2019, Boston

Our key takeaways were:

  • Finding a business champion inside the Goliath (big company) is vital to assist David (small company) navigate the inner workings of large corporations.
  • Champions oversee idea diffusion to the appropriate groups within a big company.
  • At PerkinElmer a lot of employees who came from startups through acquisitions end up being very strong innovation champions.
  • Innovation groups need to show the rest of company that they are making progress.
  • Successful partnerships are companies that can offer a “plug-and-play” solution that fits nicely with the big company’s corporate strategy.
  • All companies have a mix of internal and external innovation. At PerkinElmer they decide internally what technologies they are good at, and which areas they are willing to concede expertise to an outside technology provider.


Innovation Focused on Purpose-Driven Purchases

Another session we really enjoyed was presented by Sean McDowell, VP Innovation, Design and Sustainability at Nike/Converse. Converse’s corporate innovation is driven by the understanding of Gen Z’s purpose-driven purchases. This generation asks about a company’s values and attitudes towards sustainability and environmental consciousness before deciding whether to purchase a product or not. These consumers are moving away from fast fashion, with a willingness to pay more for quality items that embody environmental or social values. In response, Converse has developed two new Chuck shoe models marketed under the Converse Renew brand. One model uses upcycled denim, the other creates fiber from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles – the plastic water bottle you find at any convenience store.

Lastly, we really liked a new-ish buzz word that was used by Converse: “minnovation”. The term is really not so new, as David Isenberg wrote about it in the Harvard Business Review back in Nov. 2009, stating: “the vast majority of real-life entrepreneurs around the world aren’t innovators. They’re minnovators — mixing small parts of novelty and creativity with huge helpings of flexibility, scrappiness, and a generous portion of hard-driving execution.” Converse spoke about their internal minnovations, e.g. multiple iterative innovations by which the PET fibers were converted from a plastic, smooth fiber to a thread more closely resembling cotton fiber with its unevenness and imperfections.

The conference put a strong point on the fact that disruption is impacting all industries. Our job at yet2 is to be the enablers for disruptive innovation. We connect the Goliaths with the Davids of the world and strive to create a relationship that is mutually beneficial for both.

This post was co-authored by Paula Quintana and Kim Ayers


Read more about how “Davids and Goliaths” can work together in our Tips for Startups Series:


Tips for Startups: Interacting with Large Corporations More Effectively

Tips for Startups: Maximizing your Meetings with Large Corporations

Tips for Startups: Making Sure Large Companies Remember You



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