Articles & Case Studies by Topic

Working With Startups

Topic Overview: Working with Startups

The best large companies are developing new skillsets related to working with startups. These range from participating in accelerator programs to holding hackathons to creating new investment funds to simply assigning an executive to be a visible point of contact — an ambassador to the startup ecosystem.

Not all of those approaches will work for every company, and doing all of them at once is a recipe for disaster. But companies that want to maintain their status as innovation leaders in the 21st century need to cultivate what we call Startup Mojo. Startup Mojo entails having a clear strategy for doing five things — or a coherent reason why you have decided not to do them.

  1. We have developed “startup sonar” in multiple areas of our business, identifying and tracking the startup ventures that have the biggest potential to impact us or our customers.
  2. We are the easiest company in our industry for startups to collaborate with.
  3. Our corporate ventures group is the first stop for startups raising money in our industry.
  4. We offer assistance to startups in concrete ways (e.g., mentorship from our employees, an accelerator program, free office space at headquarters, events that help us both understand industry trends).
  5. Our culture is able to purchase/use/distribute products developed by startups, and able to integrate startups that have been acquired.

Achieving StartupMojo has multiplier effects. Once you’ve shown that you can invest in startups, help them succeed, distribute their products, or acquire and integrate them with a minimum of turmoil, more of the best startups will gravitate to you. Startup Mojo can help you endure major shifts in technology or the composition of your customer base, and they can help you enter new markets. It's a very different attitude than assuming that the best startups will line up outside your headquarters, eager to find a way to work with you.

A good starting place in this topic area is our 25-page research report, "Working with Startups."

Editor's Picks: Recommended articles on working with startups
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In San Diego, Transforming an Unused Airport Terminal into an Innovation Lab

“What we’ve done with the innovation lab is say, ‘Maybe there are other ways to create an experience for our passengers that also helps to increase and create different streams of revenue,’” says Rick Belliotti, the San Diego International Airport’s Director of Innovation and Small Business Development. Innovation Leader sat down with Belliotti to discuss the lab’s approach to creating partnerships, how the airport innovates in a regulated environment, and what it really takes to make airports better for travelers.

How MetLife Asia is Building New Ventures and Finding Startups Focused on Its Challenges

The entire insurance industry, argues Zia Zaman, has “lost its way by not focusing on the customer.” Here’s how Zaman, the Chief Innovation Officer for MetLife Asia since 2014, is working to change the status quo.

Get Focused: 1776 President Peter Cherukuri on Better BigCo-Startup Collaborations

Startups often want to engage with big companies. And big companies know that startups are developing business models and technologies that will impact their industry. So where do things go wrong? We put that question to Peter Cherukuri, President and Chief Innovation Officer of 1776, the Washington, D.C.-based startup incubator.

Why the Los Angeles Dodgers are Running a ‘Training Camp’ for Sports Startups

Professional baseball franchises excel at scouting promising players and cultivating them in the minor leagues until they’re ready for the big show. But the Los Angeles Dodgers are unique in trying to do the same thing for startups working on sports and media related ideas. We sat down with Tucker Kain, CFO of the Dodgers, to understand how the accelerator was started, and how he is forming lasting partnerships with the startups.

Photos: Inside the Hatchery, the innovation lab at AARP

As part of our next Field Study learning expedition, we’ll visit the Hatchery, the innovation lab at AARP. AARP is not only one of the largest nonprofits in the country, but it’s also one of the biggest insurers and magazine publishers. We talked about what happens inside the Hatchery with Andy Miller, the SVP for Innovation and Product Development at AARP.

Retail Accelerator XRC Labs Spotlights Startups and Industry Shifts

The seven startups at XRC Labs’ 2017 Demo Day in New York represented the forefront of innovation in the retail space — from on-demand activewear manufacturing to indoor mapping services to artificially-intelligent visual search technology. In kicking off the demo day, XRC’s Managing Director Pano Anthos discussed some of the trends he is seeing in the retail space, and what retailers must do to stay relevant. Four of the trends he discussed are recapped inside, along with short descriptions of each of the presenting startups.

