Roveo Fire video here !

First-hand perspectives on in-company innovation

Every company should build and nurture its own innovation culture. That comment, from Mathieu Menet, Innovation Lab Manager at LEMO, points to the challenge faced by small businesses in leveraging their innovation potential in today’s increasingly global, fast-paced markets.

In Switzerland – which by some measures is the world’s premier country for innovation – what does innovation mean for established companies? How can a small business foster and drive innovation and make sure projects are given enough resources? For Jean-Mi Stauffer, Innovation Advisor at Innovaud, the answer lies in implementing an effective innovation process, as he noted in his introductory remarks at the Innovaud Connect held on 21 March 2018 at LEMO’s headquarters in Ecublens.

The event was attended by executives from small businesses across Vaud as well as innovation professors from local universities. Menet was the keynote speaker. His firm – still entirely family owned – is a global leader in the development and manufacture of customized, high-precision push-pull connectors and cable solutions. A pioneer in its market for over 70 years, LEMO’s advanced technology is used in demanding applications such as Renault’s e.dams Formula E cars and McLaren’s and Mercedes’ Formula 1 cars. The company operates in 80 countries and exports 95% of its production, despite the strong Swiss franc.

Bringing fresh ideas to ideation

Before learning more about LEMO’s innovation process, attendees first heard from Sedat Adiyaman, founder and CEO of think2make, about methods for collaborative innovation. think2make, established in Neuchatel in 2013, is an idea factory that has already worked on a number of innovation projects with companies like Felco. Adiyaman believes collaborative innovation can bring fresh perspectives to ideation and sees five main benefits: aligning goals, generating enthusiasm, limiting risk, simplifying actions and speeding implementation.

A new way of working

The third speaker, Patrick Albert, a professor at HES-SO and one of the experts behind the Innokick program, discussed open innovation, or innovation methods based on knowledge sharing and collaboration among all stakeholders. Albert, who also works as a coach for Swiss innovation platform platinn, described how the need to innovate is impacting businesses that operate in rapidly shifting industries. Operational excellence will no longer be enough for these firms to efficiently seize market opportunities.

Going forward, businesses will be required to adopt new technology. One way to do so successfully according to Albert is to implement the principles of open innovation at all levels of new product and service development, from ideation and design through to manufacturing and sales. That means creating fast-moving, agile organizations equipped with the right innovation resources, which could include R&D partnerships with other firms, universities or research centers.

Building an innovation culture

Menet, the last speaker of the event, gave a particularly interesting talk on how his company was able to instill an innovation culture – an initiative that has more than paid off. The initiative was launched in 2014 and was inspired by the Montessori method. Since then, over 100 employees have been trained on innovation. The initiative has given rise to more than 200 ideas – seven of which resulted in marketable innovations – boosted the company’s innovation capacity by 25%, earned it a number of innovation awards and cut its time-to-market in half. LEMO has also formed joint ventures with startups as part of its innovation process. These include rovenso, for whom LEMO engineers developed custom connectors for the ROVéo Fire, rovenso’s latest four-wheeled rover designed to support rescue missions after natural disasters or industrial accidents.

Setting up an effective innovation process is not only possible, but highly advisable. LEMO’s efforts enabled the firm to gain a real competitive advantage and establish a lasting presence in its markets. Of course, setting up such a process is not easy and takes time. But Vaud’s businesses, small and large, can draw on the know-how of the region’s universities and innovation organizations like platinn and Innovaud.

Text by Eugène Schön.