Unbound Innovation: Insights into the world of tech.

Myers Chatterton-Sim, Innovation Lab Manager
09 August 2019

Held at the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, The Unbound Innovation Festival offered a refreshing insight into the world of digital technology. The event featured a number of excellent speakers who explored the topic of innovation across a wide range of industries. Here, we take a look at some of the key points discussed.

Innovation: an overused buzzword? 

The festival began with a talk on the future of innovation and rightly addressed this overused buzzword all industries love to use. Companies can fall into the trap of trying to innovate because they feel they need to, so it’s important to understand that innovation should be about “finding ways to create value for consumers” or “speeding up the evolution of the market”. Creating an environment that encourages creativity and collaboration between peers – while promoting psychological safety – are some of the necessary building blocks to achieve a truly innovative culture. 

Tech giants are renowned for leveraging mergers and acquisitions as part of their growth and innovation strategy. But Elena Fernandez-Kleinlein, Senior Director of Consumer R&D at Johnson & Johnson, emphasised that a ‘natural osmosis’ is required between corporations and start-ups that are working together. This is to ensure innovative solutions delivered by start-ups are fostered in the right conditions, helping them align both of their mission statements. 

Digital Transformation: ‘Snowflake’ vs ‘Bruce Lee’

Introducing digital transformation to any company requires a well-balanced and strategic approach. We inherently dislike change, so encouraging employees to adopt new digital skills or adjust their preferences can be tricky. But, we’re at a crucial point in time when companies have to embrace digital to remain competitive – and be more proactive against disruption. 

The panel consisting of experts from leading brands such as The Economist and Revolut, considered two strategies: ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Bruce Lee’. The former is a gentle approach, setting up the environment with the right tools and training – and hoping people will adopt this style of working. The latter is more aggressive, focusing on short-term transformation and drowning out employee resistance. At one end, you lack consistent results. On the other – you lose your staff. There is a fine balance that needs to be struck between these two distinct approaches, so addressing the fear of technology, providing a clear structure and educating employees on the benefits of digital transformation are key. 

Immersive Tech: the new frontier?

Although the industry is still evolving, new opportunities for consumer and commercial use are regularly being developed, and the UK plays a huge role. Many sectors, including education, sales and media, are being transformed by immersive technology. Greg Ivanov, Head of AR/VR at Google, believes the AR-focused Google Lens will transform how we search on the internet. With a company ethos of “making products useful”, Lens is still in its early stages, but can cleverly augment how we interact with pictures, videos and text. 

Digital Catapult, the UK’s largest immersive tech accelerator, believes that understanding the user journey and diving deeper into how people engage with immersive tech is crucial to building a successful business model around this technology. Ongoing concerns with VR are focused on price points, difficulty creating content and not aligning with user needs. 

The industry still has a long way to go. But the emergence of 5G, which will provide ultra-low latency and high bandwidth, can hopefully advance the VR/AR market. Untethered VR devices that support highly rendered experiences are very difficult to achieve. A combination of machine learning, cloud services and 5G will all play an interesting role in the development of the industry in the years to come.  

What’s next in finance? 

The following talk featured a diverse panel representing different sectors within finance; from traditional banking to neobanks, regulatory organisations, venture capitalists and blockchain companies. As our recent white paper was focused on disruption in the financial services sector, this particular talk was very relevant to some of the research we have conducted. You can download our white paper here to find out more about our findings. 

An emphasis was placed on “programming our money” to increase its versatility as a medium of exchange. Current fiat money is not frictionless, and important information is exchanged across the globe as easily as a text – and money should have the same properties. 

The emergence of stable coins, like Facebook's ‘Libra’, have the opportunity to amalgamate cryptographic properties of cryptocurrencies with the stability of government-backed currencies. How they come to market and how they are regulated is still in question. 

CEO of Tide, Oliver Prill, believes that the distinction between traditional and fintech banks will blur in the future. SME lending by big banks is supposedly increasing, not decreasing. “Lending has massively outstripped GDP since the global financial crisis,'' said Bob Wigley, Chairman of UK Finance. We can therefore expect greater fintech competition to be welcomed into the market, which tends to be positive for consumers. 

Transport Innovation

Citymapper explained how regulators must address the negative externalities of transport, otherwise, the market won’t. A proposed idea to stimulate innovation was to create sandboxes for mobility innovators, similar to what the FCA did with fintech. Testing propositions in a market with real consumers could drive this transformation. 

Data sharing was something widely touched on across the event. Several applications were in relation to ‘InsureTech’ and the automotive industry. How OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers) can take advantage of data collected by car sensors, and how future policies are created with this available data are a few questions to consider. There was a general consensus that sharing data can yield beneficial results for both the private and public sectors.

Katy Medlock, Head of UK at Drivy, discussed the shift away from private car ownership in the future, as – from an economic, environmental and social perspective – it just doesn’t add up. Until the market creates true alternatives to private ownership, cars will continue to sit idle well over 90% of the time. Uber has been focusing efforts on Uber Pool to encourage greater ride-sharing and created the Clean Air Fund last year to combat air pollution by targeting to have a platform with electric vehicles only by 2025. 

Tech for Good: the new movement

Social responsibility should be at the heart of all new businesses. Younger generations, in particular, believe improving society and communities should be one of the core goals of every company. Technology has unquestionable potential to solve complex social problems. So, why is so little being done?

There was a discussion on the struggle the founders of impact tech companies face to secure capital. Because of a natural dichotomy between philanthropy and for-profit organisations, and the risk-averse nature of the impact capital market, securing the investment in ‘profit for purpose’ can be difficult. 

Tessa Clarke, the Co-founder of Olio, a company tackling food waste, emphasised the gap in the venture capitalist market. Start-ups that are passionate about making a change and scalability that traditional Silicon Valley-type investors can offer are not being married up enough. 

To summarise:

  • Companies need to avoid ‘innovation theatre’, and instead focus on the internal changes to allow for natural collaboration. Digital transformation is already happening, though the majority of change management efforts

    . The way brands introduce their new change programmes must be carefully considered, especially when it comes to rigid, legacy-heavy sectors. 

  • Immersive tech could become as standard as the iPhone in some form or another, but addressing the current barriers and harnessing the connectivity potential of 5G must come first. 

  • As more fintech start-ups enter the market, traditional banks are being spurred to innovate their services and processes. This is always going to be very positive for the end-user.

  • Our mobility preferences are changing, big data sharing is being encouraged and the power of electric is redefining the transport industry. 

  • Finally, we need to provide greater support to founders focusing on Tech for Good, as some of the biggest innovative solutions to social problems are coming from these start-ups.