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Blackwillow Studios empowers corporate innovation by bringing a Silicon Valley mindset and methods directly to the firm. Blackwillow offers a small suite of products and services that help organizations facilitate corporate innovation, from early assessments of an organization’s ability to innovate to coaching to building “pop-up incubators.”

Products and Services

Popup Incubators

Incubators operate outside the normal operational structure of an organization. Thus, they can be setup to achieve fast results. The purpose of the Popup Incubator is three-fold:

  1. Innovation leaders gain real-world experience developing new products in rapid, startup environments. They will get hands-on project experience using Lean Startup and Agile product development methods.
  2. A real product is always produced by the incubator. The product will be considered an experimental prototype that has been tested with real customers through this incubation process. If the prototype meets the strategic requirements of the organization, it can then be transferred into an accelerator program for further development, where it can be scaled for broad release.
  3. Innovation programs attract new talent from outside the company. We purposefully mix internal and external innovators to create a bridge to the local entrepreneurship community.

A popup incubator lasts 12 weeks. Each product team is organized around an internal company innovator. These cross-functional teams are connected with external entrepreneurs who are equipped with technical and design capabilities that are necessary for the product vision. The team may vary in size based on a particular idea, scope and direction.

A Blackwillow facilitator acts as coach for the team. Blackwillow will provide a curriculum and guide the team through the entire innovation process, with a focus on rapid customer and stakeholder feedback loops. This process will eliminate bad ideas and hone good ideas toward a minimum viable product (MVP) as fast as possible, reducing both risk and cost.

Projects iterate through the following steps:

  • Goals and metrics – Blackwillow will work with the organization’s leadership to establish concrete goals and a set of innovation metrics.
  • Ideation – A structured kickoff meeting to set the team, establish common goals, and explore the problem space in detail. Resulting materials form the project task backlog.
  • Technical setup – Physical workspace arrangements are set up, and tech tools and infrastructure selected and configured for development.
  • Customer discovery – The whole team participates in customer development practices including hypothesis development, customer interviews, and analysis of the data.
  • Value proposition tests – Based on customer feedback, solution statements are validated with digital marketing techniques like landing page tests and short ad campaigns. Teams learn to build early customer email lists, and other critical onboarding tactics.
  • MVPs – Teams build real working versions of the solution, deploy them to the market, and rapidly improve feature sets based on product metrics.

Corporate Innovation Centers

Many of the leading Fortune 500 firms are setting up large innovation centers. Sometimes they are established in existing tech hubs, but increasingly, they are set up near a firm’s headquarters.

These innovation centers often include a mix of corporate venture programs, accelerators and incubators in a lab environment for rapid and cross-pollinating innovation.

Blackwillow can set up and operate a corporate innovation center and develop an innovation ecosystem that connects corporate strategy with a long-term innovation program.

The innovation center uses Blackwillow methodology around Lean and Agile practices to facilitate rapid response innovation.

Assessments

Blackwillow assessments measure an organization’s overall readiness for innovation. Based on the outcomes of the assessment, an organization will be able to identify and prioritize key next steps toward product development agility and innovation capacity.

Our assessments conclude with a structured set of recommendations designed to move the organization toward product development agility and an innovation culture.

Innovation metrics

Innovation metrics can be established to measure the return on investment for existing or proposed innovation plans.

Blackwillow has established a set of four key performance indicators to measure the return on an innovation program. Blackwillow uses these same metrics in its incubator and innovation center engagements.

Scenario Planning for Digital Disruption

Most CEOs and Chief Strategy Officers agree that uncertainty is the new normal in their markets. This means that market disruptions are coming at a quicker and quicker pace. Long-term strategy now has to account for this increased uncertainty and moreover, look for avenues to leverage uncertainty for gain.

Many firms find that scenario planning isn’t about developing different responses for different events, but about developing strategic initiatives that help a firm reach “No-Regrets” decisions that are correct no matter what’s happening in the short term.

