Q&A: Honda Innovation Managing Director Dennis Clark on Driving Innovation
“As a company, we need to be everywhere. We’ve created a lightweight and lean way to source opportunities in different startup hubs globally, and it all feeds into our main operations here.“
The automotive industry is constantly evolving to keep up with technologies like AI, apps, sensors, and ridesharing. While the race to keep up is on, Honda Innovations is focused not just on identifying important technology and business innovations but on facilitating win-win collaborations between early stage startups and Honda. They have formed a unique open innovation program, Honda Xcelerator, that acts as the catalyst of their strategy to collaborate with promising startups and innovators. The team is tasked with discovering and experimenting with new technologies and even piloting new businesses that align with Honda’s long-term strategy. Honda Innovations partners with a variety of companies from startups to global giants to deliver cutting edge products and services. Honda Innovations Managing Director Strategic Venture Partnerships, Dennis Clark, recently spoke with Amy Gu about the importance of relationships and collaboration in the competitive transportation space.
A: What has been your biggest success since joining Honda?
D: My background is early-stage venture capital. I joined Honda in 2012 not knowing the extent to which the industry would transform. For example, electrification, ride sharing and MaaS, direct to consumer sales of automotive products, and, of course, autonomous technology have revolutionized the industry. It’s an exciting time to be in mobility.
Initially our activities were focused mainly on looking at how smartphone technologies could be deployed into our products to create new features and new value for our customers. Looking back, I’m most proud of the relationships we formed with startups and partners from the beginning, and this continues to today. We made a few equity investments to deepen the strategic relationships and now we’re slated to deliver Honda products with their technology embedded in our vehicles in the next year or two. It’s taken some time, but it proves that a startup can build the technology and deploy it in an automotive product.
There were many little steps and some challenges along the way to have created a big success. We’re always evolving. We evolved from a small corporate venture team to an open innovation team, not only looking at the startup community and helping to innovate around our products but also looking at new business models and new products for Honda. One thing that stays the same is Honda Xcelerator’s focus on building relationships with innovators and partnering together to create win-win opportunities.
A: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
D: I spent the earlier part of my career in Japan. In my early twenties, when I was fresh out of school, I lived in a Dojo as a full-time student studying Aikido, practicing three times a day and sleeping on a tatami floor. This experience sparked my interest in the Japanese language and doing business in Japan.
A: Looking forward, what are your top priorities?
D: If you’re doing innovation, you have to be in Silicon Valley. Ultimately everything comes here, whether it’s for partnerships, investments, or talent. To find things at an early stage from a strategy perspective, though, you need to operate in different tech hubs around the world, so Honda Xcelerator has strategically established satellite locations to meet this need. We have a modest footprint in China, and we do hope to grow that soon. We also have a footprint in Israel, and we’ve been doing a lot of work with Israeli companies. Europe, as well, is an area of interest for us, and we have a team in Berlin and London. At this point in time, we don’t know where the next really big innovation is going to come from. As a company, we need to be everywhere. We’ve created a lightweight and lean way to source opportunities in different startup hubs globally, and it all feeds into our main operations here.