How GM’s Silicon Valley office hunts for relevant innovations and connects to HQ

frankie-gmFrankie James describes the volume of innovation happening in Silicon Valley in 2014 as a “firehose.” So how does she look for promising ideas and technologies that might deliver value for her employer, General Motors? James, managing director of GM’s Advanced Technology Silicon Valley Office (ATSVO), spoke to Innovation Leader about the four-stage process her team uses, and shared a graphic. (James will be one of the conversation leaders at our next Field Study gathering, Oct 22 & 23.)

“Our mission,” James says, “is to face the Silicon Valley firehose, try to filter it down, and get the most promising ideas and technologies back to our internal customers at GM, and ideally get them into vehicles.” The small team, created in 2007, is about half people with GM experience, and half outside hires. They often collaborate with GM Ventures, looking for potential investment opportunities and helping with due diligence, and also interact with local universities. But the main assignment is identifying high-potential startups and technologies for GM’s research and engineering divisions. GM’s Advanced Technology Silicon Valley Office is located in Palo Alto, less than two miles from the campus of Stanford University. The team is situated within GM’s research and development organization.

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• “There are a lot of startups right now who are pretty eager to work with automotive, especially in infotainment [in-car information and entertainment systems] space. We get a lot of startups that come to us. It’s true that some startups can get worry about working with a big company — and they probably have good reasons. Our job is to match their fast cycle with GM’s somewhat slower cycle. A lot of companies we’ve been successful at working with don’t have automotive as their primary market. So they can start making money in their primary market, and then think about the automotive use case and doing a project with us.”

• One example of a partnership James mentioned was with Autonet Mobile, to bring in-car wifi systems to market. At first, “we said, give us a sample, we’ll try it out. So we put it in a vehicle and started driving it around, seeing how well it worked. The next step was to talk with as many people at GM as possible about where we could put this. We then made it available as an aftermarket component, initially across Cadillac, then GMC and Chevy SUVs. It’s great for keeping the family occupied on long trips.”

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