BY RUTH VELORIA, EXECUTIVE DEAN, UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Technology has been the great equalizer of the 21st century marketplace. Startups and entrepreneurs are disrupting the business-as-usual mentality with their nimble ability to harness technology and innovate new products and services. They help fuel local and national economies and inspire the next generation of big ideas and visionaries. The entrepreneurial spirit has led the digital transformation of consumers’ everyday lives, revolutionizing how people do just about everything, including receive news, keep up with friends, which food to buy and where to live and vacation.
Advanced technologies have fueled the growth of today’s global hyper-connected economy through the Internet of Tings, big data and its offspring — data science — as well as cloud computing. Each have respectively altered how business can be done. The power of digital technology transcends industry boundaries, and is creating similar changes across major employment sectors such as health care, finance, security, information technology, retail, education and even federal and state services.
BUILDING A HOME FOR COLLABORATION
The increasingly symbiotic nature and overlap of business and technology led University of Phoenix to launch RedFlint, an innovation experience center in Las Vegas. The brainchild of the College of Information Systems and Technology and School of Business, as well as business accelerator, Iron Yard Ventures, RedFlint allows high-level collaboration between students, the public, startups, entrepreneurs and large enterprises to become a reality.
RedFlint will house the latest technologies, including data analytics and digital marketing tools, to level the playing field for individuals cultivating a big idea, while creating a safe place for businesses of all sizes to connect with the grassroots dreamers and thinkers in their community. Imagine a high energy, open concept space with the latest programs, technologies and devices to explore and play out business concepts — without the risk. This state-of-the-art, unique collaboration space will be in the heart of Las Vegas’ innovation district, a downtown corridor founded by renowned innovators and brands who share a common commitment to the city, and to spark innovation in every community across the United States.
Businesses of all sizes need a space to come up with new, bold ideas; a hub where entrepreneurs, startups and large enterprises can come together and combine their distinctive strengths to collaborate in a truly “fat” structure for the digital era; a collaborative work environment where all ideas are welcome, and every person and every business gets an equal chance to free up his or her potential. We know that the best way to do that quickly is to gather all the right sparks in one place, one ecosystem, to democratize opportunity for all. This concept is how you create real lasting change.
Through my work with business leaders and major employers across the country to inform and collaborate on academic programs as the Executive Dean for the University of Phoenix® School of Business, I’ve learned that large enterprises do recognize the changing playing field across their respective industries and are feeling the pressure to address their digital and innovation needs, both for talent acquisition and retention and ongoing market share and customer engagement. While these large companies have the resources and networks to launch innovative new products, many struggle to ideate and incubate within the constraints of company culture. From my conversations, innovation is on the top three list of what is keeping CEOs up at night. I can relate — as a higher education leader, I’m constantly thinking about how I can better utilize technology to improve how we serve students and impact changes within my own organization.
Large leading global professional services company Accenture has researched this very issue. A recent study it conducted with the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance found that large enterprises are more reliant than ever on collaboration with outside entities to learn new ways of harnessing technology to evolve their business model and stay relevant. However, the research also recognizes that while entrepreneurs may be enjoying their time in the sun, the overwhelming majority of them will not succeed without the power and scale of established business.
In an economy made fat by innovation, businesses large and small are on the same playing field, and seemingly need each other more than ever.
It appears that the challenge now for large companies and entrepreneurs is to look for ways to accelerate, innovate and incubate while also finding effective ways to collaborate across small, medium and large businesses. Building on Accenture’s findings, this collaboration must be done in a meaningful way that builds trust between stakeholders, benefits all parties, and continues to foster invention and introduction of visionary concepts. I’ve also seen that the nature of advanced technology will push leaders to look beyond the confines of their own industry to identify parallels in tech integration and advancement across business sectors.
The core mission of University of Phoenix is to be recognized as the most trusted provider of career-relevant higher education for working adults. University of Phoenix leaders see, day in and day out, the way innovation is impacting how all industries do business, and consequently how aspiring professionals must be prepared to thrive in the workforce. We work closely with some of the country’s leading employers and know first-hand the importance of training future professionals with the digital skills and ingenuity needed to compete in the 21st century marketplace.
HELPING BUSINESSES PARTICIPATE IN THE 21ST CENTURY ECONOMY
Innovation has been pivotal for many brands to stay relevant with their customers, but unfortunately, from my experience, many companies’ innovation often sits on the back burner when the current to-do list feels unmanageable. There are many reasons for this. Most organizations are not structured to encourage idea generation and testing, or financially sturdy enough to truly afford the risk or time expenditure involved in incubating ideas, so their efforts are short lived.
Companies that take the leap and commit resources to develop think tanks or incubator departments that allow entrepreneur-minded professionals to think outside the box and approach problem-solving in a safe environment still aren’t faring much better. While Google has made headlines with its well-known policy that allows employees to spend 20 percent of their time innovating, recent studies actually show that largely, organizations get stuck in the early stages of innovation and don’t move past incubators or accelerators.
