Following last Friday’s blog about the Launchpad, our new workspace for collaboration, exploration and creativity that we’re opening shortly, I read a coincidental and interesting article at the weekend about the growing adoption of this way of working. Whilst the focus of the article was on much larger businesses working with digital start ups, and had an admittedly London bias, the principle I think is still relevant outside of the London bubble. Actually I think it’s good practice to look at what big businesses are doing, their strategies and approaches and then to apply them to smaller businesses, where applicable, as these are the methods of the brightest and best.

The concept has led to significant investment from several companies, such as WeWork and Second Home, whose business activity is solely about creating the actual workspaces, but with “higher ambitions than merely re-booting the workspace giant Regus for the digital era…Second Home set great store by members sharing knowledge and skills.” The evidence for this can be seen in their tenants, which includes not only the kind of digital start up technology businesses you might imagine (so yes, that probably does mean plenty of beards and tattoos) but the likes of global consultants EY.

Other corporates have chosen to invest in their own workspaces, for example Aviva have opened a ‘digital garage’ in the heart of London’s technology hub known as silicon roundabout, to develop new products and harness advances in data analytics. While others have gone a step further by actually investing in digital start ups and seeking to bring their ‘disruptive’ approach into their businesses.

“Traditional organisations are striving to adapt to the new rules of engagement. To gain access to the brightest minds they are investing in start-ups at an unprecedented rate, as well as creating their own innovation centres outside the stultifying confines of head office.”

This was reinforced at the recent Festival of Marketing where Keith Weed, Unilever’s Marketing Director, talked about their strategy of investing in numerous start ups, which to date represented some £20 Million in various businesses aligned to their overall strategies. He explained that they wanted to try and engender a start up mentality – in fact he said they actually encourage ‘reverse mentoring’ where micro businesses spend time with Unilever’s Directors to try and demonstrate their agile and disruptive ways of thinking. He recognised that not all of these businesses would be successful so they’d lit many fires – although since the talk one of them, Dollar Shave Club, has just been bought in a $1Bn deal –  but they wanted to be bold and experiment, to fail fast but to learn and then repeat.

The article concluded that “Companies are being forced to turn themselves inside out and embrace new models of open innovation and collaboration.” In our own small way, we’re hoping Launchpad provides the kind of environment that will help get ideas off the ground. Pun intended.