Goodyear’s Chris Varley on How Tech Scouting Work Should Tie in to the Business

Part of Varley’s job is “supporting and encouraging managers tasked with developing ‘something new’ on a five- or ten-year roadmap to think differently, and consider that it may actually be faster and less risky for them to take a chance on working with a startup on the outside than trying to build everything from scratch in the lab.” Here’s his advice on bringing new ideas into a $15 billion company…

Seeking startup partnerships and sustainable technologies at Saint-Gobain

Saint-Gobain, the Paris-based building materials company has thrived for more than 350 years. “There’s an element within our DNA and within our R&D organization where we recognize that to be successful for another 350 years, which is our intent, we have to identify those things that are going to disrupt our current businesses,” says Minas Apelian, R&D and external venturing at Saint-Gobain. More insights inside on how the company works with startups and accelerators to innovate effectively.

Webcast replay: The innovation agenda for 2017

Innovation Leader editor Scott Kirsner discusses what we’re seeing corporate innovation teams focusing on for 2017, including governance; more focused approaches to working with startups; adjusting the focus of innovation labs; some of the factors that lead to the sudden death of innovation initiatives; and the benefits of building networks of champions or catalysts. Kirsner also discusses metrics.

Connecting corporate venture capital to the business at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Tuoyo Louis has a very clear objective at Zaffre Investments, a corporate venture team that is part of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts: Finding healthcare startups that can solve a problem for someone in the insurance company’s ecosystem, whether that’s a patient, an employer, or an administrator sitting behind a doctor’s front desk. Louis explains how he works with business-side leaders inside Blue Cross Blue Shield to get pilot tests underway that leverage new technologies from the startups.

Why Groupe Galeries Lafayette launched an accelerator for retail and fashion startups

“I was trying to shove innovation down their throat,” says Edoardo Manitto of Groupe Galeries Lafayette, the 120-year old French retailer. “That, in my case, didn’t lead to anything very productive.” Here’s what he’s doing instead.

How business units get involved with J&J’s network of innovation centers

When J&J makes a new investment in a startup, “50 percent of the deal funding from J&J Innovation, and the business unit provides the other 50 percent,” explains Darren Snellgrove, Chief Financial Officer for J&J Innovation. “We have found that both sides having skin in the game, and a say in the decision making is an important component of success.” More insights inside…

How BMW’s corporate venture capital strategy is changing

Last November, five years after starting a corporate venture capital group, carmaker BMW announced that it would invest up to 500 million Euros over the next decade, across a broad swath of the tech landscape, from 3D printing to on-demand transportation to smart logistics. BMW also moved its US office from New York to Silicon Valley, and accelerated the decision-making process for making new investments. We spoke to Managing Director Ulrich Quay to understand what’s behind all of the changes.

Coca-Cola shutters its Founders initiative, which backed fledgling startups

Coca-Cola has shut down its Founders program, which sought to work with entrepreneurs and invest in startups that would benefit the beverage giant in some way. The initiative was launched in 2013, and since then has backed eight companies. One possible cause? A back-to-basics focus on the core business.

InsurTech: Execs from AIG and John Hancock talk startups, sensors, more

How can insurance companies innovate effectively — in the face of strict regulatory oversight, customer concerns about privacy, and decades of ingrained thinking about “the way things are done”? Execs from AIG and John Hancock discussed those issues at a recent event. Includes profiles of startups working in the insurance sector.

How $5B financial tech firm Fiserv is refining its startup accelerator for 2017

Five startups participated in the accelerator’s first cycle in 2016. We talk to Matthew Wilcox, SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation, about what is changing in the second go-round.

How Siemens is finding the best startups and sparking collaborations

When the $86 billion German engineering giant launched the Frontier Partner Program two years ago, it hoped to lower the barriers that kept startups from easily working with Siemens. Through Frontier, startups enter a low-commitment relationship in exchange for free Siemens software and mentorship. While the program is still in its infancy, Siemens seems pleased with the preliminary results of these relationships, and other companies are starting to take notice. Here’s how the program operates…

Comparison chart: Programs that connect corporates with startups

Several Innovation Leader members have inquired recently about programs that serve as an interface between large companies and the startup ecosystem — facilitating introductions, creating platforms for investment, or organizing events that bring the two worlds together. Here’s our comparison chart.

