Corporate Co-innovation: We marry the best of both worlds!

ACE’s Corporate Co-Innovation programme seeks to connect corporations to startups with innovative solutions to address the various business challenges of these corporations. I was honoured to be given the opportunity to speak with Dirong, Deputy head for Innovation and Branding from ACE and learn more about his role in ACE!

What is your role at ACE? What does that role do?

My key role is in leading ACE’s corporate innovation initiatives. One example is the Digital Transformation Exchange series where we curate startups based on certain themes such as FinTech, AI, Smart Logistics and organise them to pitch their solutions to a corporate audience. Another recent programme was the “The Bridge Challenge” for The Coca Cola Company that reached out to startups across the region including India, Indonesia, Vietnam.

We are also launching a corporate membership scheme for corporations to attend curated pitch events based on their interest areas, participate as mentors to cultivate relationship with startups and network with other corporations to co-innovate and solve similar problems collaboratively.

My typical day consists of me meeting up with corporations to discuss how we can support their co-innovation efforts and managing the day-to-day running of events, workshops and programmes for corporates and startups to ensure that they run smoothly.

What inspires you to join the startup ecosystem?

I was previously part of the inhouse projects team of PSA working on productivity improvement projects in the container terminals. I started my entrepreneurship journey because I was excited by the prospect of bringing a new idea to fruition and creating value for customers which are opportunities hard to come by in MNCs.This led me to start my own startup with my wife. It is a corporate catering platform that curates and delivers food from quality restaurants to premium corporate events and my wife is still managing the business today.

I am able to contribute to the ecosystem with the privilege of having the perspectives from both sides of the table – the corporate as well as the startup which helps in my current role in facilitating linkage between both parties.

What are some of the challenges for Corporate Co-Innovation?

The first challenge is to get corporations and startups to work together due to the difference in mindset. The corporates are more process-driven who are used to working within corporate policies and framework, while startups are more mission-driven in terms of seeing beyond the current status quo and working outside of the current framework to look at different ways to solve a problem. Typically, MNCs already have a stable customer base, so they can afford more time for their decision making, while time is of the essence to startups to prevent it from being a cash burn.

The second challenge is getting organisational buy-in from the middle management and the rest of the employees of the corporations and getting them to be more open to ideas and embrace new ways of innovation to work with external parties.

In your interaction with startups and corporates, what are some of the benefits you see when both startups and corporates work together?

For startups, they can gain international market access opportunities through the corporates’ network, domain expertise, resources through investments and credibility and legitimacy by working with corporations. As for corporations, they can tap on startups’ creativity, innovativeness and agility and even start to operate like a startup by promoting innovativeness within the company itself through adopting the IDEAS model. This co-development of creative ideas to constantly develop new products and processes helps corporations to better meet customers’ needs and business goals.

What is your vision for the startup ecosystem?

My vision is for us to build a regional innovation hub where startups, SMEs, government agencies and institutes can come together for open collaborative innovation. I also hope that it will be a vibrant ecosystem that offers a lot of attractive opportunities for talented youths to step forward with the passion to contribute.

Finally, I hope that there will be even greater support from the community to be accepting of both the successes and failures of startups.

What is your advice for corporations?

Try not to fall into the trap of pursuing showbiz corporate innovation. Beyond the big announcements and fancy innovation labs, there should be clear business objectives for each corporate innovation programme. It should also be an organisation-wide effort and not just driven by the innovation teams.The business units should be engaged and understand the importance of working alongside external innovators to advance the corporation as a whole.

A huge thank you to Dirong for the insightful interview! Interested to learn more about ACE’s Corporate Co-Innovation? Email info@ace.org.sg to find out more!

– By Yi Feng | LaunchPad Journalist at ACE

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