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Boosting innovation from within [Interview]

Article-Boosting innovation from within [Interview]

Developing innovation requires speed and agility, two elements which can be hard to muster for large multinationals. With its Manifesto Innovation Accelerator, Danone has internalized innovation by supporting startups from within.

This allows the group to benefit from the assets brought by small startups processes who, in turn, can unlock the capabilities of a large multinational like Danone. And by putting humans and innovative teams at the centre, Danone can better explore and understand the needs of its customers, explains Manuela Borella, VP, Danone Innovation Accelerator.

What it the Manifesto Innovation Accelerator? 

“The Manifesto Innovation Accelerator (M.I.A.) is Danone’s innovation lab supporting a tribe of internal entrepreneurs to accelerate new business models. We take ideas all the way to market launch, in a test and learn mindset, inspired by startups.”

“We want to capture additional profitable growth opportunities through the incubation of disruptive ideas and business models, looking across and beyond current product categories. We are building startups inside the company, rather than using M&A to unlock growth, and unleashing our people’s potential and talent, by giving freedom to pursue personal intuitions from idea to market.

The secondary objective is to inspire and influence our company's ways of working by providing concrete examples of how agile startup mindset and tools can be applied and leveraged within a large organization.”

Does Danone collaborate with external startups?

“We have several ways to collaborate, from lighter commitment to a stronger engagement via equity participation and investment. We deeply value what startups can bring to our operating model and we focus on building respectful, mutually beneficial relationships.”

How do you define innovation? What kind of innovations are you looking for?

I like to make a distinction between ‘sustainable innovation’, which aims at creating novelty and improvement within a company's established categories and business model, and ‘radical innovation’, which brings disruption, which builds value by changing the defined business model and by taking the company into exploring new human needs. At the MIA we are focused on the latter and are obsessed by a human centricity approach. This leads us into the understanding of humans to uncover new needs and explore how our brands, existing or new ones, can serve those needs to enhance users lives.”

What are the main challenges you had to overcome?

“How can we have the best of both worlds and not fall into the worst? A key challenge is balancing the ways of working of startups (speed, agility) with those of the corporate world (processes, risk assessments, etc.). While we would love to just throw out the rule book, that is not realistic if we want to make sure that these new ways of working can be integrated into the company. We push boundaries when we need to, but we must learn to choose our battles, and focus our energy. We decided from the start that the best way to influence ways of working within the company was through careful collaboration. We make sure to involve the business in our decisions and take them on the journey with us, making it clear we are not taking unnecessary risks. We demonstrate what we want to achieve with concrete examples, thus giving credibility to our methods. All this, with great passion and enthusiasm, which is the magic cherry on top to embrace transformation.”

What were your most impactful outcomes?

The most important: I have gathered a very talented, fun and unconventional team. We have identified 18 ideas serving Danone’s One Planet One Health model and accelerated 7 internal startups. We are just as proud of the 2 we have binned, the 2 that are in city-launch & the 3 that will be on the market soon. There have been 1952 qualitative consumer interactions and 8956 MVP’s in consumers’ bellies. We’ve been spreading new ways of working internally: more than 1000 Danoners have joined our internal communications channel, and we’ve been invited to share our story at over 30 large events.”