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How to run a successful innovation lab

Jake Pincombe

Head of Open Innovation

How to build a successful innovation lab 

In my previous blog post, I covered what an innovation lab is and how it can help your business, so if you need a refresher on the topic, take a look. Today, I’ll share how to set up an innovation lab and provide you with key learnings I’ve made from almost a decade of running 90+ innovation labs for some of the world’s largest and most successful businesses. 

How to set up an innovation lab

Before we dive into the steps required to build an innovation lab, I wanted to cover some general tips to help guide you through the process and ensure you run a successful programme. 

1. Ensure you set clear objectives.

What do you want to achieve by running an innovation lab? Your goals should be achievable, measurable, and impact the business. Without goals, it’s hard to know what you’re aiming for or whether you’ve been successful. Clear goals also help you create a targeted brief for your innovation lab so that you focus on the most important and relevant category/theme/opportunity.

2. Use a rigorous process. 

Your innovation lab requires a rigours process to keep the programme moving. This process benefits all parties involved by setting expectations of what will happen, when. Having a tried and tested method also helps you get consistent results from the programme. 

3. Leverage global networks and opportunities.

The open innovation model used by innovation labs relies on partnerships and collaboration. Don’t be limited by your existing network or location. Call on external networks to find innovative startups to collaborate with globally. 

4. Seek out business growth and experimentation experts.

An innovation lab allows you to assess companies, their solutions, and the potential for further collaboration with your business. It’s essential to have the skills to test and assess each startup’s value, market need, team, and technology. 

5. Make the most of collaboration opportunities. 

Staff in large enterprises don’t often get the opportunity to work alongside small startup teams. But innovation labs offer the opportunity to involve a cross-section of your team. This allows your staff to learn entrepreneurial skills and gain new mindsets. Increased team collaboration can also improve the programme’s success as startups can get closer to your organisation and better understand your challenges and customers.

How to run an innovation lab in six stages 

While a typical innovation lab may run for ten weeks, the overall process takes 6-8 months. To put this into context, I’ve provided the L Marks process overview, which shows the end-to-end approach. 

Let’s examine what happens at each stage in more detail. 

Stage 1: Category Identification

Integrating business priorities and strategic objectives into the innovation lab is critical to its success. But business objectives and challenges can vary from one department to another. To ensure you identify and elevate the greatest opportunities for the business, you should include a cross-section of people in the process.

Combining primary and secondary research is the best way to ensure you are looking outside-in and identifying the best areas to improve within your business.

Stage 2: Global Scouting 

Global scouting marks the public launch of the innovation lab. Seek out networks or partners that can promote and refer promising companies to you. Use an international scouting network to discover companies from around the globe working on game-changing solutions that match your lab themes, challenges or strategic objectives. 

Assess the applications and conduct screening interviews to create a shortlist of 10-20 companies to invite to pitch day. 

Stage 3: Pitch Day

Pitch day allows applicant teams to present their solutions to your stakeholders. You will need to assemble a judging panel that will ultimately champion a selected startup’s progress throughout the programme.

Each startup team should be coached ahead of pitch day to ensure their proposition, solution, and overall pitch content is relevant to the attendees and helps the judging panel make informed decisions. The judging committee will select the most promising companies for the ten-week innovation lab. 

Stage 4: Onboarding

Onboarding is where all prep work is done for the following ten-week programme. Each successful applicant should have objectives for the programme and be assigned a sponsor or mentor.

Stage 5: Programme Live

Now starts ten weeks of intensive mentorship and active collaboration between your company and various exciting and innovative startups. During these ten weeks, teams aim to develop their solutions, prove their value, and create a roadmap for deployment.

While every company is different and will have its own unique journey through the programme, all participants should go through four main stages; 

  • Opportunity assessment and identification. 
  • Prioritisation of impactful, achievable and measurable experiments.
  • Development of trials and proof of concept. 
  • Identify, measure, and compare the net benefits of the solution. 

Stage 6: Review and Integrate

The ten-week programme culminates with demo day. This session allows each team to articulate their learnings and demonstrate their provable value. Your internal stakeholders should evaluate each group and make decisions regarding future relationships. 

Thanks to the structure and process used in innovation labs, you should have been able to conduct unparalleled due diligence on any potential commercial relationships and investment opportunities. 

What makes L Marks Innovation Labs so successful? 

Our unique approach makes our innovation labs so successful.

Success doesn’t mean you stop learning and improving. 

As one of the early innovation firms and the first company to run a retail accelerator programme in the UK, we have a lot of experience in corporate innovation. We’ve launched 90+ innovation programmes across the UK, Europe, Israel, Asia, and the US. We have supported 400+ companies through our innovation labs—76% of which continued working with a corporate partner after the programme. These companies have raised over $1.6 billion in further investment funding. 

But success doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels. 

We continue to improve and develop our processes and methodologies, most recently by partnering with the University of Cambridge on groundbreaking research. The joint project aims to establish a large-scale measurement index of corporations’ innovation capabilities. Such learnings and insights feed back into our work. 

Rigours processes & due diligence

Our proprietary system, the Bridge, manages the end-to-end innovation lab process, including due diligence, events, project management, and assessment and scoring for pitch days. The Bridge allows all teams to plan and report progress and keeps track of many moving parts throughout the programme.

Extensive networks

L Marks is the UK’s largest innovation network with offices in London, Manchester, New York and Chicago. Our full-time scouting team works to build and maintain an extensive network of the world’s most outstanding entrepreneurs and super connectors across many sectors. We also call on our Community Partners Network of over 780 global organisations to help provide subject matter expertise and mentorship. This helps us discover over 10,000 promising startups every year from all over the world. 

The right mix of expertise 

Our team consists of the following;

  • Business veterans who know what it takes to start and scale businesses. 
  • Innovation partners who know how to work inside complex organisations. 
  • Scouts who know their way around cutting-edge technology and innovation. 
  • Programme managers who are experts in setting goals and roadmaps and ensuring all stakeholders and teams progress through our programmes successfully.

Cross-industry focus

There is immense value in accessing technologies and business models across industry boundaries. Our broad client base provides us with knowledge from different sectors. Below are a few of the sectors we’ve worked in and clients we’ve helped; 

  • Healthcare: Pfizer, UnitedHealth Group, Medtronic, Alder Hey Hospital.
  • Automotive: Ford, Nissan, BMW, Volvo.  
  • Transport: British Airways.
  • Materials: Honeywell, DuPont, Belron, Sumitomo Corporation.
  • Consumer: L Brands, Whirlpool, Best Buy, John Lewis, AO.com, Victoria’s Secret. 
  • Food & Groceries: Iceland, Dia, Nestlé.
  • Agriculture: Cargill, Corteva.
  • Sporting & Gambling: Arsenal, William Hill, Sky Betting.
  • Finance & Legal: Lloyd’s of London, Capital One, Metro Bank, Mishcon de Reya.
  • Real Estate & Facilities: Intu, Sodexo, Travis Perkins, GAF.
  • Energy & Utilities: United Utilities, EDF Energy, American Electric Power, Centrica. 
  • Logistics and Delivery: DPD, Geo Post, Wincanton. 

If you’d like to find out about running a corporate innovation lab in partnership with L Marks, get in touch. 

28 April 2023