Webcast replay: What top corporate innovators are doing in 2016

Innovation Leader editor and co-founder Scott Kirsner shares seven examples of how companies like Toyota, Disney, GE, and Amazon are working to innovate better, faster, cheaper — and more collaboratively. The webcast also explores some of the factors that lead to premature death for innovation initiatives.

How the labs group at publisher Houghton Mifflin is building an ecosystem of developers and partners

Can Houghton Mifflin Harcourt remake itself into a digital platform, distributing content, software, and cloud-based services to schools? That’s a big focus at HMH Labs, a group created in 2014. Labs chief Claudia Reuter explains how she has been building relationships with startups and software developers.

10 startups aiming to change shopping online and off, from retail accelerator XRC Labs

The startups that pitched at last week’s Demo Day ranged from instant interior design services to pop-up boutiques to a smart mirror that could change your morning routine.

‘Pitch, Pilot, Partner’: How the Unilever Foundry works with startups

Consumer packaged goods giant Unilever has launched more than 90 pilots with 90 different startups, and subsequently decided to scale about half of those. Jeremy Basset of Unilever Foundry explains how and why they’re doing it…

Becoming ‘startup friendly’: Advice from entrepreneurs

At a recent gathering of entrepreneurs, Innovation Leader editor Scott Kirsner led a session focused on the ways that big companies scout, negotiate with, and collaborate with startups. One thing that emerged from the conversation was a concrete list of things that large organizations can do to become more “startup friendly.”

Three keys to longevity for corporate venture capital groups

“One the biggest knocks against corporate venture capital initiatives is that they are often a by-product of a booming economy and a pet project of the CEO. They’re here today, gone tomorrow. This reputation, unfortunately, is grounded in some truth, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” writes corporate VC Kyle Fugere.

Humana’s Chief Innovation Officer: ‘Co-creation is the new way’

Chris Kay of Humana discusses how the $48 billion health insurer is collaborating and co-creating with startups in the healthcare industry, and outlines his process for going from ideation to market.

Corporate innovation assessment

Developed by Innovation Leader’s Editorial team, with input from corporate innovation executives, this assessment will help you evaluate the current maturity of your organization’s innovation strategy.

How Thales Group is chasing growth with new xPlor initiative

Pete Roney, VP of Innovation at Thales USA, the American arm of the $17 billion French aerospace and defense giant Thales Group, says that the rationale for launching a new innovation effort was pretty clear: The company just wasn’t thinking creatively enough to keep up with its peer group.

Advice on running a global startup competition from Spanish bank BBVA

If you’re considering a competition or challenge to help your company get to know startups in your industry, read this advice from Scarlet Sieber of BBVA, the Spanish banking giant. Sieber explains how to attract the best startups and make sure business unit leaders are ready to work with them. Includes slides and audio…

Why tools giant Stanley formed a joint venture to tackle big data and IoT

Two key execs at Stanley Black and Decker and joint venture View Technologies explain a long-term bet on the growth of big data and the Internet of Things, and a concrete business proposition designed to work in the near-term.

Six innovation agenda items for 2016

How are you going to make change and deliver results in 2016? Whether you work in an innovation group, new product development, strategy, or R&D, we believe that these issues deserve a place on your agenda for the year ahead.

Q&A: Five practical steps for building startup partnerships

Our latest Q&A comes from a subscriber seeking best practices or guidance on how to make relationships with startups and entrepreneurs successful. To answer the question, we recruited Innovation Leader partner Michele McConomy, whose firm physically seats multinationals alongside disruptive startups.

Lightweight engagement: A simpler approach to connecting with the world outside your walls

What’s lightweight? Things that can generate results within six months, with a minimum of funding, internal debate, and approvals. Lightweight is a kayak you can assemble yourself; heavyweight is a cruise liner. Here are some suggested approaches.

