According to a pivotal 2020 joint study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Capgemini, external sources of innovation are gaining increasing significance for companies. Over the next five years, startups are expected to emerge as the primary innovation source.

This trend, underscored by findings from the study and reflecting the global innovation landscape, drives the effectiveness of Open Innovation as a strategic tool for companies. In today's dynamic world, Open Innovation is not only a means of innovating but also a pathway to talent acquisition, trend discovery and access to cutting-edge technologies.

Recognizing the paramount importance of Open Innovation, CRIF dedicates substantial resources to strengthening its Open Innovation division and activities. CRIF views Open Innovation as a cornerstone of its strategy, with a commitment to actively engage in partnerships, nurture collaboration and facilitate a seamless flow of information between ecosystem participants.

As the Head of InnovEcoS, the CRIF Global Open Innovation Hub, Natalia Shchelovanova sheds light on how CRIF is not merely adapting to but actively shaping the future of innovation. She details the organization's initiatives, showcasing a concerted effort to thrive in a rapidly evolving and disruptive environment. The emphasis on Open Innovation serves as a linchpin in CRIF's approach, reflecting its foresight and dedication to staying at the forefront of transformative developments in the industry.


How does InnovEcoS work with startups and other external partners to drive innovation?

At InnovEcoS, the CRIF Open Global Innovation Hub, innovation is actively promoted through collaboration with startups and external partners within the area of Open Innovation. By immersing ourselves in their ecosystems, we aim to identify and test promising avenues that enhance products, services and business models, contributing to CRIF's growth and alignment with future client needs. The Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) arm of the organization plays a key role in investing in and accelerating promising startups, adopting an industrial investor approach. Since its initiation in 2017, this initiative has resulted in a portfolio of 20 startups. It's crucial to note that, for us, a startup signifies an entity at pre-seed and later stages equipped with a market-ready product ready for testing and implementation. Collaborations extend beyond startups to partnerships with innovation hubs, business incubators, venture capitalists (VCs) and Corporate Venture Capitalists (CVCs). Our goals vary based on the partner's mission and specialization, introducing elements such as social impact, knowledge sharing, mentoring, access to talent or exploration of cutting-edge technologies. However, the overarching objective remains steadfast – to actively engage with dynamic startup communities, ultimately establishing suitable collaboration models.

What is the key to successful collaboration with startups? 

InnovEcoS effectively collaborates with startups and external partners, leveraging their innovation capabilities to drive the development of new ideas and solutions. In 2023, we delivered 15 Proofs of Concept (PoCs) and 7 pilots through our Venture Client Lab, scouting over 630 startups in the last three years. We have built open innovation programs with startups as key players, enhancing crucial capabilities to ensure successful collaboration modes. Structured engagement programs, a network of strategic partnerships, and fostering of a culture of innovation are key components. These initiatives prioritize effective collaboration, flexibility and a culture of experimentation, bridging the gap between internal teams and external innovators.

What steps does InnovEcoS take to ensure that new and innovative ideas are effectively commercialized and brought to market?

InnovEcoS employs a strategic approach, emphasizing thorough and timely market potential assessment as a key decision-making factor. Early evaluation along the innovation path enhances predictability, expediting the decision-making process. Market validation varies based on the level of disruption, considering factors such as the existence of similar cases. Approaches include comparable analysis, investment landscape research, testing results, surveys and other methods. Upon a successful MVP or PoC, the focus shifts to accelerating adoption and scaling within the organization. This involves cross-functional teams, knowledge dissemination and the incorporation of mechanisms that reflect the disruptive nature—such as testing, experimentation, embracing a culture of failure, unique partnering rules with startups, and alternative result measurements. This comprehensive approach, fostering innovation both top-down and bottom-up, is supported by established processes, flexible financing, adjustable budgeting, governance mechanisms and a KPI system. Trust and engagement, cultivated over time, form the foundation for effective implementation.

Can you describe the processes your organization uses to foster innovation within the company?

We employ various elements to cultivate innovation within the company. First, we prioritize cross-functional collaboration, fostering teamwork among diverse groups to boost creativity and problem-solving. Additionally, we establish dedicated innovation teams equipped with skills tailored for new ventures, garnering support and recognition from the organization. We promote open idea generation by providing a platform for employees to submit ideas, share feedback and contribute to the innovation pipeline. This involves a structured process encompassing selection, execution and recognition. Regular meetups and training programs are conducted to enhance employees' innovation skills through innovation workshops and training sessions. Collaboration with external partners is key, bringing in diverse perspectives and expertise to enrich our innovation landscape. A crucial aspect of our culture involves learning from failures, viewing them as valuable opportunities for development and an inherent part of the innovation journey. We establish innovation metrics and evaluation processes, utilizing key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the success and impact of initiatives. This includes tracking the number of generated ideas, successful Proofs of Concept (PoCs) and improvements in customer satisfaction. Lastly, we actively secure support and sponsorship from leaders and business sponsors, ensuring leadership backing for our innovation initiatives.

Can you speak about the role of cross-functional collaboration and teamwork in driving innovation within your organization?

Cross-functional collaboration and teamwork are pivotal in driving innovation within our global organization, particularly in venture building. By bringing together specialists from diverse departments and backgrounds for individual projects, we foster knowledge sharing and cultivate a continuous learning culture. This collaborative approach breaks down silos, encouraging interaction, and contributes to the improved execution of innovative ideas. This model not only enhances employee engagement and empowerment but also instils a sense of value and connection with corporate goals. Employees, when given opportunities to work collaboratively across teams, feel motivated and connected. Changing daily routines to engage in innovative projects with peers from different divisions, operating within a common framework and with a commitment to shared results, makes a notable difference, and inspires peak performance and pride in their work.

How does InnovEcoS measure the success and impact of its innovation initiatives and how does it continuously improve the innovation ecosystem?

InnovEcoS employs a comprehensive framework to measure and enhance the impact of its innovation initiatives, focusing on continuous improvement within the innovation ecosystem. This involves some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), for example, successful Proofs of Concept (PoCs) and moving to certain measurements on the post-production cycle, delivered training and research, mostly in connection with disruptive trends and tech or venturing initiatives. In some cases, it’s just a feeling of recognition and awareness you get across the organization. Continuous feedback from internal stakeholders is an important indicator of our growth. Networking in Open Innovation through leveraging new partnerships and collaborations with external market players and internal innovators is a key aspect for growth and development. 



InnovEcos is CRIF's Global Open Innovation Hub. Our mission is to guide the discovery of future business models and technological trends to innovate services, products and processes through research, experimentation and collaboration with startups.
In the last three years, we have scouted +630 startups, had meetings with +74 startups and run +15 PoCs and +7 pilots through our Venture Client Lab.

If you're a startup looking to make a difference or a company interested in open innovation experimentation, reach out to us.

Get in touch to find out more!