Corporate innovation begins with understanding how the market data and startup activity can fill the gaps or expand in an organization’s approach to transformation. What’s great about my role and my innovation team is that we get to learn about these shifts and how they might scale across a nearly 90 million member benefits network. As someone who was on the ground floor of the first wave of Silicon Valley corporate innovation, working across industries to advise large enterprises I’ve seen teams flounder and hold onto sunk costs because they do not have a robust way to validate and select opportunities early on in combination with a culture that encourages timely project close outs and handoffs.
When I joined VSP Global (VSP), the leader in health-focused vision care, I knew the organization wanted real, boundary-pushing, organization-changing innovation. Corporate innovation is not a one size fits all approach. The model we’ve introduced is centered around bringing outside shifts into the line of sight for VSP and driving a structured approach to a complex industry to achieve results and value for the future of vision.
At its heart, VSP empowers human potential through sight. We serve client companies to ensure their employees have the very best vision care coverage. We have a network of doctors. And they have patients. We design and deliver a supply chain of eyewear and optic lens solutions. We’re seeing digital innovation impact in every one of those areas. My role is to act on it, ensuring that the organization is agile and is responding to those market shifts.
VSP is a complex organization, spanning multiple industries. There are so many different areas we could focus on, the innovation team has a rigorous evidence/insights based process to help the organization vet what to focus on. And along with that, we’re bringing a nearly 70-year old organization along, educating the company on why these market shifts are happening as we build a case for why we need to internalize and commercialize the external solutions that can help us capitalize on those market shifts.
While I’m relatively new to VSP, I’m not new to corporate innovation. Companies typically change the nature or orientation of their business when there is overwhelming evidence that de-risks what the future looks like. Likewise, startups have a huge hunch about something they think is possible or doable and then go validate that hunch through prototyping, experimentation, and just getting close to their users. Effective corporate innovation finds ways to bridge these approaches to transformation through market data (evidence) and startup activity (indicators).
This is where CB Insights comes in. Within my first 3 months at VSP, I dismantled a number of existing resources/partnerships that did not align with the goals of our innovation center; and invested in the CB Insights platform, tools, and partnership to support the team’s ability to bring forward the evidence and indicators that de-risks what the future looks like.
All our VSP Global Innovation Center projects have one of three outcomes: commercialization, elevating understanding, showing what’s possible. Whether it’s mapping out the opportunities in the smart glasses market, identifying health focused solutions, or evaluating new investments in eye tracking technology, the CB Insights platform is my team’s go-to source for in-depth data and expert insights on innovation in our space.
Building the Case for Innovation
It’s not easy to change the thinking and way of working at a company as large and established as VSP. The success of our innovation center is tied to the employees who will inevitably implement and commercialize the innovations we’re working on today. Successful innovators have to not only understand the internal infrastructure but also have the internal credibility to drive change forward effectively. Therefore credible evidence/insights based project proposals are foundational and necessary.
We’ve been able to build that credibility with CB Insights. Our projects are well-researched, data-driven, and get the buy-in that we need from our colleagues, even when the concept is completely new. We’re using CB Insights Research to predict where markets are heading and to stay ahead of trends to ultimately, better serve our clients and employees. We need data and research from CB Insights to elevate understanding of our executives and build the story around shifts we may need to respond to.
Take, for example, the growth around virtual wellness advisors, which is the concept of meeting patients online to conduct medical services virtually. It can be an intimidating change. We have optometrists who need to understand what this shift might mean for them and how it shows up in the world today in other healthcare settings. But with CB Insights proof points to illustrate the trend, we're able to share tangible indicators to model the value.
With a shared understanding of market shifts and the startups at the forefront using CB Insights research and data, the concept came alive for our leaders.
Highlighting/Identifying Areas Ripe for Innovation
The “consumerization of healthcare” is a big topic we’re watching. It’s really another way of saying that patients are now taking responsibility for their personal health. We used CB Insights to look at this shift through a new lens, charting out the impact for the consumers’ physical, cognitive, emotional and social health. We looked at every indicator, and especially trends with Patents. We wouldn’t have been able to go through a database of patents; but with CB Insights, we get the big picture and patterns: which areas are being patented and which companies are patenting their tech in the space.
Performance speaks to individual self-optimization as it relates to not just physical but cognitive, emotional, occupational–ability to do a job and have sustainable income. What we saw with CB Insights is a lot of new companies filling this demand with new products and technology. Our team can then learn more about those companies filling that demand; for example, we’re evaluating opportunities to respond to the rapid adoption of self-tracking tools and a quantified-self landscape in which patients/consumers seek access to their own health data and diagnostics.
We told a compelling story around this key shift by publishing a Futurist Report on the Future on Personal Performance. The CB Insights research analysts worked with our team, ultimately accelerating and amplifying our research. These reports extend the innovation center’s presence across the company and we become an aggregator of opportunity to our network of doctors, clients and patients.
Synthesizing our research in a powerful, innovative, and well-substantiated format offers our executives/leaders deeper insights into new technologies, and most importantly helps us decide what to do next.
For our next report, at first omnichannel customer engagement wasn’t on our radar to watch. CB Insights brought it to our attention, after seeing a rise in Earnings Call Mentions of omnichannel; noting that while the term has been around for many years the trajectory has changed post-pandemic. It was a crucial insight for us, and gave us the permission to take a new look at omnichannel influence over customer engagement expectations.
Credibility in the Innovation Space
In a world of innovation overload, credibility is equally important in the innovation ecosystem. I view our partnership with CB Insights as a signal to the startup community that we’re looking to work with the very best.
It’s a signal that we’re interested and investing in serious near term innovation, not faux innovation. We’re looking at data-backed market shifts and investing in our future. As teams using the CB Insights platform know, the startup ecosystem is an open laboratory for cultural and technological changes … so we’re tapping into this open laboratory to scale new technology through our network.
We’re not only getting visibility within the CB Insights ecosystem, but we’re gaining credibility. Some organizations may want to check a box that they’re “innovative,” but they’re not the ones that work with CB Insights. And startups know that.
I see our success as a new Innovation Center contingent on choosing the right partners and tools. CB Insights is a huge part of that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Head of VSP Global Innovation Center
Ruth Yomtoubian is the Head of VSP Global Innovation Center. She recently joined VSP Global to build VSP’s innovation strategy and lead a global interdisciplinary team actively partnering to develop and deliver life-improving products, experiences, and services for its network of 90M members and over 30,000 eyecare professionals.
Prior to joining VSP, Ruth worked with clients from the Bay Area to Latin America, facilitating their innovation initiatives. As former Director of the AT&T Foundry, she drove the adoption and alignment of numerous start-up solutions across various lines of business.