Mondelez shares new approach to pilot testing with startups, retailers

Kim Yansen of Mondelez (think Chips Ahoy and Trident gum) talks with Innovation Leader about latest iteration of the $34 billion food company’s Shopper Futures program; the risks involved in working with startups; and the ways that consumers’ changing habits are forcing companies to be more nimble and forward-looking.

Q&A: Structuring an innovation group for the “Internet of Things”

We’re a $1 billion+ physical products company that lacks software expertise; although we have some in-house, I wouldn’t say we’re “Google-esque” in our mastery of software development. Do any of your members or partners have any thoughts on how to think about the integration process re: “smart devices” or “the Internet of Things”?

Collective intelligence: Trends and technologies worth watching

We’re sharing some material here that came out of one of our whiteboard sessions at the recent New York Field Study, which set out to create a list of technologies and trends that will increase in importance over the next five years. The room included about fifteen executives from retail, media, telecommunications, financial services, consumer products, and other industries. Here’s what was on their radar screens…

How 7-Eleven is working to expand the part it plays in customers’ lives

Rob Chumley’s mission: help 7-Eleven Inc. become more than just a quick place to stop for a sandwich and a Slurpee. “What we’re really focusing on now is this transition from convenience, which is defined by the products, to a convenient store, which is defined by the solutions it provides,” Chumley says. Here’s what 7-Eleven’s SVP of Innovation has been working on since he took on the role in November 2011…

Disney SVP on how accelerator program led to new partnerships

Senior Vice President of Innovation Michael Abrams discusses the upside of launching an accelerator program for media and entertainment startups, including some of the partnerships that it has sparked so far.

Benchmarking Report 2015

Do you need data to help justify, shape, and upgrade your innovation program? We’ve spent more than six months surveying nearly 200 innovation leaders, and the result is Innovation Benchmarking Report 2015, a 40-page report that gives focus to data and intelligence that can help solve the challenges innovation leaders face.

Florida Hospital innovation exec on ‘Internet of Things’ learnings

Florida Hospital has been deploying “Internet of Things” technologies — including RFID locator tags attached to equipment and worn by employees — since 2010. Innovation Leader editor Scott Kirsner spoke recently with Ashley Simmons, Director of Innovation Development, about what they’ve learned so far, in a session held at the Internet of Things Summit in Boston.

Lowe’s exec Kyle Nel on innovating in a time of exponential change

In the 1920s, the average time companies spent in the S&P 500 Index was 67 years. Today, it’s 15. Many of the also-rans fell victim to linear thinking at a time when the business and technological landscape was changing exponentially. Kyle Nel, Executive Director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, explains how his company is working to stay ahead of the curve. Includes slides and audio…

How USAA moved fast to launch drone program

Last month, innovators at USAA were among the first in their industry to get federal approval to test unmanned aircraft. Their objective? Speeding up the claims process for USAA members after a natural disaster strikes.

Former Microsoft, PayPal execs on connecting with startups

What’s the right approach for big companies that want to plug into the startup world? Invest? Acquire? Be a customer? Offer to house fledgling companies? Listen to a half-hour of audio and read highlights from a May 2015 session at the “Front End of Innovation” conference.

Why it’s crucial to understand your company’s innovation DNA

Was your company born to disrupt established industries? Or is its heritage in marketing and distribution, building brands that are recognizable around the world? Maybe the way your company obtains new products is by acquiring small startups. Every company has different DNA, which means innovation approaches need to differ.

Why Ford is growing its Silicon Valley research center

Ford exec Jim Buczkowski discusses the strategy behind the expansion of the company’s Research & Innovation Center in Palo Alto, and shares several projects they’re working on.

Cambia exec: Why we created healthcare collaboration space

Nicole Bell is executive director of the new Cambia Grove, a 9,000 square foot facility in downtown Seattle that brings together innovators and entrepreneurs with health plans, providers, businesses, government leaders, and academic minds from around the country. She talks about how and why her employer, Cambia Health Solutions, created the Grove. Includes audio, photos, and a video…

MasterCard exec talks Whirlpool collaboration, startup accelerator

Group Head of Innovation Management John Sheldon shares the strategic objectives behind MasterCard’s Start Path accelerator program, and explains how his MasterCard Labs group collaborated with Whirlpool to rethink laundry.

