Two Cents: A novel way to make money from your innovation lab

Huawei’s offer of US$1 billion for app developers could be a path to make a profit from your inhouse techpreneurs.
By: | September 26, 2019

In this digital age, the vast majority of organisations have some form of innovation lab or centre. They are not just preserved for tech giants like Google and Apple. The big banks have also been launching their own incubators along with retailers, manufacturers and virtually every other sector.

These kinds of labs go by a variety of names including accelerators, business incubators and research hubs. Whatever you call them, their numbers are growing.

While still relatively new, some of these labs have been getting a reputation for just being cool and trendy spaces that are just useful for hosting social events and training sessions. In other words, not a lot of innovation is taking place in the innovation centres.

But last week’s announcement from Huawei CEO Richard Yu that he is offering US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) to help grow its app gallery got me thinking. Google Mobile Services won’t allow Huawei to use its mobile services (things like Google Maps and Chrome) so the Chinese phone maker needs to develop its own, or more accurately pay third parties to build them instead.

So Yu gave a rallying cry: “I want to tell global app developers: Build for Huawei Mobile Services to grow your business,” which was greeted with huge applause from the audience.

Huawei’s app gallery already attracts more than 570 million global monthly average users and 180 billion downloads per year in more than 170 countries and regions. There are currently 45,000 apps available from Huawei. But clearly it wants more.

So what’s stopping an organisation launching an internal competition to develop apps that can be sold to Huawei? Many companies launch such challenges to draw attention to their innovation labs already. Now they have a massive financial incentive available.

In a recent interview I did with in-flight catering giant SATS, I was told how an employee developed an app internally which was later introduced across the 17,500 workforce as a communication tool. And another interview I conducted with one of the founders of telco provider Circles.Life revealed how highly they encourage techpreneurs internally.

How about adding in the chance to grab a slice of $1 billion on offer from Huawei and suddenly you have lot more people sitting up and taking note of your innovation lab?

But if this strategy isn’t right for you, there are countless other ways to improve the productivity of your innovation lab. Many of those labs/centres/hubs that fail are often too far away from their parent company’s strategy.

The most successful innovation labs are closely aligned to the overall business strategy. This sounds a lot like the modern-day HR function which is much more in-tune with the business strategy than it previously was.

After the fireworks and publicity of the initial launch, these labs often lose their sparkle in the eyes of the CEO when they fail to contribute to the bottom line. Part of the problem is they don’t have any metrics to measure their success. Without such benchmarks, they are set up to fail. Maybe ‘’Develop and app to sell to Huawei’’ could be one of those metrics.