Archive for the Tag 'investment'

Where in the World to Invest During a Downturn

Point: Government policy affects foreign investment and innovation. Brazil is poised to do well.

Story: During a recent HSM webinar, Jeffrey Sachs (leading international economic advisor, sachs-largeColumbia University professor and author of New York Times bestsellers Common Wealth and The End of Poverty), was asked about the near-term prospects for Latin American countries and which countries he thought would do best. Sachs’ answer: Brazil is poised to do best.

For the last 15 years, Brazil has been investing heavily in education. In particular, Brazil made high school available to all citizens and invested in higher education, science and technology. The result is not only a more educated workforce but also a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor and between ethnically divided segments of Brazilian society. In contrast, countries with deep ethnic and racial inequities aren’t unified societies, which leads to mediocre economic performance. Brazil plans to invest $22 billion in science and technology innovation in 2010 and seeks corporations to join in additional investments in the country.

Sachs’ optimism about Brazil echos IBM’s sentiments. IBM is one of the companies investing in Brazil. CEO Sam Palmisano recently met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva to discuss the creation of a “collaboratory” in Brazil. IBM’s  collaboratories match IBM researchers with local experts from governments, universities and companies. IBM’s Palmisano praised Brazil’s strategy: “Investments in innovation are critical, especially in a downturn. They can help Brazil and other countries, including the US, realize an economic expansion.”  Among the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), Brazil is seeing the highest growth in business partners that IBM works with, averaging 150% year over year, according to Claudia Fan Munce, managing director of IBM Venture Capital Group.

Action:
* Consider the benefits of locating R&D labs to another country, such as gaining  opportunities to see the challenges and solutions  not visible from a US-centric perspective.
* When evaluating countries for investment potential, consider their economic policies (business environment, trade policy, investment policy, infrastructure) as well as any cultural barriers (ethnic, religious, gender inequalities) that may be a barrier to integrating the best talent and to fostering economic growth

Sources:

Jeffrey Sachs webinar: Economics for a Crowded Planet
“Big Blue’s Global Lab,” Business Week September 7, 2009
“IBM Bets on Brazilian Innovation” Business Week August 17, 2009
Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet
Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time

If you’d like to ask Jeffrey Sachs your own questions, you’ll have the opportunity at the World Business Forum in New York City October 6-7, 2009.

2 Comments »Capital, Growth, Innovation, Opportunity, R&D, Strategy

Identify Priority Innovation Areas

Point: Define priority innovation areas to harness employee energy

Story: When it comes to innovation, Harrah’s Entertainment doesn’t play games. The operator of a global chain of 50 casinos is pursuing a theme-focused innovation strategy similar to technology giant Hewlett-Packard and venture capital firm The Foundry Group. The company identified six areas of interest (akin to HP’s 8 themes and Foundry’s 5 themes – see Innovation Investment Strategy). Harrah’s target areas are: enabling technologies (such as wireless and radio frequency identification); enabling platforms (cloud computing, service-oriented architecture, anything-as-a-service); “smart” service (self-service kiosks); interactive CRM; next-generation gaming; and expanded channels to reach customers.

An innovation team of about 10 people from IT, marketing, customer service and gaming evaluate idea submissions from employees. Harrah’s also taps the innovations of vendors and is considering enlisting the public in seeking new innovations in gaming and entertainment. To gather even more feedback, Harrah’s created an “Innovation Portal” where employees can vote for their favorite innovation. Top management (CEO Gary Loveman and VP of Innovation Chris Chang) then decides which ideas ultimately get funded.

Action:

  • Identify the areas of top priority to your firm, to help steer energy & momentum in the areas that will provide most value to your firm.
  • Use themes to look for the deeper, long-term enablers and platforms rather than shallow short-term gadgets and projects.
  • Ask employees for suggestions, feedback or votes on ideas within these areas
  • Consider involving vendors, customers and the public as well, to expand the pool of ideas. (This strategy will require thinking through the IP issues.)

For more information on Harrah’s: Network Computing article

8 Comments »Case study, Customers, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy

Innovation Investment Strategy

Point: Organizing innovation investments into broad themes focuses energy and enables collaboration

Story: Until 2008, Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) Labs ran hundreds of research projects. Then new HP Labs’ director Prith Banerjee reduced the total number of projects and organized research into eight cross-cutting themes: Analytics, Cloud, Content transformation, Digital commercial print, Immersive interaction, Information management, Intelligent infrastructure and Sustainability. They then invited universities to submit research proposals within these core themes. In 2008, HP selected 45 projects at 35 institutions to receive HP Labs Innovation Awards. Winners in 2009 will be announced on March 16.

Similarly, Boulder venture capital firm Foundry Group invests in five themes: Human Computer Interaction, Implicit Web, Email, Glue, and Digital Life. The commonality among these five themes, besides the tie to software/internet/IT, is that the themes are horizontal rather than vertical. The themes cut across industries, just as HP’s the areas do. The Foundry Group’s goal is to identify underlying technology protocols and standards that have the potential to win big. When evaluating whether to invest in a new company, “our first question is, does it fit our investment themes?” said managing director Brad Feld. “We focus on broad horizontal themes where we can create market-leading companies.” For example, the Foundry Group invests in Lijit Networks, Inc. because Lijit’s search infrastructure services apply to any online publisher and because the search methodology uses people, their content, and their network connections to produce search results with unprecedented relevance.

Both HP and Foundry Group seek and invest in “big ideas” that have the potential to transform the marketplace. Investing horizontally means looking at transformational ideas that can lead to opportunities in many industries. For high-risk research and venture investments, choosing horizontal areas is a better risk management strategy for three reasons. First, it makes success less dependent on adoption of the idea within a given industry. Second, you avoid running into a major stumbling block, such as regulation or a big competitor, that could derail your success in a single industry. Third, it helps create agility by creating core innovations that can be adapted to a range of verticals, as needed. A horizontal approach lets you have more “irons in the fire” without being scattered. The grouping gives you a diversity of opportunity without the burden of a scattered approach.

Action:
* Aggregate and focus your R&D or project investment efforts into horizontal thematic areas
* Become an expert in those themes to seek out and nurture the big ideas
* Look for opportunities that cut across industries
* Avoid the temptation to be pulled in different directions that would dilute expertise or investment

For more information: HP Labs reports on its restructuring and open initiatives by Dean Takahashi

HP Labs’ eight theme areas

Foundry Group Theme Investing by Brad Feld

Silicon Flatirons Interview Series

No Comments »How-to, Innovation, Strategy