How a startup partnership gave Kwikset a lead in smartlocks

Kwikset had been experimenting with various keyless entry products — but nothing clicked until the California company partnered with a startup to create the Kevo lock, which can be controlled with a smartphone and opened with a simple touch. Execs from Kwikset and Kevo take you inside the partnership…

CVS Health’s Chief Digital Officer on navigating two revolutions

Brian Tilzer says the $139 billion company is navigating two revolutions: omni-channel retail and what he terms “the digital enablement of healthcare.” It wouldn’t be possible without dialing up spending, and bringing new talent to the company. Here’s what he’s doing (includes slides)…

Coke’s David Butler on building a program for ‘exponential growth’

VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship David Butler talks about his work to combine entrepreneurial ideas and speed with Coca-Cola’s scale and brand power. Includes a half-hour of downloadable audio.

Budget cuts close Turner tech office, startup accelerator

Late December brought another unfortunate example of corporate budget cuts bringing the curtain down on an innovation team — this one at Turner Broadcasting, part of $30 billion media giant Time Warner. The team had launched an accelerator program called Media Camp, which made small investments in 27 startups.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel on what gives startups an advantage

In this audio excerpt from a recent event promoting his book “Zero to One,” Thiel discusses how internal politics can tilt decision-making in large companies towards conventional ideas and away from what is truly disruptive.

Webcast replay: Fidelity VP on tools for innovation teams

“If you just talk a lot about innovation and make a lot of noise, it can backfire,” says Rick Smyers, VP of the Center for Accelerated Innovation at Fidelity Investments. “People can hear a lot about it and think, ‘It’s just another management fad. It’ll go away.'” Smyers explains in this webcast how you can put the right strategy, tools, and people in place to make a real impact — and details some of his team’s successful projects.

Why Visa set up new innovation lab focused on digital payments

As more consumers look to pay for things without whipping out a credit card or carrying cash, Visa exec Bill Gajda explains the $12.6 billion company’s thinking behind a new 500-person innovation center in San Francisco.

Hospital innovation exec talks disruption, events, engagement

Audio and notes from our recent call with Lesley Solomon, who has overseen the launch of the Innovation Hub at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Brigham & Women’s has 1300 researchers and 1700 clinicians, along with about $650 million in annual funding. Solomon talked with IL members about running hackathons; her steering committee; and how she gets busy doctors, nurses, and researchers engaged with innovation initiatives, among other things…

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

Managing director Frankie James talks about how her Silicon Valley-based team identifies high-potential startups and new technologies and interacts with teams at GM headquarters back in Detroit. Includes a slide detailing their four-stage process, from scouting to transferring.

GameStop’s new Technology Institute explores future of retail

In March, the $9 billion videogame retailer created the GameStop Technology Institute to help it develop new experiences and offerings for the “empowered consumer.” Senior director of technology innovation Charlie Larkin gives us a look at their first project, launching this month.

How Heathrow Airport clears emerging technologies for take-off

How do busy organizations build innovation capacity? London’s Heathrow Airport handles 72 million passengers a year, with a plane landing or taking off every 45 seconds. Amidst the need for operational efficiency, safety, and security, Head of IT Strategy and Innovation Richard Harding explains what the innovation team has achieved.

Disney SVP on how accelerator program led to new partnerships

By Stephen Ellison, Contributing Writer With the Walt Disney Co. about to launch the second round of its Disney Accelerator program for startups, Innovation Leader caught up with Michael Abrams, Senior Vice President of Innovation. Abrams shared the thinking behind the accelerator program, what the company looks for in applicants, and how new connections with early-stage tech companies may help …

Advice on opening up to innovation from GE’s chief marketing officer

Beth Comstock talks about how the $146 billion behemoth is pursuing speed and growth through partnerships: investing in startups, crowdsourcing solutions, inviting inventors to use selected patents to create new products, and more. “You have to recognize that no matter how good you are, you don’t have all the answers,” Comstock says. Here’s our exclusive interview…

Why Audi of America is hiring robotic repair advisors; with video

Audi of America is rolling out telepresence robots at 18 of its highest-volume U.S. dealerships, in an effort to accelerate repairs and improve customer satisfaction. Here’s what they’re measuring before they roll out the bots more broadly.

