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Ideas in full flow at the Sanoma lab cell

accelerator programme together with the largest mobile operator KPN – and that has already created an interesting partnership. We are also working with a large fast moving consumer goods company to create a platform for them. We won the pitch by saying ‘we don’t have a product for you but we have a process whereby we can find it together’. The lab has already opened up a lot of new doors for partnerships which have a significant revenue value for us as well.”

Cogs in the machine There are clear differences – and advantages – to being part of a big organisation. It’s important to remember that, once the white coats are hung on the peg for the day. Says Kurkijärvi: “We have a great team, but we are competing against startups who usually have more funding and hunger – so we always have to find an unfair competitive advantage in what we do, like using our existing customer relationships. In some cases we can use our media power to accelerate, in others we use the distribution network we already have. These advantages define what we invest in. And, of course, we don’t want to stretch too far from the industries we’re in.” Says Schiefelbein: “Investing in innovation processes is important for us and the results show that these investments will pay back in revenues as well as in knowledge. It’s not necessarily about creating more innovation, it’s about smart innovation and unlocking untapped local potential with the help of the ‘outside world’. This is why we constantly look for ideas and technologies that fit with our brands, target groups and local market developments.”


So will publishers hand the keys to the business back to the creatives, or will lab-style


Kerstin Schiefelbein, director digital and innovation, Burda, Germany

Lassi Kurkijärvi, director of innovation at Sanoma, Netherlands

innovation continue to be a driving force in media? “We need to eat our own dog food, if you like,” says Kurkijärvi. “Basically we always tell venturers they have to be evolving and thinking on their feet – and that is what we need to do as a lab. After half a year, our lab is already something quite different. For example, we started with a quarterly stage of funding so ventures had a limited amount of time to reach certain targets. Now we’ve changed that process to a more money-driven process, closer to how real start-ups operate. And we are currently working to taking bigger steps from the accelerator programmes. We’ve been moving towards building an innovation community at Sanoma. We’ve trained close to 700 people at the company in startup, business model innovation, design thinking and customer development. All the new skills which we see are necessary in the digital world in product design and building. “The goal is for the company to work

in an innovative way, and we are already seeing people pick up the methods we are promoting and we are able to show that we are fast at validating and invalidating concepts that are being looked at by the lab.” Alex Springer Ideas is getting slicker: “We

We are realistic about the probability of success. We aim to launch 50 startups in three years. Out of those 50, we expect five to succeed...

have gone from more of an incubator-like, thematically broad-base to a very core- business focused lab approach and have become ever leaner in terms of initial set- up time, product scope and capital at risk,” says Machold. But, he suggests that the lab is very much a cog in the corporate wheel. Says Machold: “Axel Springer is consistently pursuing the objective of building up a fast- growing and profitable digital portfolio, and for

this reason is networking today more than ever before with the current generation of founders: digital startups. Along with the transformation of our established strong media brands, our own developments online and strategically- oriented acquisitions of web companies, this network is one of the building blocks of the company’s international digitisation strategy.” “We see, that due to the Innovators’ Suite concept, the digital development in Burda International countries could be pushed faster to a next level. The exchange and communication between the countries has developed and we do workshops and webinars for our Innovators’ Circle to stay in touch and consider interesting opportunities throughout the year,” says Schiefelbein.

Future labs

“Mastering systematic, fast and efficient software development and creating an environment for rapid innovation that also includes editorial teams is vital, yet not something many media companies are particularly good at,” says Machold. “We must crack tech faster than tech companies crack content – and we can learn a lot from them in terms of speed, efficiency and basing things on the digital world, rather than what our world used to look like 20 years ago.” Says Schiefelbein: “We will constantly

improve our businesses, look for new business opportunities and develop our innovation processes. It’s not a time limited programme, but an ongoing and international process.” “The world is changing fast and I think there will always be a need for a kind of lab in a company,” says Kurkijärvi: “But what will it look like in three years? I know it will be completely different from what it is now. On the one hand the current role of the lab will be obsolete and will hopefully be picked up by the business and become part of their processes and on the other hand you need an entity to explore the different options. Innovation is needed to create options for strategy. That is why labs are essential.”

 Axel Sprint  Burda  Emma  Sanoma

issue 84_2014 | Magazine World |25

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