Advantaged Startups at Scale: The High Alpha Innovation Process

Julie Doran
At High Alpha Innovation, we partner with the world’s leading organizations and entrepreneurs to build advantaged startups.

Because we strive toward disruptive innovation, we typically partner with corporations and universities who, like us, believe that startups are a powerful vehicle for learning as well as value creation. We work with partners for about 6 months from the start of a program to NewCo Launch, but this post will focus on the “Build Track” - the first 3-4 months where we build a new business and align on a Launch decision.   During a 12-16 week program, our team of business designers dives head in with our partner to learn quickly, iterate, and launch a venture-scalable business. Some of our partners have existing ideas that need to be down-selected, while others start from zero. This Build Process includes an Assemble and Test Phase and culminates in Sprint Week, where we compress the first 6 months of a startup into 3.5 days. In this post, I’ll cover what our process looks like in a program starting from zero, how it brings success, and why it can be important at times to deviate from that process. 

During the Assemble Phase, we focus on identifying opportunities that are ripe for innovation within a certain industry. We kick off this 4-8 week period of Assemble by defining the investment criteria for a NewCo Launch, including delivery model, alignment to the partner’s strategy and mission, and technology, among other considerations. This ensures High Alpha Innovation and our partner are aligned on the Scope of the program. Together, High Alpha Innovation and a team from our partner organization continue to learn about stakeholders and their pain points that are worth solving and end the Assemble Phase with an Opportunity, which we define as a specific stakeholder with an important, unmet, and widely held Job-to-be-Done. In taking time to focus solely on stakeholders and their jobs, we establish that we are problem-oriented rather than solution-driven.  

The next ~8 weeks of the program are spent in the Test Phase, where we focus on developing and testing concepts. We begin the Test Phase with an Ideation Session - the first time we begin to think about solutions for the Opportunities we have identified during the Assemble Phase. We embark on a rigorous assumption-testing journey with the goal of building conviction - or not - in a Solution that includes a product description and strong value proposition. Our assumption-testing process depends heavily on interviewing subject matter experts and users so that we can learn first hand from their experience. These interviews, along with comprehensive market and competitive research, allows our team to prioritize desirable, feasible, and viable Concepts that can solve an unmet need. These 8 weeks of the Test Phase are when we put pen to paper and rapidly test solutions to build conviction in a concept for Sprint Week.    

The forcing function of our program is Sprint Week. Over 3.5 days, a carefully curated team of High Alpha Innovation employees, employees from within the partner organization, and external entrepreneurs and subject matter experts remove themselves from their day-to-day jobs to focus solely on launching a new venture. Throughout the week, the teams continue to build conviction in a new business by conducting customer interviews, designing product mockups, and creating a go-to-market plan that culminates in a VC-style pitch to the partner organization’s leadership. Our goal during Sprint Week is to come to a go or no-go decision - we build the right amount of confidence to understand what businesses are worth launching in the market and which are not. Once a decision has been made to launch a NewCo, our studio team gets to work recruiting talent, forming the business, and setting up the resources to best support the company.                       

At High Alpha Innovation, our work is based in learning and creativity. The magic of our programs lie in the intersection of our partner’s industry expertise and High Alpha Innovation’s business-building expertise. The defined process and language we use during each program creates an environment in which each team member is confident in our goals at each stage of the program, which allows them to participate more fully and take ownership in their role. Because we learn, test, and iterate constantly during our programs, we spend a lot of time in ambiguity. Our goal is to put some structure around that ambiguity to allow us to move quickly and focus on testing and research rather than creating new frameworks to represent our work. This structure is especially important when we move from an individual program to a dedicated studio, where we partner with an organization to programmatically launch startups at scale.     

Process is important, but so is knowing when to deviate from the process. We often joke that each program and NewCo we start is like a child - each one has its own needs. Since our job at High Alpha Innovation is to create new businesses, we must be flexible enough to meet the process where it is. For example, in previous programs we have built enough conviction to “kill” a concept earlier than expected, which allowed us to go deeper in our other, more viable focus areas. Luckily, we have built a team full of curious, problem-led, business-building experts who welcome this flexibility with open arms. Whether we are kicking off the process in a different place, diverging during the Assemble Phase, or pivoting during the Test Phase, our team works hard to guide the process and partner successfully throughout the entire engagement.

We’ve created a structured process within High Alpha Innovation that allows us to learn quickly, be creative, and design advantaged startups. If your organization wants to do the same, don’t hesitate to reach out and see how we can build together.

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