Why Lowe’s Innovation Lab hired sci-fi writers to guide its strategy

Kyle Nel, the Executive Director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, explains why the home improvement retailer created a comic book to help executives evaluate possible future scenarios. Nel also discusses why he doesn’t think labs should be located at corporate headquarters, and how his team is measured.

How publisher Pearson gets close to education startups

“Education is changing — there’s no denying that,” says Diana Stepner, VP of Innovation Partnerships at Pearson plc. Here’s what the British publishing company is doing to connect with tech startups that may help Pearson develop new products — and new kinds of connections with consumers. Also inside: the list of 10 company challenges that Pearson shared with startups.

How Vodafone unites VC, new products, and marketing

Fay Arjomandi talks about the “xone” initiative to help Vodafone, the world’s second-biggest telecom company, identify and work with startups that can improve its network and customer experience. “When we invest in any company,” Arjomandi says, “we’re not like a financially-driven VC. They want a 10x or 20x return. For us, the most important thing is that we see that customers are using [the product], or it enhances our network.” Slides and video inside…

GE’s chief marketing officer talks innovation, partnerships

Innovation Leader had ringside seats at a Harvard Business School event, where GE’s marketing chief Beth Comstock discussed the company’s views on crowdsourcing, the Internet of things, the lean startup movement, and more. Quick bullets from her presentation and the complete audio are inside.

Why corporate innovation execs should know Placemeter

Innovation Leader regularly keeps innovation executives apprised of startups that merit attention, and we’ve found another one in Placemeter. Inside, we describe why this disruptive Manhattan-based startup (or one like it) may have an impact on global retailers and other large corporations.

Why Delphi planted a new innovation lab in Silicon Valley

Delphi Labs director John Absmeier explains how the automotive components giant is partnering, investing, and plugging into the Silicon Valley ecosystem — and hoping some of the “experiment-and-fail-fast” culture rubs gets absorbed by HQ.

VC the GE way; lessons from the firm’s upgraded strategy

GE chief executive Jeff Immelt called a meeting in 2012 to rethink the company’s investing strategy. The result was the creation of a new GE Ventures team headquartered in Silicon Valley that builds on past experiences — and mistakes. Managing director Noah Lewis explains what changed.

Changing culture: Inside Mondelez’s experiment

Changing culture inside a large company is really, really hard. Mondelez VP Bonin Bough explains how the company’s Mobile Futures initiative tackled culture change by connecting managers from nine of the company’s brands with nine startups — and shipping them out to spend a week working in the startups’ offices.

10 innovation insights from Textron’s Scorpion jet program

Textron set an audacious goal: Get a new military plane from concept to the runway in less than two years, to fill what the company saw as a major market gap. Execs Bill Anderson and Dale Tutt, who led the Scorpion project, shared what they learned on the journey from blueprint to the blue yonder.

What we learned running our hospital’s first hackathon

Innovation exec Lesley Solomon explains how Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston set up its first hackathon, what the event achieved for the organization, and what they will do differently next time around.

Advice, tactics from Dell’s VC group; includes strategy slides

After getting out of the venture capital game a decade ago, Dell recently jumped back in with both feet. Jim Lussier, managing director of Dell Ventures, explains how the tech company’s approach is different, and offers his advice for keeping corporate VC aligned with the business units. (Includes slides.)

Innovation execs need to be the ‘human API’ for employers

We talk to serial entrepreneur, investor, and former big company innovation leader Andy Palmer about the relationship between startups and big companies, the topic of our latest “Peer to Peer” report. Includes audio.

