The innovation revolution spurred by venture capitalists decades ago has created the conditions in which scale enables big companies to shift from shackling innovation to unleashing it. Three trends are behind this shift: (1) The ease of innovation and its decreasing cost mean that start-ups now face the same short-term pressures that have constrained innovation at large companies. (2) Taking a page from start-up strategy, large companies are embracing open innovation and integrating entrepreneurial behaviors with their existing capabilities. (3) Innovation increasingly involves creating business models that tap big companies’ unique strengths.
In this context, entrepreneurial individuals, whom the author calls “catalysts,” are working with corporations’ resources, scale, and growing agility to develop solutions to global challenges. Here are the stories of four corporate catalysts: Keyne Monson, at Medtronic, spurred the creation of a program called Healthy Heart for All, which seeks to bring pacemaker technology to hundreds of thousands of Indians who desperately need it. Yuri Jain, at Unilever, sought and found a scalable solution to purifying drinking water–Pureit, a portable system that provides safe water at just half a cent per liter. Nick Musyoka, at Syngenta, devised a program called Uwezo (Swahili for “capability”), which uses the sachet distribution model to provide smallholding farmers with affordable, premeasured packages of crop protection chemicals. Colin Harrison, at IBM, was instrumental in developing the company’s Smarter Cities program, which offers bundled technological infrastructure and related services to help cities save money and improve lives.