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Why Innovation Hub Fails and How to Keep it from Failing

NITDA

RARZACK OLAEGBE  

Nothing lasts forever. That is why several innovation hubs have been birthed and died after the demise of the Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator (iDEA) Nigeria, established in March 2013 by former Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson in collaboration with the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Founded as technology incubation for tech startups and entrepreneurs, iDEA Nigeria was an enabling partnership between the government and entrepreneurs and it was positioned to empower them in different aspects.

iDEA was an outstanding initiative headed by Helen Anatogu. It incubated over 50 startups, raised over $800,000 in funds for these startups and accommodated over 1,500 people for seminars, workshops and training.

In a media interview, Anatogu said a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with NITDA in 2013 to provide grant funding to groom the startups. She pointed out that NITDA has provided only about 30% of the agreed funding thereby reneging on its contractual promises.

Many tech entrepreneurs and stakeholders in Nigeria have a justified sentimental link with iDEA Nigeria as I do. As it is at home, so it is abroad. Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Mount Sinai and Emory Healthcare have launched lavish accelerators, incubators and research centres.

Research has shown that up to 90 per cent of these hubs failed before achieving any real transformation. In search of answers, I found a news article from the Harvard Business Review [HBR]. The article outlines why innovation labs are so prone to failure and what organizations can do to ensure their success. First, why they fail:

Lack of alignment with business

All too often, organizations launch innovation centres just for the show without establishing a clear-cut strategy for the centre. HBR writes, “The curtain comes down quickly either because ideas from these labs are disconnected from real customer needs or because no one is on the hook to carry the ideas through to implementation.”

Lack of metrics to track the success

While these hubs have different financial considerations than more traditional aspects of an organization, they still require clear goals regarding their expected returns. Without specific metrics to monitor, it is impossible to show what is at stake for investors and executives, nor what an innovation lab can do for an organization.

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Lack of balance on the team

Staffing a lab with only internal industry stalwarts can prevent forward-thinking transformation, while a team comprised solely of external entrepreneurs and innovation experts are often unable to navigate an industry’s traditions and quirks. A successful hub, therefore, is staffed by a combination of experts from both groups.

To prevent this failure, beyond ensuring a hub’s strategy aligns with that of the organization, implementing specific metrics to track success and building a team of both industry and entrepreneurial pros, HBR suggests a handful of other tips:

Establish a clear vision for the team

The article explains that it is preferable to use “from/to” statements that demonstrate progress, such as “We want to go from placing big innovation bets to trying many small experiments and rapid prototyping.”

To encourage further growth, the article advises determining where ideas born in the innovation hub will go as they continue to expand. “Potentially”, it read, “disruptive innovations may go somewhere outside of the core the organization, where they can be further developed while being protected from corporate antibodies and business-as-usual fingerprints.”

Above all, the article asks that the hub should “prioritize the people involved” at every stage of innovation, from the “entrepreneurs, brainstorming” and “executing transformative new ideas” to the “individuals whose ideas are designed to help”.

However, history is not written for the dead. It is written so that the living can learn from the dead, Generation comes. Generation goes. The plethora of the new generation of hubs should note that nothing lasts forever because no one will be around to carry the iDEA through.

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