Here’s Our List of 2019 Impact Award Winners

September 23, 2019

Each fall, InnoLead presents the Impact Awards to companies that are leveraging innovation, technology, and R&D initiatives to achieve concrete business results. The awards are given out as part of our annual Impact gathering for corporate innovators, taking place this year in San Francisco from October 22-24.

There are two categories: a main category, and a few special awards for “Best New Initiative,” given to programs that are relatively new and thus aren’t yet producing the same level of metrics or business outcomes as finalists in the main category. (You can see the complete list of finalists here.) 


Adtalem Global Education
Initiative: myVRscope

In many lab-based science courses, there simply aren’t enough microscopes to go around. That usually means that some students do the experiments while others watch. At $1.2 billion Adtalem Global Education, a team in the Innovation Center of Excellence addressed that issue by developing myVRscope, a virtual 3D microscope that can be used by individuals wearing a virtual reality headset — or a mobile device or laptop, without goggles. Students can pose questions to Dr. Beaker, the artificially-intelligent lab instructor, on topics including the history of microscopy and how specific components of the microscope work. They can also get quizzed on course content while using myVRscope.

When faculty and students were surveyed after testing the system, 100 percent of the faculty said they would be comfortable having students use myVRscope to perform lab activities as part of courses at Adtalem’s Chamberlain University, which educates nurses. Ninety-three percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that myVRscope gave them a sense of actually being in a lab.

“The team did an amazing job of clearly articulating the problem statement to a big challenge,” writes judge Shanker Sahai of LogMeIn. “The solution directly addressed the problem and also showed how myVRscope will scale and meet the needs of the schools.”

Initiative: Bosch Innovation Framework & Accelerator Program

With 410,000 employees and $86 billion in annual revenue, Bosch is the world’s largest supplier of auto parts, and the German company also manufactures an array of other products, from air conditioning systems to power saws to coffee makers. CEO Volkmar Denner has been encouraging Bosch employees to focus more on the creation of new business models, noting in a 2016 message that “product innovations are important, but [they] alone won’t be enough to ensure our company’s continuing success.”

An internal team called Bosch Management Consulting partnered with the Innovation Acceleration Group at UC Berkeley to develop the Bosch Innovation Framework, “a clearly-defined and repeatable business process that systematically validates products and new business models with maximum speed and capital efficiency, so Bosch can effectively compete against startups and other new competitors,” according to the award submission. The framework covers all phases of business model development, from “Problem Definition” to “Validation” to “Incubation/Scaling.” A completely digital accelerator program, with 25-30 teams from all around the world participating simultaneously, covers the validation phase.

Of the teams that have been through the accelerator, 14 are now acquiring customers and scaling revenue. “A typical Bosch product development process lasts three years and costs millions of dollars,” according to the submission. “The teams using BIF are typically getting to first revenue in under seven months – a greater than 3x increase in product development speed. Additionally, because these startups are validating their customer needs and business model before product development, they are stopping opportunities that do not demonstrate promise in weeks or months, which cuts product development costs by a factor of 6-10x.”

Judge Carol Miller, formerly VP of Corporate Innovation at American Greetings, writes, “Led by a truly visionary CEO, Bosch’s entry was impressive on many levels,” starting with a “laser focus on diversifying their innovation efforts beyond products into business models, [which] required a culture of courage and relentlessness that many large organizations aspire to, but never achieve.”

Initiative: Citi Ventures Corporate Venture Investing Program

In addition to making strategic investments that deliver financial returns for the firm, the corporate venture investing program within $73 billion Citigroup also aims to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and business models within the company. In addition, startups backed by Citi Ventures also get introductions to Citi clients that often result in new partnerships.

Citi Ventures has defined five focus areas for its investments: financial services technology, including new models for banking and financial services; data analytics and machine learning; commerce and payments; security and enterprise IT; and customer experience and marketing. One example in the commerce and payments category is Singapore-based Grab. Citi Ventures participated in a funding round in 2018, and in June 2019 launched a co-branded credit card with Grab in Southeast Asia.

Citi Ventures meets with roughly 1000 startups each year, making more than 50 introductions to businesses within Citi and 100 introductions to Citi clients. The active portfolio of 45 startups includes four “unicorns,” startups with a valuation of more than $1 billion. And since 2016, the investment portfolio has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits, by Citi’s estimate, through investment gains, incremental revenue, and cost savings.

