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Companies like IKEA and Accenture are following in Google’s footsteps to stay ahead of the curve

Business Insider

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  • Home Depot, IKEA, and Accenture are examples of major companies with innovation labs.
  • The labs are designed to attract the brightest minds in technology, giving them a place to channel their entrepreneurial spirit with the security of working for an established organization.
  • Companies benefit too, because they’re less likely to lose their top talent to the startup world.
  • Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has a famous innovation lab called X.

“It’s like being an entrepreneur,” said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “minus the risk.”

Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychology professor at Columbia University and the chief talent scientist at Manpower, was referring to “intrapreneurship.” It’s a general term for acting like a company founder, but within the confines of an established organization — typically in what’s called a corporate innovation lab. Think X,Alphabet’s research and development team that’s also been called a “moonshot factory.”

Across industries, intrapreneurial opportunities have grown relatively common. And while few are as glamorous as traditionalentrepreneurship can seem— you are, after all, working for The Man — there can be practical benefits for both individuals and organizations.

Specifically, Chamorro-Premuzic mentioned money. As a startup founder, you never know “if you’re going to be bankrupt in one or two years,” he said, adding, “The likely outcomes for founders or entrepreneurs are very bleak.” Working under the umbrella of a major corporation provides financial and job security, since you aren’t constantly hunting for funding.

The business case for intrapreneurship, according to Chamorro-Premuzic, is simply that companies aren’t losing their most driven and most talented people to the startup world. Instead, companies dangle the prospect of relative freedom and creativity and hope that aspiring entrepreneurs will snatch it up.

To be sure, intrapreneurship has its detractors. In 2017, Anderee Berngian listed on VentureBeat all the companies that have closed their innovation labs in the last few years, including Nordstrom, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola. One potential reason Berngian floats: “Google has millions to spare” on failed projects. “Most companies don’t.”

Business Insider took a look at three corporate innovation labs, the kinds of challenges they’re tackling, and the creatives they’re hoping to attract.

Photo courtesy of Space10/ Business Insider all rights reserved.

IKEA’s ‘global future living lab’ aims to head off impending disasters like food insecurity

One of the corporate innovation labs that’s received the most media attention is IKEA’s Space10. A “global future living lab” launched in Copenhagen in 2015, its creations include hydroponic farms and IKEA Place, an augmented-reality app that lets you see how furniture would look in your home.

“IKEA’s overall mission is to create a better everyday life,” said Simon Caspersen, cofounder of Space10. “We are basically set up to see how they can live up to that mission in new ways, that their current business is not delivering on.” That means tackling current and coming challenges such as food insecurity and loneliness in cities, Caspersen said.

Only 25 people have full-time jobs at Space10. The lab then hires project specialists for temporary stints, or “residencies,” as it calls them. Space10 also collaborates with different startups whose interests align with theirs.

Caspersen made the case for working at Space10 this way: “You are put together with some other incredible people that don’t necessarily share your background or expertise,” adding that “otherwise people often work in silos.” An engineer might be working alongside a farmer, for example.

Plus, there’s the exposure that a fledgling startup wouldn’t ordinarily receive. “We do a lot to really highlight and promote the people that are part of the journey,” Caspersen said.

Home Depot’s innovation lab is tapping into college students’ technological prowess

OrangeWorks is Home Depot’s innovation lab, located on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The goal is to evaluate emerging technologies that could change either the customer experience or corporate operations (the lab isn’t looking into products that would wind up on shelves).

The lab was launched in 2015, and since then it’s produced things like a virtual pallet stacker, which moves heavy items around the warehouse. Anthony Gregorio, a senior manager at the Innovation Center, described the technology that led to the pallet stacker as a “3D Tetris for shipping containers that allows us to be as efficient as we possibly can.”

Like Space10, OrangeWorks has a small core team: Just eight people, with varying technical skill sets, work there full time. About 60 Georgia Tech students also pitch in at OrangeWorks. Recently, Gregorio said, the team has been working on ways to use computer vision for inventory tracking and customer-service opportunities.

As for why someone would want to join OrangeWorks instead of starting something on their own, Gregorio said it’s all about the “size, scale, and resources that an enterprise like our own can provide.”

He used data as a prime example: “If somebody’s trying to do something in the data analytics space, readily available data that’ll help them build out their model isn’t always something that’s possible. … Something our size, we’re able to provide that.”

Photo courtesy of Accenture/ Business Insider

Accenture’s innovation hubs are helping their biggest clients avoid ‘disruption’ by getting creative

At Accenture, employees know that their clients — which include many Fortune 500 companies — are at constant risk of getting “disrupted” by new technology. That’s a major reason why Accenture is working on launching at least 14 innovation hubs in the US by 2020, putting some of the most creative minds in digital technology to work serving their clientele.