Working with Startups: The Innovation Leader report

Innovation Leader’s Q1 “Peer to Peer” report explores the ways that leading companies are tracking, investing in, and partnering with entrepreneurs and disruptive startups in their industries. The report includes examples and case studies from Time Warner, Constant Contact, GE Appliances, Google Ventures, and Qualcomm, among others.

Download page: Working with Startups P2P report

Our Q1 2014 P2P report focuses on how established companies partner with, invest in, support, and interact with early-stage startups. The report is a 25-page PDF file, designed to be printed out but also easily read on a tablet. As a premium subscriber to Innovation Leader, we invite you to share this report within your organization, or with others in …

Five reasons you shouldn’t launch a startup accelerator

Want an innovation injection? Start an accelerator. At least, that seems to be the thinking at a growing number of companies, from from Barclays to Volkswagen to Disney. But a key player in the corporate accelerator movement, TechStars exec Dave Drach, says there are some important reasons why you shouldn’t start one.

Tracking the corporate-supported startup accelerators

Major players like Disney, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Deutsche Telekom have all launched their own accelerator programs to attract entrepreneurs working on ideas related to their businesses. But before going that far, you’ll probably want to explore the low-risk opportunity to have your employees serve as mentors for existing programs, and attend demo days.

What you can learn from GE on connecting with entrepreneurs

GE hunts for breakthrough ideas by engaging with startups and academic researchers in new ways. Says exec Venkat Venkatakrishnan, “Our challenge has become, how can I find a technology that I will be the first to apply, not, what do I invent tomorrow?” Here’s a look at how Vankatakrishnan’s group held a first-of-its-kind event last fall.

Tom Peters: 2014 Reading List for Revolutionaries

Here’s what author and management guru Tom Peters thinks you ought to be reading as we head into 2014. It’s a fantastic collection of 50 books, on topics ranging from big data to robotics to gamification to loyalty to neurotechnology.

Time Warner & Blue Cross on why they started accelerators

Execs from Time Warner, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and TechStars talk about the potential upside in starting or supporting accelerator programs for entrepreneurs. “If the customer is your greatest concern, some of the best ideas can always come from outside,” says Sandy Khaund of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division. “We may not find the next Facebook, but we’re looking for companies with that same kind of game-changing potential.” Should you follow suit?

What Matter Labs means for the future of product customization

What if consumers could adapt and personalize products you’d designed, and have them created in lots of one? What if employees could easily create alternate versions of products you already sell, to meet the demands of particular customers? Is that scary, or a massive opportunity? Web-based 3D modeling software from a startup called Matter Labs takes a step toward those possibilities.

Inside iRobot’s “business-driven” innovation strategy

Colin Angle, co-founder and CEO of the robot-maker, says one of his most important jobs is protecting innovative products that have left the safe confines of the R&D lab but haven’t yet grown into significant businesses. At that stage, he says, “it’s just a big, ugly, non-revenue producing, pimply, adolescent, cash-sucking thing that most companies are lethally effective at killing.”

Can a digital badge lead to a more dynamic company?

Online retailers are constantly testing new site designs to learn which ones are most likely to produce a purchase. What if organizations could test new reporting structures, new seating plans, or new incentive programs to see which ones yielded the best results? That’s the big vision behind Sociometric Solutions, a startup that has already been working with companies like Steelcase and Bank of America.

Project flow: 3 key trends in distributed work

There’s an undeniable shift happening, toward judicious and strategic use of distributed talent — whether full-timers who don’t happen to live where your company has an office, or freelancers who prefer not to become anyone’s employee. We explore the shift with oDesk CEO Gary Swart, left, and Scott Berkun, author of the new book “My Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work.”

3 big company lessons from smartwatch startup Pebble

Pebble took 275,000 pre-orders for its first product, a $150 smartwatch, and also landed it on the shelves of Best Buy. Here’s what you should know about the Silicon Valley startup that is suddenly on the radar of much bigger players like Apple and Samsung. Includes a video interview with founder Eric Migicovsky.