“Based on their results to date,” writes judge Jennifer Kirby of Hyatt Hotels, “they appear to be achieving their goal of not only providing near-term monetary value to the company, but also helping the company take advantage of emerging technologies and solutions at a faster pace than before the program was in place.”

Executives listen to employee pitches at a Delta Cafés event called “King of the Ring.”

Delta Cafés
Initiative: MIND (Delta’s Innovation Model)

Based in Portugal, the coffee roasting and packaging company Delta Cafés has operations spanning from Brazil to Angola to China. MIND (a Portuguese acronym for “Delta’s Innovation Model”) involves a digital platform from InnovationCast that helps gather ideas and get employees working together to improve them. Bootcamps help Delta’s employees develop and test minimum viable products with customers or partners, and begin to shape a business plan. Based on the business plan and a pitch (which takes place in front of hundreds of colleagues), one winning team is chosen in each cycle.

Two products, a caffeine-infused cereal bar and a line of packaged milk and oatmilk beverages, have already hit the market, and two more are on the way. Over three cycles of the program, about 170 employees have participated. According to the award submission, MIND has “helped to decentralize innovation,” and disseminate across the company “the importance of validating new services and projects with the customer….”

Robert Urban, a judge who in 2018 retired as Global Head of J&J Innovation, wrote that Delta Cafés “built a highly-engaged and multi-dimensional innovation platform that equally emphasized the importance of employee engagement and culture alongside the need to generate innovative results.”

Duke Energy
Initiative: Analytics Products and Transformation

Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, $25 billion Duke Energy is one of the biggest energy generation, transmission, and distribution companies in the US. Within Duke, the Analytics Products & Transformation (APT) team’s focus is translating complex data analytics concepts into user-friendly products, helping end users make better data-driven decisions. The team originally formed in 2017, and it brings together product developers with data scientists.

The team averages about 90 days to prototype an idea, and has so far shepherded four ideas into production. APT has already contributed $48 million in net revenue growth for the company, primarily by tackling “non-technical line loss,” or energy that was delivered without collecting the appropriate revenue.

“I was particularly impressed with the mission of Optimist Hall [Duke’s innovation center], which combines agile processes to create urgency and ‘intrapreneurship’ to drive collaboration, and includes subject matter experts and end-user customers to co-create along the way,” writes judge Dan Wheeler, an SVP at Wahlburgers. Duke also presented “really solid metrics in terms of the number of projects, prototypes, and even net revenue growth projections,” Wheeler wrote.

Looking into an OR at Houston Methodist.

Houston Methodist
Initiative: Center for Innovation

With eight hospitals, more than 2,300 beds and 24,000 employees, Houston Methodist is one of the nation’s leading hospitals. It has been named by US News and World Ranking as the No. 1 Hospital in Texas for seven consecutive years, and by Forbes Magazine the top employer in Texas in 2019.

The century-old organization had always been innovative when it came to developing new medical devices and therapies, but, according to the award submission, “financial pressures, changing consumer expectations, and the pace at which new incumbents enter health care [have] challenged hospitals in ways they have not been equipped to react. Digital needed to be added to Houston Methodist’s innovation toolkit.”

An informal group called Digital Innovation Obsessed People (DIOP) led to the creation of the Houston Methodist Center for Innovation in 2018. Among the center’s principles: “We are embracing new technologies and constantly looking for ways to innovate with existing technologies,” and “We aim to succeed fast or fail fast.”

A 2019 deployment of robotic process automation — devising software “robots” to perform tasks that adhere to a standard set of rules — helped the hospital avoid $2 million in insurance and Medicare coverage denials over the course of just two months. Providing better information to patients before and after surgeries, using their communication channels of choice, has produced improved outcomes while reducing calls to physicians’ offices. And text messages to remind patients about upcoming appointments has cut the no-show rate by more than 20 percent in some of the clinics under the Houston Methodist umbrella.

The hospital “seems poised to build upon those gains and further expand their use cases,” wrote Colin Maclay of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, part of the judging panel.