“One of the things our clients suffer from a little bit is they’re part of large corporations with a lot of cultural inertia,” said Bob Markham, managing director at Accenture Digital. “They don’t always get exposed to a lot of diversity of thought.”

Markham heads up the Chicago innovation hub, which was the first to launch, in 2016. It now has 600 full-time employees and is collaborating with four startups. But Markham said that it can be hard to attract top tech talent in the midwest.

What’s more, Markham said, “our large enterprises sometimes have a mentality that they have to do it themselves.” However, “oftentimes there are startups that have been thinking about the same problem.”

By collaborating with that startup, the organization can have a minimum viable product in four to eight weeks, as opposed to a year, and spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars less than if they were to try to do it on their own,” Markham said.

One example is the Washington, DC innovation hub’s work with Marriott, whose business has been disrupted by online booking agencies like Kayak and Expedia. Accenture invested in a venturing arm that could help Marriott find startups that were thinking bout “travel experiences,” such as a digital concierge.

In return, some startups receive mentoring, and all learn how to scale their product or service in a corporate environment.

Intrapreneurship isn’t for everyone

While a job at a corporate innovation lab might seem thrilling, Chamorro-Premuzic sounded a note of caution.

“Not everybody is well-suited for this. It’s really a minority of people who will thrive and enjoy and be good at this kind of job,” he said. “But I think there’s still an opportunity because many young people who decide to launch their own businesses could be employed by these largest corporations and basically do the same thing.”

This article was originally published on Business Insider. Copyright 2018.

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Avoiding the falsification of medicines with blockchain

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pharmaceuticals
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Counterfeit medicines are a problem around the world, with many producers of false medicines attempting to illegitimate drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Blockchain could be the answer to stem the tide and the U.S. FDA are interested.

Concerns with falsified medicines extend to where drugs which are targeted at those who are seriously ill. These types of medicines may be contaminated or they can contain the wrong ingredient or no active ingredient at all. Alternatively, the drugs may have the right active ingredient but at the wrong dose. In other words, such medicines may harm the patient or exert no beneficial effect at all.

The rise in counterfeit medicines is linked to a general increase in the number of people using the Internet to purchase commodities and this includes those using the Internet to self-diagnose and self-prescribe. This practice can lead to people purchasing ineffective medicines; medicines that normally require a prescription; or purchasing what they think are legitimate medicines but which are in fact fake.

For many years regulators, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency have taken measures to prevent counterfeit medicines from entering the drug supply chain. One such example of a practice designed to reduce counterfeiting is by implementing product serialization. Serialization requires a comprehensive system to track and trace the passage of prescription drugs through the entire supply chain.

An alternative could be based on blockchain. “Blocks” on the blockchain are made up of digital pieces of information, which store information about transactions, say the date, time, and transaction price. Blocks also store information about who is participating in transactions, and information that distinguishes the block from other blocks. The system is designed to provide transparency and security.

In theory, with a pharmaceutical blockchain it would be impossible to tamper with a medicine or to swap legitimate medicines with fake medicines. In addition, someone purchasing a medicine would be able to assess where the medicine came from (that is, did it come from a bona fide manufacturer?)

It is for this reason that the U.S. FDA is examining the potential for blockchain, as Engadget reports. The federal agency has begun a pilot program that enables the drug supply chain explore ways to track prescription medicine.

According to the FDA, blockchain will enable the “use of innovative and emerging approaches for enhanced tracing and verification of prescription drugs in the U.S. to ensure suspect and illegitimate products do not enter the supply chain.”

Pharmaceutical companies have until March 11, 2019 to apply. The pilot will not produce actionable results until 2023. In the meantime, more conventional methods for seeking to eliminate counterfeit medicines will have to suffice.

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Agriculture

Big data analytics provides first world vegetation maps

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Artificial intelligence and big data analytics have been applied to produce the first global map of the world’s regions where vegetation can and cannot be grown.

The Valencia University study assesses the global abundance of the phosphorus and nitrogen content in vegetation. Also assessed is the efficiency in water use. The scientists’ aim is to show where the best places are for agriculture and where environmental conditions are changing in response to climate change. The application of artificial intelligence and big data methodologies also enables an assessment to be made of our planet’s biodiversity.

Together with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus are the principal chemical elements incorporated into living systems. They are strong signals of the suitability of different parts of the Earth for agriculture. Both nitrogen and phosphorus are needed by plants in large amounts (although excessive quantities can also cause environmental damage). In soil, nitrogen and phosphorus are typically found in the form of nitrates and phosphates.

The new global maps produced by the researchers gathered information from Google mass satellite observation data and then used a specially developed artificial intelligence program to assess the data and produce the color-coded maps. The satellites gathered temporal and spatial observations, and this produced a series of maps characterizing different biophysical parameters. To develop the maps required numerous observation-measurement pairings to be number crunched.