Pinterest makes itself at home in new San Francisco HQ

Fast-growing tech startup Pinterest hired an architect and a designer to craft its new headquarters in San Francisco. But they also wanted employees to put their own stamp on the workplace with creative projects of their own. The end result is a bottom-up approach to making sure the office works for the people who work in it.

Steve Case: Creating networks is the new competency

Case was part of the biggest merger in corporate history, when AOL acquired Time Warner in 2000, and he has also been an entrepreneur and startup investor. He sat down with Innovation Leader to discuss some of the defensive tendencies of established organizations, and how to overcome them. “The traditional command-and-control, build-it-within model has broken down,” he says. “Today requires a more of a networked approach, and more collaboration. It’s a little like creating an API to plug into your company.” Includes audio.

Creating a disrupter ecosystem: How Athenahealth did it

With an initiative dubbed “More Disruption Please,” CEO Jonathan Bush decided to give other companies access to his customer base, inviting them to integrate into his cloud-based platform for helping doctors manage their practices. Eight hundred prospective partners raised their hands.

How J&J is building its global network of innovation centers

The healthcare giant, headquartered in New Jersey, is opening innovation centers in Silicon Valley, Shanghai, London, and Boston. Robert Urban, who heads the Boston Innovation Center for Johnson & Johnson, explains how it is staffed; his mandate; and J&J’s new thinking around collaborating with healthcare startups. Includes an audio interview with Urban and a look at the Boston office.

Real-time resource visibility: Why it changes the game

The web has already created the expectation of real-time inventory visibility — if a website can’t show visitors whether what they need is in a retail store or warehouse right now, odds are increasingly low they’re going to pick up the phone to find out. The new expectation, illustrated by the transportation app Uber, is real-time resource visibility. Here’s where that leads.

Intel’s Brandon Barnett: Mapping the future

The chipmaker’s Director of Business Innovation explains how he uses experiments, hackathons, and networks of experts to help Intel map out areas of future potential — and talks about what it takes to get the attention of business unit heads.

Speech rec: Moving beyond commands to conversations

The speech recognition built into our phones, computers, and cars today is mostly about dictation or commands: writing a short text message or e-mail, or asking Siri to pull up the weather in Dallas. Here’s a demo from start-up Veveo that shows we’re heading toward more conversationality. Apps will need to be able to banter with users as a way of helping solve problems or guide them to information.

Beta test: Locally-made products, backed by the crowd

With Onehundred, father-and-son duo David and Calvin Laituri are trying to create a tight feedback loop between a product’s designer, its buyer, and its manufacturer. In a video about the project, David Laituri, a former director of product development at Brookstone, talks about their experiment at the intersection of crowdfunding and local production.

Monitoring power usage with a countertop display

Ambient Devices’ Energy Joule frees information from the PC or the mobile device, and puts it in a prominent new place. Its goal is to change the way you use electricity — and potentially also your relationship with the utility that provides it.

Spotted: World’s best-looking vending machine?

Is there a duller visual environment than the typical airport gate area? San Francisco-based Benefit Cosmetics is trying to shake things up with a vending machine that looks like a mash-up of an ice cream truck and a Mary Kay Cadillac. The machines stock 30 of Benefit’s top-selling products. They’re in five airports now, with plans for 20 more by the end of 2013.

What if 3D-printed objects could be used to test demand?

Items made by 3D printers have mostly been used as prototypes, to solicit comments from colleagues or customers about design or functionality. But 3D printing technology is getting so good — this fruit bowl, for example — it’s starting to produce objects that could be put on store shelves as a way to gauge customer demand in a low-cost, low-risk way.

Inside the Hidden Hunting Lodge at Dyn

A New Hampshire tech company created a private meeting place emblematic of its “quirky” and “enigmatic” culture.

Blockbuster idea: Expanding markets by being multi-lingual

Hollywood studios aren’t always enthusiastic when it comes to embracing a new technology. But a smartphone app from a stealthy startup called myLINGO could help them get more non-native English speakers into theaters, with almost no additional effort. Company co-founder Olenka Polak, who grew up in a household that spoke mostly Polish, has already been pitching the idea to studio executives.