Blackwillow facilitates high-level scenario and discovery driven planning to help firms develop long-term strategies. They use Agile and Lean practices as methodologies to provide guidance for when and how to respond to market disruptions.

Blackwillow can help develop and apply risk assessment and predictive analytics tools through a scenario planning lab.

Blackwillow Labs

Blackwillow Labs trains and coaches innovation leaders, executives and teams in high-level innovation concepts and skills. These skills and conceptual understandings, along with ongoing guidance from our coaches, will help an organization execute a sustainable innovation program.

Blackwillow Labs are typically short one-time events, ranging from a few hours to a few days. They are aimed at teaching core lean, agile and innovation practices. They will give participants a chance to practice methods alone or in groups in a safe, simulated environment. Workshops can teach basics, such as Lean Startup or Agile for beginners, or more detailed and tactical skills like “Interviewing Customers” or “Setting up Continuous Integration”.

  • Business Model Sprint

Develop or tune a business model in two weeks

  • Digital Disruption Workshop

How digital disruption threatens your market and what to do about it

  • Prototype Accelerator

Build a prototype in six weeks

  • Field Test Accelerator

Test an idea or prototype with customer feedback in 4 weeks

  • Business Model Disrupted

Rethinking your business model in the era of digital disruption (two-week intensive program)

Ecosystems and Talent Development

Innovation programs are often more about developing the right organizational values, ecosystems and talent networks. Blackwillow guides firms through an innovation strategy that focuses on the human capital and talent component in developing an innovation ecosystem.

Most CEOs say finding and hiring entrepreneurial talent is their biggest challenge, particularly as digital and market disruptions continue to occur at increasing speeds. HR departments don’t have the tools to develop entrepreneurial talent or ecosystems.

Blackwillow helps both C-level executives and HR departments implement a long-term plan to develop entrepreneurial talent and build an innovative ecosystem that connects the firm to outside entrepreneurial and tech communities.

Benefits

Blackwillow products offer the large organization and the executive a range of innovation and digital transformation solutions with a focus on cutting edge scenario planning techniques, lean and agile practices and ecosystem and talent development.

De-risk investment through rapid innovation

Blackwillow employs lean and agile methods to de-risk investment by rapidly iterating through ideas. Bad ideas will fail fast and good ideas will rise to the top as innovation teams solicit customer and internal stakeholder feedback.

Talent development

Blackwillow programs provide hands-on experience for intrapreneurs in developing a new product or service. People learn far more from project-based learning than from attending a conference or reading articles or books on a subject. Intrapreneurs learn by doing.

Talent recruitment

Blackwillow’s pop-up incubators are built around mixed teams of intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs.  These teams, and the projects they work on, are beacons to communities of entrepreneurs, who like to pursue exciting projects and opportunities instead of standardized jobs.

Entrepreneurs don’t use resumes and often find projects through networking. Large firms often struggle to hire entrepreneurial leaders. Their HR departments don’t know where to find entrepreneurs, nor how to recruit them. Innovation projects can create a conduit to technology and entrepreneurial communities for recruiting leaders, data scientists, engineers and programmers.

Planting the seed for an innovative culture

Large firms can struggle to innovate. Existing habits and culture often squash innovation before it has a chance to succeed. Firms recognize the need to create safe environments to innovate, away from the cultural and political threats inside their organizations.

Eventually, an innovation needs to be folded back into the firm. The right intrapreneurs and leaders, particularly ones who have strong professional networks across many functional areas in the firm, can be ambassadors not only for a specific innovation project, but for spreading an innovative mindset across business units. The wrong intrapreneurs (those people who haven’t built up goodwill in their business units or across the organization) will hit cultural walls when they try to champion innovation.

Blackwillow’s programs will help select and train intrapreneurs who will be ambassadors for innovation across the organization and help move corporate values in the right direction.

Community development

Incubators and innovation hubs can pave the way for localized economic development that doesn’t rely on faraway resources for growth or sustainability. The best innovation programs become self-sustained and serve as the central hub for a broader ecosystem of innovation.