About this episode

Eric Saint Andre is a leading expert in design thinking, innovation, business model innovation, new business design and startup acceleration. He is the Founder and Managing Director of ASA Advisory Services, a leading Innovation Consultancy based in Singapore and also the founder of Augmented Tribe, a tech startup offering an Innovation Platform to support organizations with their innovation and digital transformation initiatives.

Eric has worked hand in hand with hundreds of corporate innovation teams as part of innovation programs he has designed and facilitated. He has also accelerated in excess of 100 startups in South East Asia working hand in hand with each one of those over the past eight years based in Singapore.

With years of practical knowledge and experience in innovation methodologies such as Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Future-Driven Business Innovation, Business Model Innovation, Eric has helped numerous large MNCs, local enterprises and public organizations (GovTech, SBF, SG Innovate, etc.)  designing and facilitating fit-for-purpose design thinking, innovation and transformation programs, to help them become more agile, innovative and highly adaptable to change.”

Here are some highlights of our discussion: 

  • What is the history of corporate innovation, what has worked and what hasn’t, and yes the challenge of classical innovation labs
  • How our expectations as customers and consumers have evolved, and how corporations had to adopt more human-centric approaches
  • The big corporate gaps: the exploration and venture building engines are weak, and governance often still holds back long-term horizon exploration
  • The rise of ambidextrous organizations, segregating exploratory units from their traditional units
  • What’s inside the innovation engine?
  • How corporate innovation engines are tapping into and retaining intrapreneurs by offering more autonomy and incentives
  • Can funding, assets and talents become decentralized? How would we create a decentralized venture builder?

Episode Transcript

Andries De Vos: How has corporate innovation changed over the last decade?

Eric Saint Andre: 10 years ago, corporate innovation was very aligned with the 3rd industrial world: most things were fairly stable, and the organizations were designed to execute, i.e. reduce costs, deliver productivity, etc. The worldwide web technology disrupted that model. It was overwhelming for corporates: they had to digitize themselves, and mobile and cloud computing technologies emerged, so the corporates wanted to tackle their full potential.

The technology has become very cheap and available to everyone. We have now IoT, blockchain, mature cloud, genomics. First, organizations had to make sense of one disruptive technology, and now there are 15 such. Also, now customers have different expectations, as we have completely changed the way we interact with products. What was even more overwhelming for organizations is that they focused on technologies, but the customers were fleeing to startups, so the organizations started focusing on customers. Design thinking and human-centric methodologies are the focus now.

Any business needs help with covering the needs of the customers. People like the design team enable the customer-centric approach within the organization. It had been all about execution, then it was about the focus on tech, and then we focus on the customer. Now we realize there is something fundamentally wrong with how our organizations are designed – they are still designed to thrive in the 3rd industrial world where we need to execute and optimize.

Innovation ventures are still very weak, we haven’t created a sustainable and integrated organization that can look into the future. The change needs to be at a structural level. Sometimes it happens – we see Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Customer Officers in some corporates. The structure starts to reflect the world we live in. But at the process level, not so much. Also, there is no motivation to innovate, be agile, there is no commitment from everyone across the organization because there is no reward. The future, I think, is the ambidextrous model, in which the organization has 2 engines: one that executes and one that innovates. This can solve all legacy problems we have in the existing organizations.

Most organizations are realizing this. The change has to come from the board director, and most of those are men in their 60s, and they don’t understand the changes of the last 15 years. They are very conservative, and they are defending the old model. But we see more brave leaders now.

Andries De Vos: How would you now unpack the innovation/exploration engine? What is inside, and what are the capabilities?

Eric Saint Andre: Think of it as a completely separate organization that does only exploration, but not with a view of 1-5 years. The horizon is 3-10 years, and it defines the innovation engine strategy. The structure will be designed around how to introduce new ventures and products. The team will have all the skills required to upscale (like in an innovation lab) – prototyping, testing and learning, etc. The processes will be agile, there is going to be lots of experimentation, and this engine will be highly collaborative and customer-obsessed, and it will have a bold vision. People recruited to this engine would be software engineers, founders, who would be rewarded accordingly. We tried to do this in the form of innovation labs, but it doesn’t work perfectly because the lab tries to become part of the entire organization when what we need is a completely separate engine.

Andries De Vos: How do you crack the talent piece?

Eric Saint Andre: Entrepreneurs know there is a high risk of failure and a very small safety net, when they create a startup. If they can do the innovative, creating things in an environment that provides salary and equity, large environment, health insurance, then people who want to be entrepreneurs but can’t because of the high risk will be attracted. It’s like being a cool kid on the block – you do what you want but the parents are still there to protect you.

People want some sort of autonomy, they want to keep learning at the job, and do something that gives them purpose. More organizations are starting to understand that and creating an environment that gives these 3 things. Not only you get the financial reward, but you also get the autonomy. This helps big organizations compete with smaller ones. MBAs no longer want to work in investment banking, they want Amazon and Apple because they know they will have autonomy and innovation there. They are ecosystem players, consumer-centric. They retain talents.

Andries De Vos: You’re an innovation consultant. What is the future of that field 5-10 years from now?

Eric Saint Andre: Let’s look back first. What hasn’t changed in the last 10 years is that you as an innovation consultant don’t tell organizations what they need to do, you help them create the capability to create change themselves. You empower them with the tools – methods, and mentality. There will always be new problems and organizations will always need experts to upscale and stay relevant. I don’t think it will change, the main purpose of consulting – is facilitation, and ecosystem shaping.

Mentorship culture is becoming essential. Leaders will be very different, asking their teams how I can help them succeed instead of just supervising. A lot more coaching will be needed to ensure the right level of performance at the individual and team levels. It will not be the controlling type of leadership. It is not going to be even about knowledge, it will be more about sharing skills, about collaboration.

Andries De Vos: What are some of the trends in the corporate venture building space, which really inspire you?

Eric Saint Andre: I’ve seen a lot of decentralization happening. I see certain players in the ecosystem trying to do innovation and shape the ecosystem in a very decentralized manner. I have an intuition that we will see a lot more of that. The governance, structure is entirely decentralized, and decisions are made on a new principle. These initiatives are still in a very early stage, but I think we will see much more of them.

Andries De Vos
Venture Builder
Andries is a serial entrepreneur. He built 3 companies as CEO/Founder, and sold 1 enterprise payment solution to a Global MNC. His latest venture, Slash (www.slash.co), is a venture studio with 2 activities. Slash builds cross-functional engineering squads and provides software consultancy for top brands and multi-lateral organizations in Europe and Asia. Slash works include designing and engineering practical AI, GIS and Blockchain solutions. Slash also invests in and co-founds startups with experienced corporate executives who turn to entrepreneurs to solve their B2B industry problems. Slash has hubs in Singapore, Cambodia, Bali and Armenia, and a global team spread out across Asia and Europe. Andries has co-founded 7 SaaS startups and invested in many more. Previously, Andries founded 2 consumer internet businesses, including Clubvivre, the #1 Uber for Chef in Singapore. Prior to starting his internet businesses, Andries was a principal at a strategy consultancy where he advised Fortune 500 clients on strategy.
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