Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Australian technology incubator, ATP Innovations, has officially launched its new industry engagement program in partnership with Woolworths, Optus, IAG and Cook Medical.
The new Multiplier program aims to facilitate engagement between corporate organisations and emerging tech startups and researchers, though informal networking activities and programs.
Each of the four corporate partners selected are providing funding that goes towards supporting startups and emerging research offerings, and have the opportunity to network and interact with ATP’s curated community of relevant innovators.
The Multiplier program is one of several emerging opportunities arising that looks to bridge the gap between the startup community and corporates. For corporates, the opportunity to tap into startup thinking and ideas is proving an increasingly popular approach to harnessing the disruptive and technology-led thinking necessary to remain relevant and successful.
Speaking at the launch of the program in Sydney, Woolworths head of innovation, Georgie Fleischer, said ATP’s Multiplier program is one of several proactive steps the supermarket giant is taking to generate more innovative thinking in and around the business. Fleischer heads up a separate business unit within Woolworths.
“Like all corporates, we find innovation very challenging and when we start thinking about how to try to think differently, it’s a struggle,” she said. “One of the things we do get within our innovation team is the power of collaboration between industry, researchers and startups. I’m hoping this organisational partnership being offered under the Multiplier program will help bring those three groups together and turn them into great disruptive opportunities and successes.”
According to Fleischer, key operational challenges and issues Woolworths is trying to address include supply chain logistics and getting fresh fruit to supermarkets in a better condition, providing environmentally-friendly packaging, and improving business processes. There’s also an ongoing quest for customer service improvements.
“Part of this multiplier program is giving those challenges out to the community and seeing how we can solve those problems,” she said. “It may not be a startup or researcher that has the answer, or a problem may be redefined, and this is what we’re excited about.”
Woolworths launched its own W Start program last October as a way of opening its doors to the startup community, and holds a weekly Friday drop-in networking session to encourage conversations with startups. Already, the supermarket giant has spoken with more than 100 startups and is working with 25 in various phases of development.
An example is Simply Collect, which focuses on providing shoppers with more convenient ways of collecting purchased products inside Woolworths locations. The activity saw Woolworths partner with eBay, Big W and Ezibuy to deliver more than 200,000 packages to customers through its store network.
“This is an example of two potential competitors working together to provide a better solution for the consumers and customer shopping with us,” Fleischer said.
Woolworths is also looking at new product lines, and brought non-dairy probiotic drink, Perkii, to shelves in two Sydney city locations in December. The product was developed by researchers within the University of Queensland. Thanks to the success of the product with customers, distribution is now being expanded to 300 stores nationally.
Another area Fleischer expressed interest in is the ‘food for now’ market, and providing an Uber-like service around food delivery.
“We’ve had 20 or more startups come and pitch up around different areas of this business,” she said.
To foster dialogue, startups are invited to come into the WStart lab to present, and go through ideation exercises to see whether Woolworths wants to be a part of that market and opportunity, Fleischer said.
“We’re really excited about the ATP program and looking forward to those disruptive opportunities coming our way and potential solving those challenges,” she added.
IAG is another corporate sponsor for the Multiplier program this year, and newly installed director of strategic initiatives for its Customer Labs division, Andrew Stead, welcomed the opportunity to foster conversations that could help with new product development.
Stead has a background in the startup space himself as a co-founder and director of New Ventures at NICTA (now Data61) and is focused on how IAG better works with startups, researchers and universities and students.
IAG established its Customer Lab last year as a unit focused on customer experience strategy and driving product innovation through data and insights, brand architecture and new business incubations and venturing.
An emerging area of opportunity and exploration for insurance groups like IAG is ‘insuretech’, Stead said, which encompasses data analytics, the Internet of Things, connected homes and cybersecurity.
“We are a data-driven business, and there is a new CEO in place that understands the benefits technology provides to the business, and it’s highly competitive in Australia and globally,” he said. “We are building a capability inside the business but we recognise we need to reach out and collaborate with the broader market.”
ATP Innovations is owned by four Australian universities: University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, University of NSW and Australian National University. The organisation has helped more than 80 businesses over the past 10 years, raising more than $150 million in private equity.
“We want to take advantage of the momentum created by the government’s Innovation statement where industry is encouraged to engage more effectively with the startup and research community,” said ATP’s director of strategy and business development, Petra Andren. “We know first-hand that businesses that collaborate on innovation with research organisations are three times more likely to experience productivity growth, improved sales and exporting activity.”
Read more on how brands are seeking innovation through startup partnerships:
- Simplot kicks off startup incubator program to drive food innovation
- Innovation challenge results in new customer ordering app prototype for Village Cinemas
- Vocus marketing team pushes innovation agenda with startup investment program
- Report: Marketers are turning to startups for marketing innovation
- How innovation labs are helping organisations think like startups
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