Why Generative AI is the North Star for Corporate Innovators

By Sean Sheppard, Managing Partner, U+ |  November 27, 2023

For businesses to maintain a competitive edge, AI-powered venture discovery tools offer a more effective, faster, and cost-efficient solution than anything the world has seen before.

As we approach 2024, innovation remains key to growing market share and safeguarding your organization’s position — but the terrain has shifted. Disruptions are now a given, and the velocity of change has rendered traditional business models less effective. Corporate innovation faces a stark challenge: how to prove ROI in a culture that often shies away from risk?

The answer lies in the transformative potential of AI. Some companies claim to find value in conducting venture research through slow-moving and manual channels, and many continue to pay high-flying consulting firms millions of dollars for Powerpoint slides to tell them what they already know. In the past twelve months, however, these costly and inefficient solutions have become effectively redundant.

The impact of AI in the realm of innovation is nothing short of astonishing. According to the Boston Consulting Group, companies that embrace and experiment with AI solutions are experiencing a five-fold increase in the number of venture ideas and are twice as selective in their decisions.

Boston Consulting Group, “Most Innovative Companies 2022” report

Why AI Matters 

For innovators, time is an invaluable resource, and AI offers a way to supercharge its utility. The technology is not constrained by the limitations of human bandwidth, ensuring that vast volumes of data are analyzed in record time. Traditional venture discovery processes, in contrast, are often time-consuming and labor-intensive, which can result in critical insights arriving too late or not at all.

The influence of AI extends far beyond individual companies. McKinsey has estimated that the collective power of generative AI could contribute as much as $4.4 trillion to the global economy every year (for context, that’s slightly more than the entire GDP of Germany). Properly understood, AI is not merely a technology but a catalyst for global economic, social, and scientific transformation.

Even still, Gen AI platforms like ChatGPT have not been without their share of criticism. A common refrain I hear is that AI is little more than a solution looking for a problem. This position fails to grapple with just how revolutionary the technology has proven to be. As computer scientist and entrepreneurship guru Paul Graham put it, “AI is the exact opposite of a solution in search of a problem…It’s the solution to far more problems than its developers even knew existed.” In 2024, as the technology becomes ever more embedded in our workflows, this statement will continue to be vindicated.

Already we are seeing organizations using generative AI in novel ways to massively upgrade how they approach their innovation goals. To take just three examples:

  • GenAI for ideation and concept development: Brainstorming new product or service ideas and creating diverse concept models (key metrics: the novelty and feasibility of the generated concepts compared to traditional methods).
  • GenAI for design generation and prototyping: Autonomously generating design variations and prototypes based on specific criteria or data inputs (key metrics: time saved in the design phase and the variety and quality of generated designs).
  • GenAI for automated content creation: Creating marketing content, ads, product descriptions, and more (key metrics: improvement in content production speed, diversity, and audience engagement).

Capitalizing on the Rise of AI

Inspired by the enormous potential of the AI revolution, we decided to apply the technology to the area we know best: building great new digital businesses. Enter U+AI, a versatile and industry-agnostic generative AI platform that has now become “the ROI engine for innovation, strategy, and investment teams.” The product is already helping teams around the world to scout, ideate, develop, and scale new ventures at unprecedented speed. Use cases for the technology include venture building (we’re seeing a 100x improvement in the idea-to-solution process), venture investing (more and better data leads to enhanced decision-making), automated market research, and market testing (including creating AI-generated microsites to gather actionable market feedback). And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A simple question inspired the creation of U+AI: do we want to treat AI as a threat, or as a moonshot opportunity? We fully embraced the latter. As a result, we have been able to supercharge our core innovation activities while simultaneously establishing an entirely new business line that empowers organizations to make informed decisions swiftly, bridging the gap between data and strategic action, and condensing decision-making cycles that might typically take several months into a period of weeks or even days.

AI-driven platforms like ours provide an objective and data-backed approach to ranking and prioritizing ventures based on various criteria, improving the selection process at all stages. The result is not just a boost in innovation efficiency but also a reduction in risk, as AI tools draw upon a mind-blowingly vast dataset and continuously adapt to market dynamics, helping innovators stay agile and competitive in a world that does not treat complacency kindly.

I’ll leave you with a simple six-step framework for using AI to get your next venture off the ground.

  1. Clarify the right strategy through internal collaboration.
  2. Review and refine the best AI prompts for the market opportunity or problem space you wish to explore.
  3. Use AI to automate market research and venture idea generation.
  4. Combine the results with your strategic aims for actionable insights.
  5. Rank and select ideas for market testing and validation.
  6. Start building your next venture.

Innovators have created this exciting new world we find ourselves navigating – and innovators should be the ones to capitalize with the greatest effectiveness and success.

Sean Sheppard is Managing Partner at U+, a leading corporate venture builder and digital innovation firm. 

He’s a globally recognized thought leader with over 20 years of experience bringing new products to market, including as a 5X sales founder with three exits. In addition to helping hundreds of startups find product-market fit and predictable revenue models, Sean helps global multinationals to identify new applications for their existing technology portfolio, bring new products to market with profitable business models, and organize and train self-managing early product-stage sales and marketing teams. Sean was named as one of the Top Sales Influencers You Should Be Following On Social Media. Sean is an active mentor, advisor, and guest lecturer at global startup accelerators, innovation conferences, and colleges and universities—including NASDAQ, Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Galvanize, Alchemist, GSVLabs, London Business School, and the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. Sean is now committed to working with countries, companies, entrepreneurs, and those who want to work with them on building startup ecosystems to find product-market fit—and to developing the next generation of leaders for the innovation economy.