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
Initiative: Ignition Grants — HELP Challenge

The team behind the Ignition Grants HELP Challenge at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

Founded in 1942 as part of the war effort, the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins is an R&D and engineering organization with 6,700 employees, making it the country’s largest university-affiliated research center. APL’s key project sponsors include NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The roots of the Ignition Grants HELP Challenge trace back to 2018, when a cave flooded in Thailand, trapping a team of soccer players inside. The Applied Physics Lab knew that it had “capabilities, technologies, and experts that could make a difference” in developing a rescue strategy, according to the awards submission. “Elon Musk was able to pull together his top engineers. Why couldn’t APL?”

The first part of the HELP Challenge involved a “data call” for relevant staff skills. The second part involved a micro-grant mechanism to enable staffers to modify existing technologies or create dual-use technologies that might be applicable in disaster or rescue scenarios, similar to the cave situation in Thailand. The challenge resulted in 153 staff sharing relevant technical skills that might not be on their traditional résumés, and 50 ideas submitted. Eleven of the ideas were funded for a short-timeframe exploration of their potential.

Among those ideas: leveraging artificial intelligence to create more effective flu vaccines; low-cost air quality sensors; and using virtual reality to see what a physical space looked like before the disaster struck. “This program is now prepared to respond to a disaster and leverage APL’s skills and capabilities,” according to the award submission. Additionally, “some of the technologies are being spun in to customer-funded projects.”

“I found this program and its outcome very inspiring,” wrote Jennifer Kirby, an Impact Awards judge from Hyatt Hotels.

Best New Initiative Honorees

Merchants Fleet
Initiative: INNOV8 2019

A team at Merchants Fleet develops a list of intentionally bad ideas.

Founded in 1962, New Hampshire-based Merchants Fleet helps customers manage about 74,000 fleet vehicles. But the company acknowledges that customer expectations, an on-demand mindset, and new technologies are changing the way people want to use vehicles. The INNOV8 program, launched in January 2019, has included design thinking training based on Stanford’s open source curriculum; a peer-to-peer innovation coaching academy; a quarterly INNOV8R award for individuals and teams; and a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University to envision how the fleet management industry will change over the coming decade. A main component of the INNOV8 program, according to the award submission, “is to look at innovation in a new way by breaking it down into BIG I’s and Little i’s. A Big I is a large-scale change that might lead to breakthroughs or disrupt a current model, while a Little i is a smaller change that can improve a current process or service and have great impact.”

Among the outcomes: a more seamless way to ensure that customers’ older fleet vehicles get sold, and ways for neighboring companies or universities to share one another’s fleets, reducing costs.

Alex Slawsby, Director of Innovation at Embraer X, gave Merchants Fleet kudos for developing “the senior leadership support required to create a new innovation program for the first time, and then to generate tangible results in a short period of time.”

Vertex employees evaluate a wall full of Post-it Notes.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Initiative: Vertex Innovation & External Research Team

The Innovation & External Research Team at $3 billion Vertex Pharmaceuticals is comprised of scientists, legal and contract experts, startup catalysts, human-centered design thinkers, and it includes employees with deep organizational and industry understanding. Among the programs the team oversees are VOICE, a global innovation tournament, and i2: Innovator’s Institute, a 16-week program to train employees in the skills necessary to develop, test, and deploy new ideas. Some of the outcomes include promising new research programs in sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia; a 3-D printing lab to help Vertex scientists create new tools and models; a commuter bus program; and Vertex U, a learning platform that serves all company employees.

Judge Tim Gorman of Verizon wrote that the VIER program “was well-structured, leveraging a portfolio of initiatives that should deliver positive results over the long-term.”

The 2019 Impact Award judges:

Chip Blaufuss, VP of Strategy & Innovation, HCA Healthcare

Algernon Callier, Former VP of Emerging Technology, Universal Parks & Resorts

Tim Gorman, Associate Director, Verizon Innovation Centers and 5G Labs

Jennifer Kirby, Managing Director of Innovation & Growth Initiatives, Hyatt Hotels

Fuat Koro, Head of Corporate Strategy & Innovation, Bose

Colin Maclay, Executive Director, USC Annenberg Innovation Lab

Chris Mayer, Chief Innovation Officer, Suffolk Construction

Carol Miller, Former VP of Corporate Innovation, American Greetings

Shanker Sahai, Manager, Innovation Enablement Team, LogMeIn

Alex Slawsby, Director of Innovation, EmbraerX

Robert Urban, Former Global Head of J&J Innovation

Dan Wheeler, SVP of Marketing & Innovation, Wahlburgers