We know the most impactful businesses are those that refuse to fall victim to traditional business cycles, and we are seeing more and more leaders recognize that empowering employees to be innovators can be an effective solution. A University of Phoenix School of Business survey also found that the next generation workforce is looking for intrapreneurial opportunities and wants to join businesses that provide additional opportunities to harness their own creativity to affect change within their organizations.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF ‘INTRAPRENEURS’
Companies of all sizes should consider taking risks to innovate and create an employment environment that will appeal to entrepreneur-minded professionals if they want to stay ahead of the curve. Intrapreneurs, professionals who approach work like an entrepreneur but use that talent internally to be innovative and add value to their organizations, are increasingly driving change in large companies. Intrapreneurs aren’t afraid to identify and advocate for more efficient ways of doing things, better ways to engage customers or opportunities for new revenue streams.
Not all companies can make the level of commitment needed to build an incubation arm of the organization, but it should be possible for most companies to create a process and environment where intrapreneurial employees can research and present new ideas, and work cross-functionally to tackle company challenges.
A University of Phoenix School of Business 2015 national survey of 2,000 adults in the United States found more than 37 percent of working adults consider themselves “intrapreneurs” and 93 percent believe they possess entrepreneurial qualities. It even appears that overall job satisfaction is tied to opportunities to be entrepreneurial within a company. More than three in five of those who are satisfied with their current job say their organization provides opportunities to be entrepreneurial. The survey also found many workers feel held back from being intrapreneurs with 70 percent saying their organization could do more to foster an entrepreneurial culture. More than three in five of those who are satisfied with their current job say their organization provides opportunities to be entrepreneurial.
While innovation and creativity can’t be too structured, there can be policies and procedures in place that allow employees to work on and present ideas, and to move them forward. If policies are in place, employees should also be encouraged by leaders to take advantage of them. They must know their efforts and achievements will be valued and that “failing forward” (as coined by author John Maxwell) isn’t just accepted but encouraged. This doesn’t mean throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. It means creating an environment in which people aren’t afraid to test, share and sometimes falter.
If failure is a widely accepted reality of the innovation process, then it stands to reason that an organization’s (and an employee’s) tolerance for failure is a key indicator of a high-performance, creative culture. Employees should also see that ideas are recognized, evaluated and, when they work, swiftly put into action. Without these cultural traits, it’s less likely an organization will attract, retain and grow employees who have entrepreneurial mindsets.
Holding back ideas and professionals in the innovation economy is a critical misstep. Bringing entrepreneurs, businesses, the public and students together with access to education, technology and business savvy has the potential to change and transform lives. Individuals no longer have to leave opportunity on the table, or sit out of the 21st century economy, and businesses no longer have to shoulder the burden of risk alone. In the innovation economy, technology, business, innovators, educators and thought leaders can partner to tackle the real-life problems facing their businesses and communities with better, faster and nimbler solutions.
This melting pot can connect talent with the skills and resources necessary to make ideas come to life, and by sheer fact of the diversity of contributors, will foster more creative and innovative thinking than can be done within the corporate environment or alone in a home office. RedFlint is where students learn to embrace disruption and harness it to spark businesses. The collaborative tech-enhanced atmosphere also encourages the power of seeing and doing within a framework that is synchronized to the accelerating pace of change. It’s the place to unlearn the old and learn the new, quickly. In the innovation economy, technology, business, innovators, educators and thought leaders can partner to tackle the real-life problems facing their businesses and communities with better, faster and nimbler solutions.
As an institute of higher education, University of Phoenix will be able to contribute to the open innovation process through the participation and guidance of diversely trained faculty, including business and technology experts who understand what it takes to make an idea stick and sell.
THE PATH TO OPEN INNOVATION
The digital economy exploded onto the scene early in the century and has transformed life as we know it over the past several years. The infiltration of advanced technologies into nearly every product and service available has changed the mission of business and the labor market considerably. In today’s market, ideas are the currency for modern business. It appears that in the fat world of the innovation economy, organizations of all sizes experience similar pitfalls and frustrations in the innovation process.
University of Phoenix, through RedFlint, has the power to advance joint innovation by opening effective two-way collaboration between individuals and businesses of all sizes, in a space fueled by the latest technologies. It will jointly reimagine Main Street and ignite 21st century businesses empowered by diverse ideas and people from all walks of life.
Businesses must overcome corporate bureaucracy to participate in today’s modern economy and harness the power of their workforce to promote intrapreneurism and a culture where risk is accepted and smart risk is rewarded. Entrepreneurs must continue to push against boundaries, but know when it’s the right time to seek help and embrace the support of experienced mentors who have the skills and resources to make an idea a reality. It may be easier than ever before to start a new business or transform an existing company, but the competition is fierce and too many people still don’t know how.
We will continue to identify solutions that help ideas come to fruition faster and more effectively, and continue to fuel companies and communities forward. These efforts can spark long-lasting positive differences in our lives, communities and economy.
Learn more about RedFlint at: redfintvegas.com
1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Monthly Labor Review: Startups and older frms: which is more responsive to local economic changes” bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/ beyond-bls/startups-and-older-frms.htm
2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Digitalization changes everything: improving economic measurement in an era of radical innovation and transformation” bls. gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/pdf/digitization-changes-everything.pdf
3. Accenture: “Harnessing the Power of Entrepreneurs to Open Innovation: Creating a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation through digital collaboration,” accenture.com/us-en/insight-b20-digitalcollaboration.aspx; page 6
4. Accenture: G20YEA – Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance Summit Turkey 2015: “Harnessing the Power of Entrepreneurs to Open Innovation,” accenture.com/ us-en/~/media/Accenture/next-gen/B20/ Accenture-G20-YEA-2015-Open-Innovation-Executive-Summary.pdf