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ITEN’s Corporate Innovation Program (CIP) capitalizes on a growing trend in which corporations are sponsoring innovation showcases or demo days. Just as trade shows brings together buyers and vendors, these events, some open to the public and some private, provide a convenient way in which corporate innovators can window shop or purchase outright emerging technologies and new products.
“CIP was started in 2016 as a response to many requests from our corporate ITEN participants who wanted to get more involved with the innovation ecosystem,” says Elaine Queathem, Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the program, “It was a natural next step to introduce our many great startups to those corporations,” says Queathem.
ITEN’s CIP provides a customized experience for their corporate partners by developing a curated list of startups from the hundreds of startups in the ranks of their alum – and presenting them in an innovation showcase event.
Much of ITEN’s services are designed to help the startup founders in their early stages, like ITEN’s Mock Angels program for instance, in which startups are mentored while preparing for a shark-tank style mock investor’s pitch. In the case of CIP showcases, the startups give sales pitches to CIP partners providing opportunities for engagement that may come in the form of mentoring, piloting, partnering, or investing opportunities between the startups and CIP partners.
“We only select the startup companies that meet the selection criteria of our CIP partners to ensure we can offer the best opportunity for both parties to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship,” Queathem explains.
Helping to Define Innovation, Your Way
As the number of corporations hiring C-Suite executives with the titles of VP or Director of Innovation has grown, so too has the need to define what innovation actually means to a company.
“Innovation means different things to different people,” says Queathem. To help companies define it, she says, ITEN created the Corporate Innovation Program (CIP) customized to fit their needs.
“When you become a CIP Partner,” Queathem explains, “one of the things you get is a curated showcase just for you. You tell us what kind of companies and technologies and stages of companies you are interested in, and we produce a showcase event where our startups and CIP partners meet and explore potential partnership opportunities.”
For larger companies pursuing innovation, CIP can offer a convenient source of new companies into the pipeline of more established internal programs. ITEN currently provides this service to many of St. Louis’ largest employers, including Enterprise Holdings, Mercy, RGA, Monsanto andMTM.
For a growth-minded mid-sized companies like Medical Transportation Management Inc. (MTM), ITEN’s newest corporate partner, the program offers a unique opportunity to jumpstart their innovation programs and perhaps support growth through acquisition.
“Larger companies might have a small contingent of innovation scouts who travel to meet entrepreneurs, but for mid-sized companies, this isn’t always an option,” says Queathem.
For a company like MTM, finding new technologies to help them scale and provide streamlined services is part of their growth strategy. “Our ultimate goal is to operate as a full-service healthcare logistics solution that can deliver the right care, at the right time, in the right place—and to do so, we’re looking for partnerships in key markets,” said Alaina Macia president and CEO in their company newsletter about ITEN’s CIP program.
“The appeal of ITEN’s CIP program is two-fold,” says Queathem, “our partners are able to ramp-up a network of startups quickly and we bring those startups to them over a one or two day event.”
Tending the Fruits of Our Ecosystem
ITEN’s suite of services to entrepreneurs provide value for startups in each stage of their development from concept validation to angel investing, to seed rounds. The CIP model provides ITEN companies important market access to help grow sales and in return, corporate innovators gain insight into emerging or possibly disruptive technologies.
Through CIP, ITEN is helping the innovation community as a whole find common cause and their planned expansion into Columbia, Springfield and Kansas City, will only strengthen the offering and expand that community.
Many enterprise companies in St. Louis currently invest in annual or ongoing innovation programs. Ascension Health for example has partnered with Plug and Play Tech Center, an accelerator out of Silicon Valley to help facilitate innovation in emerging Health and Wellness tech. Ameren Accelerator hosts a joint program run by UMSL Accelerator that provides mentoring for energy startups and an annual demo day.
These partnerships have been game changers for the companies involved and are much more than just networking events. They represent opportunities for economic equity and perhaps a sea change, in which gatekeepers open the gates to entrepreneurs and risk-takers, and by doing so, foster a culture of intrapreneurship in their own businesses while supporting the local entrepreneur ecosystem.
ITEN’s turn-key solution promises an annual innovation event for any forward-thinking corporation willing to invest the modest sum of $25,000 per year, each customized to their business goals and their industry and each creating new opportunities to spread the fruits of our ecosystem far and wide.