It’s not only startups that can innovate

Proving you can teach an old dog new tricks, Madison-based Hyper Innovation is bringing together disparate Wisconsin companies and executives to collaborate and spur each other to new heights of innovation.

If you don’t innovate, you die.

That’s a popular business axiom, yet one that many companies still fail to follow either out of fear of change or weak leadership. But what if there was a way for mid- and large-sized companies to capitalize on the combined experiences and knowledge of others across industries and disciplines, utilizing some of the proven methods of startup incubators and accelerators to spur innovation and growth? Would your company then remove any self-imposed shackles and take a leap forward?

It’s an idea being put into practice by Hyper Innovation, a Madison-based startup that launched in fall 2017 as the brainchild of Sandra Bradley.

The idea for Hyper Innovation came about when Bradley’s mentors, Monique Morrow, then CTO of emerging frontiers at Cisco, told her about Cisco’s Hyper Innovation Learning Lab model.

“The idea is to bring Cisco together with customers for collaboration and shared problem-solving,” notes Bradley. “I said, ‘What if we took that idea and applied it to a group of non-competitive companies who could learn faster together?’ I truly believe co-innovation is the key to innovation success. We bring a unique methodology for applying collaboration and hands-on learning for maximum innovation impact. Our goal is to bridge the gap and accelerate cross-industry innovation in an ecosystem of disruptive startups, leading corporations, and world-class universities. Organizations need to embrace open innovation to get ahead of disruption and customers’ quickly changing needs.”

Bradley and her small but influential team of collaborators ran pilot programs in the summer of 2016 to validate ideas with a small group of customers around accelerated product development, next-generation learning events, more effective corporate-startup interactions, and talent recruitment and retention strategies.

Taking what they learned from those experiences, Hyper Innovation launched this past fall and now has three full-time and two part-time employees.

Part of what makes Hyper Innovation unique is its nimbleness in identifying challenges and quickly assembling key talent that can come together, work quickly, and pivot effectively.

“Our model is highly collaborative and distributed,” says Bradley. “We identify the problem to solve and quickly pull just-in-time resources from a wide bench of talent from Wisconsin, Silicon Valley, and globally. This allows us to bring a rock star cast to our co-innovation labs, executive programs and events, and as consultants and advisors to company-specific initiatives.”

Some of those rock stars include Kay Plantes, an MIT-trained economist and founder of the Plantes Co.; Adam Bock, an entrepreneur and lecturer and the UW–Madison School of Business; Brad Chandler, director of the Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance at UW–Madison and former managing director of investment banking for Morgan Stanley; and Jeff Glazer, attorney and entrepreneur. “We have a very wide bench of executive resources across technology, entrepreneurship, economics, and business,” notes Bradley. “These individuals participate as ad-hoc advisors, mentors, presenters, and lab directors.”

Hyper Innovation also has what Bradley refers to as a core group of leading Wisconsin companies that work with the startup as corporate executive members. This membership is intended for companies to learn about disruptive spaces and to ensure leadership success across the organization. “We call this next-generation executive education and a critical tool for individuals and organizations to stay relevant,” Bradley explains.

“Our co-innovation labs are designed to act on the challenges identified in the executive programs,” she continues. “These also run on an annual basis. We bring in the same individuals as leads to guide the process and ensure the hands-on learning and prototyping follow strategic vision. Insights from the labs are key learning opportunities for the executive audience, as well. We run programs on site for companies and these individuals are all on-tap resources when expertise is required.”

Shining a light on learning

Education is a key piece of Hyper Innovation’s working model. While it doesn’t target startups or growing companies, Bradley says Hyper Innovation’s focus on accelerating innovation for mid- to large-sized corporations does include uncovering new opportunities and learning from the startup world, executive education, and strategic direction, and developing a sustainable process for executing on innovation.

“Our focus is first and foremost corporate innovation,” explains Bradley. “Where startups and university participants can bring value, we do bring them in.”

Some examples of Hyper Innovations unique programming include:

Corporate executive events

Executives in breakouts during the Nov. 30, 2017 strategy session.

Hyper Innovation has a membership for VPs and up in technology, marketing, innovation strategy, and business development, which includes a quarterly series of work sessions, two summits, disruption briefings, and webinars. The purpose is shared problem solving and validating ideas in a trusted environment. During a half-day strategy session on Nov. 30, 2017, besides benchmarking with other executives, presentations on AI and co-innovation were followed by small group discussions and action-plan development for lab activities.

“We invited several startup gurus and faculty, staff, and even some high-performing students from UW–Madison — engineering, business, law, and computer science were all represented — to participate,” says Bradley. “The result was a level of thinking and ideation that couldn’t be had without this kind of collaboration and cross-functional interactions.”

