The pull of opportunities to help corporations understand innovation has led Brian Ardinger to hand off the reins of the NMotion Accelerator and move full-time to Econic, a Lincoln venture he co-founded with Josh Berry.
“We launched last year with Josh at 100% while I was transitioning from NMotion,” Ardinger said. “We were getting pulled more and more into side projects by corporations wanting to know how to do innovation, lean startup, helping them get traction.”
Both Berry and Ardinger have backgrounds in corporate consulting and startup accelerators, building an extensive network of contacts over the years. They recently added an Operations Officer, Lacey Dalton.
“Through those contacts we had enough traction to start a company focused on corporate innovation,” Ardinger said. “Over the past twelve months we’ve done a variety of projects.”
Think like a startup
Econic believes that getting corporations to think more like startups and connecting them with entrepreneurs is the next wave of startup innovation.
“One of our first gigs was with a bank, running an internal startup weekend boot camp for their technical team,” Ardinger said. “We walked them through lean methodology, and they came up with some interesting ideas in 48 hours.”
Clients have been local as well as from outside Nebraska.
“We’ve done work locally with an insurance company to help them develop their internal innovation lab,” Ardinger said. “We’re mapping out a strategy of what that lab should look like, what kinds of ideas to prioritize, how to staff it.”
And their work extends beyond insurance and financial services.
“We have another big project with an ag tech company in Iowa,” Ardinger said. “We’re working with their internal innovation team, doing 12-week coaching and training sessions with their development team.”
What’s the competitive landscape for Econic?
“We’re definitely seeing it all over the place, but there aren’t a lot of practitioners in the Silicon Prairie,” Ardinger said. “Most of our competitors are on the west coast.”
Ardinger was asked if he considers corporate innovation to be a new concept.
“I wouldn’t say it’s brand new,” he said. “Twenty years ago, most companies had R&D labs, but it took a lot of money to make things happen.”
But with technology costs going down, access to markets becoming easier, and disruption across multiple sectors, the model of corporate innovation is changing.
“Corporations are asking themselves how they both ensure and mitigate against disruption but also execute more effectively,” Ardinger said. “We’re seeing corporate hackathons, sponsoring of events, all sorts of ways corporations are trying to engage with startups.”
Bringing a startup summit to Lincoln
Econic supplements their team with several contractors, including a producer for the Inside/Outside Podcast. Interest generated by the podcast and from conversations with corporate clients has led to the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit 2017, scheduled for June 19-21 at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.
“It’s a place for startups and corporations to collide,” Ardinger said. “Corporate partners can have one-on-one conversations with startups, looking for potential investments.”
The summit will include a startup showcase, a startup investment pitch competition and a corporate innovation track.
“The Corporate Innovation track will allow corporate employees to train themselves on how to think like a lean startup,” Ardinger said. “Startups will have an opportunity to showcase what they’re building, new business models.”
Bridging the innovation divide
Econic’s goal, both through the summit and their consulting work, is to bridge the innovation divide.
“For the Midwest specifically, we see a big opportunity for startups to get traction by working with larger corporations,” Ardinger said. “We want to provide context for each of those audiences. Both groups can learn and create value for each other.”
“Bridging the innovation divide means connecting with both the ties and the t-shirts, the tucked and the untucked,” he added.
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.