Just over a month ago, High Alpha Innovation brought together more than 700 global industry leaders for Alloy 2020, the two-day virtual conference on building lasting innovation. Here are some key takeaways from the event.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 30, the High Alpha Innovation airwaves went live with Alloy 2020, a two-day virtual gathering of corporate innovators, entrepreneurs, venture studios, and world-class thought leaders. Over the next 48 hours, visionary speakers and accomplished builders shared their paths to innovation, representatives from some of the world’s most innovative companies unpacked the venture studio model, and countless new connections were forged.
Each and every session from Alloy left its mark on the venture studio community; below provides a play-by-play takeaway summary of the conference. High Alpha Innovation recorded all of Alloy, so we invite you to view the full video archive here. In addition, you’re encouraged to continue the conversation in Alloy Innovators, a newly-created LinkedIn community.
What does Gerald Shur, the visionary hands-on architect of the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program who recently passed away at 86, have in common with corporate innovation? According to High Alpha Innovation CEO Elliott Parker, Shur’s brainchild and ground-up philosophy deliver a pertinent message to innovators today. In his opening keynote, “Innovating for Resilience,” Elliott tied Shur’s vision to companies innovating through the venture studio model: by rejecting “command and control” mindsets and systematically prioritizing experimentation through startups, corporations can learn quickly, disrupt age-old markets, and ultimately bring forth innovative change adjacent to core competencies. Embracing volatility is easier said than done, stressed Elliott, but those who succeed will find themselves a disciple of Shur: empowered and with clear freedom to operate, they can go create something wonderful.
In this session, Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha, sat down with Elliott Parker, CEO at High Alpha Innovation, for a fireside chat around venture studio basics. Kristian clarified the differences between venture studios, startup studios, and incubators, noting that venture studios enable rapid, hands-on company creation by combining ideation with the ability to invest capital in the companies that they create: “Fundraising is slow, it’s arduous. Raising the money in advance of starting the company enables companies to go a lot faster.” Elliott and Kristian also stressed the importance of finding the right team structure: “At the end of the day, all that matters is talent. You can build the most phenomenal platform, you can add every bell and whistle... but if you don’t marry the right co-founder or early executive team with the right idea, it’s all for naught.”
Moderated by Robyn Bolton of MileZero, this panel explored how studio leaders source, generate, evaluate, and develop new concepts. Robyn was joined by Georgia Pacific’s Ayana Johnson, Jesse Morris of Human Ventures, Goldman Sachs’ Stevi Petrelli, and Lisa Rythen-Larsson of PARC. “The problem that an idea is trying to solve really matters,” encouraged Jesse: “there is always a balance of understanding what a solution looks like in its most mature form, but also really focusing on who the initial core customer is.” And according to Stevi, venture-studio ideation is all about embracing uncertainty: “It’s really about being able to experiment and make smaller bets in a more controlled way. We expect there to be some ideas and businesses that don’t cross the finish line, but those are still infinitely valuable.”
High Alpha Innovation Director Mike Joslin facilitated this panel, joined by Verify Venture Studio’s Russell McLemore, Sanjiv Parikh of Avanta Ventures, Highline Beta’s Ben Yoskovitz, and Amish Parashar of Explorers’ Lab. Together, they shared perspectives on overcoming innovation challenges and using external innovation models to drive corporate growth and launch new businesses. In today’s competitive environment, the group expressed optimism that venture studios are creating immediate impact. “This is not something that is happening fifty years from now,” Ben reiterated: “if you have a thesis and the ability to test it, you can be prepared — and the risk of being wrong is relatively small.”
Venture studios are not a uniquely American concept, and innovators worldwide are building companies and driving results each day. Moderated by GSSN’s Nick Zasowski, this conversation featured Wenyi Cai of Polymath, Enhance Ventures’ Alper Celen, Michael van Lier of Builders, and Sparkling Partners’ Charles Perrard. The group traced the global expansion of venture studios, discussed developing entrepreneurial talent abroad, and shared strategies for accessing capital outside of Silicon Valley. “A lot of us are the first in our region,” noted Michael, “and I’ve been very lucky to connect with leaders who are eager to share their knowledge in a collaborative way.”
