4 Ways to Stay Competitive Through Corporate Innovation Programs

4 min read
February 10, 2022

We’ve seen it happen over and over, startups disrupting status quo with innovation. Tesla’s breaking of the automotive distribution model. Airbnb’s marketplace competing with big hotel chains. That’s because while corporations may be slower to rethink and reinvent their business models, startups thrive in re-imagining current norms and business models.  

Corporate innovation programs are mechanisms for companies to reinvent themselves and compete with startups. 

As reported in this article on Airbnb’s impact on hotels 

  • Airbnb’s share of the hotel industry grew from 1.3% in 2014 to 4.5% in 2016  
  • Airbnb announced their first profit in 2016 due to an 80% increase in revenue 
  • The number of corporate travelers using Airbnb grew from 250 in 2015 to 250,000 in 2017  

This shows us that it’s key that corporations embrace innovation programs to make sure their product or service continues to address market needs. 

So, what exactly is a corporate innovation program? Essentially, it’s an initiative to strategically implement new technologies or ideas into the existing business model. Most of the time that means creating a dedicated innovation team. However, there are several different kinds of corporate innovation programs, for example Centers for Excellence, innovation outposts and external accelerators, even our local Lululemon’s whitespace. The brand has grown from Yoga wear to embedding innovation into its ethos, as demonstrated by hitting #26 in Fast Company’s most innovative companies 

Learn about the 10 different types of corporate innovation programs >>> 

But, even if you’re a small- to medium-sized enterprise, it’s always a good idea to embrace innovation to get a leg up on your competitors. In this post we’ll give you four ways to setup an innovation program for your company, regardless of its size. 

  1. Set up an innovation task force 
  2. Go on innovation excursions 
  3. Consider academic partnerships 
  4. Establish an intrapreneur program 


Innovation Task Force

Whether your company has 50,000 or 50 employees, you’re going to want to make sure there’s an innovation team. This is a critical component of remaining competitive. Why? Because as we’ve seen in the Airbnb example above, if your company doesn’t evolve to suit changing market demands, someone else is going to provide a competitive offering that better satisfies market needs. Having a team or task force dedicated to conducting market research and presenting innovative new projects is a key factor in keeping your company relevant. 

In a study conducted by Plug and Play Tech Center on 26 corporations, the majority have an innovation team of over 20 people. The team’s main objective is to implement proof of concepts and pilots across the company, primarily through R&D.  

PRO TIP: start small, grow from there. Create a group of 2-3 whose sole focus is to come up with different innovations, and then use another group to vet the business case.  


Innovation Excursions

It’s also important to note that innovation doesn’t have to come from within your own company. Frequently, the leaders and decision makers of a corporation will take a tour of different innovative centres – including places like accelerators and incubators as well as tech regions more generally like Silicon Valley.  

This is another example of a corporate innovation program that is accessible to companies both large and small. Maybe your BC-based company can’t afford to fly its executives to Silicon Valley. Especially given COVID-19 travel restrictions. But chances are you would be able to make a trip to the Nelson or Kelowna Innovation Centres. Or consider a virtual tour!

You can also connect directly with local BC companies that have been game changers in their industries. We’ve seen some companies use innovation to solve problems faced by industry for over 50 years. Talk to us [insert CTA] about how we can connect you with some BC innovators. 

PRO TIP: So, if you’re struggling to come up with innovative ideas for your company, take a look at what others are doing. That’s not to say that you should go and copy someone else’s work. The idea is to get inspired: discover trends, learn from thought leaders, meet new partners, and immerse yourself in innovation culture. 


Academic Partnerships

Nobody is more keen, open minded and ready to tackle big problems than a recent graduate. Of course, you can always hire young professionals to help drive innovation at your company. But have you ever thought about partnering with a local university or other academic institution to tap into their network? And that’s not just the recent graduates, but also the startup companies who work with the university through programs like entrepreneurship@UBC’s HATCH Accelerator and SFU’s Venture Labs. 

A great example of this is Emily Carr University’s Design for Startups program. The program pairs emerging designers with early-stage technology startups to work on a specific design problem. Both helping the company solve their problem with a creative solution and helping the student gain work experience. So, if you can’t afford a large university partnership like in a traditional corporate innovation program, don’t think you can’t leverage the talent at your local institution. 

PRO TIP: One of our programs, Ignite, awards funding to partnerships between academia and industry. Talk to us to learn more and how you can create an academia-industry partnership. 


Intrapreneur Program

Lastly, don’t overlook the potential of your own employees. In addition to inaugurating an innovation team, empower all of your employees to be innovative. This type of corporate innovation program invests in education and resources to help employees unlock new ideas. It looks like allocating a budget per employee for professional development, or perhaps taking employees on the types of innovation excursions mentioned above. 

Ideally, the intrapreneur program aims to dive into the ideas and passions of your existing employees and empower them to come up with improvements to your company’s operations or products, or even ideas for internal startups that get launched under your company’s umbrella. 

PRO TIP: dedicate white space for your employees consistently, quarterly or annually. Reward and celebrate cross-functional projects during the white space. Give employees an opportunity to share their projects and even action some of their work. 


In short, you have to keep innovating. It doesn’t matter if you’re a startup with a handful of employees or a multinational corporation. The failure to do so will most likely result in the failure of your business. 

So, get started today with your corporate innovation program.  

Not sure how? Did you know that there is a network of organizations in BC who work with hundreds of startups across the province? There is no shortage of innovation inspiration right here in BC – which has one of the richest tech ecosystems in the country. 

Check out the BC Acceleration Network and some of the most innovative local companies >>> 

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