Speaking with Phys.org, lead researcher Álvaro Moreno explained why the maps were significant: “Until now, it was impossible to produce these maps because the required conditions weren’t available. We didn’t have powerful and accurate machine learning statistical tools, nor did we have access to great bodies of data or cloud computing.”

The new maps and the process behind them are published in the journal Remote Sensing, in a paper titled “Regional Crop Gross Primary Productivity and Yield Estimation Using Fused Landsat-MODIS Data” and an companion article in Remote Sensing of Environment titled “A methodology to derive global maps of leaf traits using remote sensing and climate data.”

The next steps are to use the technology to further assess the impact of climate change and to assess other important societal and ecological questions like the pressure on food production to meet population growth and the development of new technologies, like biofuel production.

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Culture

Which innovations will shape Canadian industry in 2019?

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Canada is in the midst of an economic shift. New and traditional industries are increasingly being driven by innovation and these advances in technology are shifting the economic landscape at an unprecedented pace.

This is the assessment by Borden Ladner Gervais, which is Canada’s largest law firm. The company has issued a new thought leadership report, titled “Top Innovative Industries Shaping the Canadian Economy”.

The report weighs in on the opportunities and risks Canada faces in order to maintain its status as an international leader in innovation across eight key industries: cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, smart cities, cryptocurrency and blockchain, autonomous vehicles, fintech, renewable energy and cannabis.

To find out more about the report and its implications for Canadian businesses, Digital Journal spoke with Andrew Harrison, a partner at BLG.

Digital Journal: Where does Canada stand as a global tech innovator?

Andrew Harrison: Canada has always been at the forefront of innovation. Products developed by Canadians or Canadian companies encompass a variety of industries and include medicinal insulin, the snowmobile, the telephone, the pager, BlackBerry Messaging, IMAX, the Canadarm and the goalie mask, to name a few. Canadians are also fast adopters of new technologies; email money transfer between individuals, which was inconceivable only a few years ago, has been used by 63 per cent of Canadians.

This is why Canada is recognized worldwide for its research and technological know-how, but we have to be mindful of the challenges in a global competitive market.

DJ: What potential does Canada have to grow faster? Is this sector specific?

Harrison: Canada is well positioned to succeed and take the lead in all innovative industries, but there are definitely sector-specific challenges that could limit this growth. For example, the lack of regulation as to whether cryptocurrencies are considered securities or not is creating uncertainty, which may restrain investment in this sector.

DJ: What are the risks that could hamper innovation and development?

Harrison: For any new product, financing is always an issue; with innovation, money becomes an even more crucial element. Companies must have access to capital – including from individual and institutional investors – if they want to bring their innovative product/process to life. Evolving politics and policies can also have a significant impact.

DJ: What framework will Canada need in the future to secure its innovation potential?

Harrison: The key element is finding a proper balance between regulating the issues that might be created by the innovation itself or its use and providing a space where innovations can thrive without too many restrictions.

DJ: What does the Canadian government need to do?

Harrison: In many cases, laws and regulations were enacted long before we saw these innovative technologies and products brought to life, so they need to be updated. In certain sectors, such as cryptocurrencies and autonomous vehicles, the Canadian government has yet to provide a framework that would define the playing rules for all participants.

The government will also need to take a look at its current regulations on privacy: the coming into force in May 2018 of the European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) and recent high-profile data breaches have created the need for stronger privacy guidelines. Failure to do so could prevent Canadian businesses from accessing the European market.

DJ: What can academia contribute?

Harrison: Universities play a big role in fostering innovation – they could be the home of research and innovation and incubators of ventures, entrepreneurs, and tech talent. Universities can partner with industry players and have their researchers work closely to solve key industry issues. This is already happening in Canada. The Smith School of Business and Scotiabank, for instance, have partnered to set up the Scotiabank Centre of Customer Analytics at Smith School of Business to bring together professors, graduate students and analytics practitioners to collaborate on applied research projects in customer analytics. The academia plays a big role in creating an innovation ecosystem.

DJ: What is Canada’s most pressing technological need?

Harrison: There is still much work to be done to connect with Canada’s rural and remote communities. In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that broadband Internet amounted to an essential service and adopted minimal performance standards across Canada: 50 megabit per second download and 10 megabit per second upload. However, the evidence presented to the Committee by a variety of stakeholders shows that the digital divide remains prominent in Canada – it is estimated that it will take roughly 10 to 15 years for the remaining 18% of Canadians to reach those minimums. Canada needs to develop a comprehensive rural broadband strategy in partnership with key stakeholders and make funding more accessible for small providers.

DJ: What type of investment is needed with skills and training?

Harrison: Canada has a serious shortage of tech talent, which makes it imperative for both the government, the education, and the business sector to invest in raising and fostering STEM talents. To help businesses attract the talent they require, the federal government is offering hiring grants and wage subsidies to offset payroll costs for recent post-secondary STEM students and graduates.

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