Columbus Collaboratory CEO: Fight innovation ‘drag’ by reaching outside your four walls

Matt Wald runs an organization founded by a group of seven pillars of Columbus’ business and research scene, but some of the biggest challenges they’re facing are formidable for any company, no matter the size or legacy.

It was their desire to collaborate and drive innovation speed that formed the Columbus Collaboratory three years ago, beginning a journey Wald, the organization’s CEO, traced at an November meeting of COE’s I.T. Leadership Network series. Wald’s keynote – an exclusive glimpse inside a company pursuing leading-edge innovation to solve critical business challenges – offered insights on the value of cross-industry collaboration and took a closer look at what’s causing innovation “drag” for companies, holding them back from unleashing the capability they need.

“We’re focused on creating a high-speed, low-drag environment,” Wald said.

The Collaboratory dubs itself a “rapid innovation company” backed by COE members American Electric Power Company Inc., Cardinal Health Inc., Huntington Bank and Nationwide, along with research giant Battelle, retail icon L Brands and OhioHealth Corp. What brought them together? The fact that the promise of advanced analytics, the imperative of cybersecurity, and the burning need for top tech talent weren’t just an insurance issue, or a utilities issue, or a healthcare issue. They all faced these challenges and opportunities – and they knew they had to collaborate to tackle them.

Armed with $4 million from each company and a $5 million Ohio Third Frontier grant, the Columbus Collaboratory launched in 2014, with Wald stepping in the following year as chief executive.

Wald said the Collaboratory is uniquely positioned to observe how companies are executing corporate innovation and – when it occurs – help fight innovation drag. By virtue of their size and success, Wald said, large organizations have excellent abilities to manage cost, manage risk and roll out technology.

“These are great things that make them successful – but they also oppose changes to the status quo,” Wald said.

Over time, the Columbus Collaboratory has worked with its founding members to build a growing library of intellectual property from which they can draw, and also moved a small handful of its innovations to market. Its work has ranged from an app that accurately predicts wait times across OhioHealth’s urgent care network to emergent solutions geared toward fighting the ever-present, ever-shifting threat of cyberattacks.

What can other companies learn from the Collaboratory’s journey? For one, Wald said, collaboration “is easy to say but harder to do. It turns out you need to fit the form of collaboration to the purpose. One size does not fit all.”

Companies of all sizes also can learn from the rapid prototyping approach the Columbus Collaboratory is wielding as it tackles challenges for its partner organizations, Wald said.

“Think of innovation as a portfolio of incremental and transformational projects,” Wald said. “Small improvements can make a huge impact.”

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