The Innovation Manager: The (real) life!

Ok, trust me: it’s very hard to explain to someone else who does not go around the startup world or manage innovations what is my job actually. To be honest, it sounds complicated when I speak with innovation “insiders”, too!

Anyway, I want to give me a chance and try to make a picture of my job role even though I take the risk that you can say “I cannot understand you, really!” just after the first two words :-). So, let’s try! I like to tell people that my job is a mix of a transversal professionalism, as I combine a technical and scientific knowledge with an expertise in economics and financial matter, and an abundant creativity and flexibility to stimulate my curiosity towards new challenges and opportunities.

Here it is the Innovation Manager. In 4 words: think science, make business!

Actually, there is no common definition of the Innovation Manager profile as each company interested in innovation, new technologies and so on, follows its approach towards the Open Innovation path.

Anyway, let’s have a look at the daily routine of Valeria Guglielmotti, Innovation Manager Day One, who takes care of managing the link between start-ups and companies when the latter are looking for innovations.

What the Innovation Manager does: the storytelling of Valeria Guglielmotti

I fell in love with science, technology and whatever reminds me of the word “innovation” when I started my study at the university with a degree in Chemistry firstly and then a PhD in Chemical Sciences that gave me the chance to “play” for several years with strange materials and chemical reactions (at that time nanotechnology and nanomaterials were the hottest topics in our world!).

After my short but really strong experience in the research field, I started to work in Day One, where, since 2014, my core activity has been focused on scouting of new technologies (as well as new products and processes) invented by startups or research centers that were willing to set foot outside their labs to talk with “open-innovation oriented” industries.

Normally, once I found a very intriguing technology, I make several attempts to contact the inventor (by email, social channels, phone or smoke signals if necessary! :-)) to talk with him/her and make a deep analysis of the innovative side and market potential that the technology can have.

If I’m lucky and the inventor is not scared by my questions (you can imagine me like a detective that tries to catch all the details to solve the mystery of what is happened), we start together a pathway of co-creation where we both design the strategy to make an initial prototype into a real product ready to be launched on the market.

This “make-up process” is based on a few, but strategic steps:

1)End-user validation: this is the cornerstone of the whole process because when we get the interest from one (or more, perhaps!) big player of the target market that can give us a feedback on if the technology is a real solution to an existing need and how the final product should be done, we are on the right way! But nothing is lost, even if the feedback is negative because we can use this as a push to change the development of the prototype towards something that can have a future on the market (why not?).

2)Fundraising: Cash is the king…would say a colleague here in Day One :-)! Yes, we need money to build up the project and make business from the innovation and we, at Day One, are good to find the right funding tool — public fundings as the Horizon 2020 program for instance as well as private investments made by our network of Business Angels and Venture Capitals — to support the industrial development of the selected innovations.

3)Business/Product Development through the support that we offer to the innovators (startuppers, researchers, etc.) during the design and development of the prototype/technology as well as with the exploration of the most suitable business model for entering the market with success!

So, this is the heart of my work but, in the end, what is really important for an Innovation Manager is to have the capability to cooperate with many people, all involved in the same project and coming from different worlds such as the scientific or the business one.

The time spent with many inventors, researchers, innovators taught me that I needed to create and manage (at least) a “bilingual dictionary” to translate math formulas (the mother tongue of researchers) into a business speech (the frequency band that investors love to listen to). Sometimes this is very hard (but it’s also a challenge to me!) because the inventor is completely young for this world and we need to “educate” the researcher through a highly personalized path giving him/her all the tools to cross the death valley and reach the market.

How to begin an Innovation Manager: few tips!

I think there are no guidelines or handbooks for that but, for sure, having a scientific background can help to identify and select the most innovative technologies, more especially at Day One where the focus of our core activity is oriented only to startups and research projects so-called deep-tech.

Then, there are features, common to any other job role, that are at the base of this work such as:

  • punctuality in managing deadlines;
  • exactitude in fulfilling the assigned tasks;
  • flexibility in moving from an area (the scientific) to another one (the business) and vice versa;
  • aptitude to train on the job every day even when you must ensure all you learned the day before.

Last but not the least, the curiosity towards the tech world, is the magic ingredient that can help us to continuously keep up the pace with innovation (or anticipate it, why not?), regardless the area of application.

My hint? Be dreamers, a little, (I know that it reminds you to Steve Jobs :-D), even when all around you is saying “you’re crazy”, and look at places where no one will look at because there is the place where novelty is hiding.

If you want to innovate, CHANGE EVERYTHING!