By: Ryan Ayers
The innovation that goes on within American corporations is truly breathtaking. Of course, many of the best innovation labs require the immense resources of powerful companies, but at their heart, these labs all succeed when two components come together: the right people and the right ideas.
Innovation labs are typically located off-site from the main campus of the company, in order to allow the innovation teams to do their creative work in peace, not influenced by the everyday projects that are already in process. Though there are so many innovation labs out there, some are more successful than others—here are 5 of the best the US has to offer.
1. Google[x] Lab
When you think of the Google innovation lab, you probably think of some secretive facility where they work on the projects of the future—and you’d be right. The lab is located close to, but not on the main Google campus, in Mountain View, CA. Interestingly, the Google X lab is named for a failed project—which show that Google knows that failure is part of the path to success. It’s been the incubator for Google’s biggest projects, including drones, Google Glass, self-driving cars, and smart home appliances. The focus of the lab is the ambitious projects that may not make it to the consumer level, but will help maintain the company’s reputation for innovation. With Google’s nearly unlimited budget and the brightest minds in tech working for them, it’s not too surprising that their innovation lab is one of the best in the country.
Symantec knows that in order to be innovative, you need to leverage ideas from different sources. Instead of staying closed off, their innovation lab collaborates with other research facilities, universities, and government agencies. Their partnerships stretch around the globe, allowing them to develop exciting and innovative products on an ongoing basis. One of the key features of their lab is that the focus is on building products and technologies that act as solutions for today’s problems—products that could be quickly commercialized.
3. Absolut Labs
Innovation isn’t just limited to R&D—Forbes has recognized a few organizations for their dedication to marketing innovation. Marketing is key for any business’s growth, and some innovation labs, like Absolut Labs, are responding to new market conditions to ensure ongoing success. The lab does original research, and has been tasked with figuring out how consumer behavior will change over the next 30 years. One major project for the lab has been seeing how technology impacts nightlife—which led to the company exploring VR experiences for concerts, events that tie into the brand’s identity.
4. Sephora Innovation Lab
Makeup might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when it comes to innovation, but the Sephora Innovation Lab has been getting attention over its innovative approaches to marketing. The lab is located a few miles away from headquarters, and is focused entirely on the customer experience. Combining both mobile and in-store approaches, the lab has come up with Color IQ, which helps customers find the right makeup color for their needs. Enhancing the lab environment are “ideation” spaces and simulation customer experiences, which help team members find inspiration.
5. Microsoft Research
As another tech giant, it’s not surprising that Microsoft’s innovation lab, Microsoft Research, is among the top 5 in the nation. It’s also one of the oldest, founded in 1991. More than 1,000 people work in the lab, developing new computing technology and collaborating with agencies, universities, and other organizations. The lab actually has many different branches all over the world, and is working toward solving customer problems every day.
Lessons from These Labs
Now, most companies won’t be able to come even close to the conditions available in these innovation labs, but they can be a source of inspiration. Even a small team can come up with some truly revolutionary ideas, if given the time, space, and resources to be innovative. There are some lessons that can be taken from the labs that succeed—including choosing a focus, keeping it separate from the main operations, choosing the right leadership team—and providing space to fail.
By Ryan Ayers
About the author
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.