Colleges and universities are also rapidly embracing the studio model, and Elliott Parker sat down with Taylor Bench (Summit Venture Studios), Greg Keenan (WARF), Matt Gardner (University of Notre Dame), and Jason Levin (Western Governors University) to unpack how faculty and students are building new companies in the EdTech space and elsewhere. And while it’s still early in the game for many campuses, the ability to match ideas with teams, expand cross-departmental opportunities, and move quickly in a traditionally bureaucratic space has “certainly validated this approach,” noted Greg. “We absolutely believe this model can apply, and enough proof points are already happening.”
In order to structure a successful corporate venture studio, innovators must align with company strategy, generate leadership buy-in, and develop talent pipelines. High Alpha Innovation Director Jen Gaze moderated a panel of corporate studio pioneers including American Family Insurance’s Jen LaPierre, Matthieu Soule of BNP Paribas, Delight Ventures’ Dai Watanabe, and Nick Wichert of Northwestern Mutual. Throughout the discussion, the panel stressed establishing processes and utilizing tools that create a “connective tissue” within companies. “In my belief,” Kelly concluded, “we’re better at building companies because we have these functions.”
In this session, Scott Dorsey, Managing Partner at High Alpha, was joined by Hamet Watt, founder of MoviePass and Partner at Share Ventures, to discuss how venture studios get off the ground. For Hamet, the process has been deeply personal: “The biggest reason I started a venture studio is because it’s so much fun — it’s my life’s purpose to start companies.” Hamet stressed that a key part of the studio-building process is finding the right team, often with a keen eye toward human psychology. In that vein, it comes as little surprise that Share Ventures is currently focusing on human performance, building and investing in companies that vary from wearable biotechnology to applications for the U.S. Army. “We don’t brand ourselves as an impact studio,” he notes, “but every single one of the businesses we focus on happens to have important impact.”
Art Bell, who founded TV giant Comedy Central from within HBO and Viacom, kicked off Day 2 of Alloy in a fireside chat with WarnerMedia’s Shilpa Bisaria. Art shared the triumphs and tribulations of pitching his idea for the 24-hour comedy network, how he scaled the company through advertising and marketing, and his later work in the brand evolution of CourtTV, where he served as president. Art’s story truly captures the spirit of a multi-dimensional serial innovator: “At various points in your career,” Shilpa noted, “you’ve been a data analyst, a strategist, a mathematician, a business development lead, a network founder, and now a writer.”
For High Alpha Innovation Associate John Garry, interviewing VISA founder Dee Hock at Alloy was a career highlight, and rightfully so: as the founder of the first trillion-dollar company, Dee’s numerous innovation achievements could fill an entire conference of their own. And even today at the age of 91, Dee continues to put forth innovative ideas on everything from corporate structures and new forms of communication to political and environmental issues. In this wide-ranging conversation, Dee explores how new ideas take shape through a fusion of chaos and order, as well as the broad impacts these ideas can have on society at large.
Sam Bernards, the former CEO of mattress startup Purple, joined Alloy to share his innovation story. Sam grew Purple from an early-stage startup to a $1.1B public company in just 18 months, revolutionizing the mattress industry and changing the way millions of customers approach buying sleep products. Many of the keys to his success come from a prior role as Senior Director of Innovation at Walmart, where he learned the intricacies of corporations and how to innovate from within them. In this keynote, Sam shares his key steps to building an “innovation factory,” where at Purple, a close-knit team could explore their passions, no idea was left unturned, and budget was specifically reserved for experiments. “In that environment,” Sam concluded, “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”
The final panel discussion of Alloy 2020 demonstrated the power of collaboration between corporations and venture studios, bringing together a group of close-knit entrepreneurial leaders who have launched successful companies through the model. High Alpha Innovation Director Ryan Larcom spoke with Al Banos from Cummins, ANVL’s Robin Fleming, T.A. McCann from Pioneer Square Labs, and TeamSense’s Sheila Stafford, highlighting venture-building partnerships that are changing the way two industrial powerhouses approach workplace safety. “Being passionate about worker safety and being able to raise my hand to run with this” through a startup was a major breakthrough for Robin: “and I still am learning each and every day.”
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High Alpha Innovation partners with the world’s leading organizations to drive innovation through startup creation, leveraging the venture studio model pioneered by High Alpha. As a Marketing Associate, Ben Roess tells the story of High Alpha Innovation’s partnerships with corporate leaders from ideation through the startup launch process.
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