Companies attending included Accelerated Genetics, Agrace Hospice, Alliant Energy, BMO, CUNA Mutual Group, Curt Joa Inc., Design Concepts, Grant Thornton, JJ Keller, Johnson Controls, Lands’ End, Lohman Technologies, Moxe Health, Spectrum Brands, Springs Window Fashions, Trek Bicycles, Wall Family Enterprises, WPS Insurance, and Zoll Medical. UW–Madison was represented by the School of Business, Law School, College of Engineering, Computer Science Department, and the Center for Professional and Executive Development.

Blockchain co-innovation lab

The blockchain lab is focused on rapid learning in a highly transformative space. “We strongly believe in distilling the hype and addressing business strategy first, and then the technology,” Bradley notes. “We bring together a select group of companies each year to engage with thought leaders in the space in learning events and boot camps; host hackathons that bring together corporations, startups, and university students for collaborative opportunities; partner with a cryptocurrency incubator with a number of early-stage companies for use cases and advisors/mentors; and engage UW–Madison faculty as fellows and advisors. We see these kinds of labs as a mechanism not only for learning but also identifying early-stage ideas and partnering opportunities.”

Husch-Blackwell, CUNA Mutual Group, and WPS Insurance are all participants.

Future of transportation co-innovation lab

Hyper Innovation’s transportation lab was conceived to accelerate unique assets right here in Wisconsin, including leading companies in a high state of disruption from automated vehicle (AV) advancements, UW–Madison’s designation as one of 10 institutions identified by the Federal DOT to test AV prototypes, and the opportunity to provide industry-led leverage to fuel the state’s interest in transportation innovation.

“Plus, we have unique weather conditions and terrain from intra-urban to long-haul,” comments Bradley.”

Hyper Innovation is partnering with the Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds and UW–Madison Traffic Operations and Safety Lab to develop test corridors on the UW–Madison campus, Epic campus, and AMA test tracks to identify industry challenges, develop unique aggregated data sets from real-world testing, provide mechanisms for identifying new opportunities, and exploring potential partnerships.

Culture of innovation strategy development

“We are working with several companies to develop full plans for innovation strategy development, facilitating strategic alignment, and leadership training. Lands’ End is one example,” says Bradley.

The purpose is to create a scalable, repeatable method that ensures relevancy and sustained success. “We have a process that identifies opportunities, assesses leadership and skillsets, provides tools for experimentation and empowering evangelists in the organization, and metrics for success.”

University experts can be brought in to deliver content and facilitate discussion, and startups bring new ideas and inspiration in the form of platform expertise and consulting.

Accelerated product development

The AfibAlert team working on prototyping.

Hyper Innovation is also working with Lohman Technologies, a Pewaukee-based startup and makers of AfibAlert, a device for in-home monitoring of atrial fibrillation.

AfibAlert was ready for a 2.0 version and, by bringing in a curated team of multidisciplinary UW–Madison students representing biomedical engineering, business, and communications to work with executives and engineers from the company, the Hyper Innovation team was able to move the needle on product development in an accelerated six-week sprint cycle. The company benefited by rapidly advancing an idea and students were able to get valuable hands-on experience, notes Bradley.

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Madison made

Bradley grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but came to UW–Madison for graduate school and never left.

“As a UW alum and Madison resident for over 20 years, I now identify as Midwesterner,” notes Bradley.

She’s had what some might call an interesting professional trajectory with a common theme of pioneering new ideas. During her time as a doctoral student in the dot-com era, Bradley became intrigued with the potential of the internet as a transformational medium and co-founded Aesention Inc., an e-commerce and web boutique, in the 1990s. The company had as many as 15 employees at one point and eventually merged with Hiebing, where Bradley became part of Hiebing’s leadership team and helped pioneer digital strategy and marketing services. However, educational pursuits beckoned.

“I was drawn back to the UW to capitalize on my passion around lifelong learning in disruptive spaces and took on leadership roles including co-founding the UW–Madison Internet of Things Lab and pioneering industry-university digital marketing and technology thought leadership, corporate executive programming, and strategic consulting in the College of Engineering,” says Bradley. She’s also contributed to several books, including The Internet of Women, Global and Multinational Advertising, and The Briefcase Manager's Guide to Publicity, Marketing, and PR.

“Through my career, I have seen highly successful companies, especially deeply rooted, successful mid- to large-sized corporations, struggle with disruption and in developing a sustainable and effective method for innovating across product, people, and process,” Bradley explains. “It was this need that drove the founding of Hyper Innovation in 2017 with its unique methodology and toolbox for distilling the hype and identifying ‘what’s next,’ while developing a talent pipeline to sustain innovation within the enterprise.

“Madison is truly unique and is ideal for Hyper Innovation,” Bradley continues. “There is a grit here and willingness to collaborate in a highly connected, genuine way. It is what I love about Madison. We have a world-class university and fantastic companies looking to ensure continued long-term success. There has been more activity on the entrepreneurial scene in the past few years than I have seen at any time here and feel that Madison is on the cusp of becoming a ‘next city.’ There is a lot of talk about being something other than a flyover state and Hyper Innovation is intended to provide an accelerant and method for creating shared stories around innovation that the world will talk about. I think we have the opportunity to create a rising tide for all.”

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