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How Corporates Can Win in Times of Economic Uncertainty


It’s no secret that innovation can unlock potential for corporations. A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report states that 83% of African executives now view innovation as a top-three priority, compared to 79% of companies worldwide. This represents a 21% increase from the previous year, when only 62% of African companies ranked innovation as a top priority. Despite the absence of African firms in the top 50 most innovative companies in 2023, their readiness for innovation is on par with their global counterparts. 

But innovation is often complex and expensive, and with strain on budgets, it’s hard to imagine how more money can be spent on this. This is where corporates can take a leaf out of the startup founders’ book – lean, agile, rapid prototyping, validation experiments, customer interviews, and growth hacking are some of the terms you will hear in the corridors of wherever startup founders find themselves. Those who succeed with startups often do so with intense constraints, particularly regarding deployable capital, available time, and staff. These startup founders master the art of doing a lot with little, reducing the time to take products live and at reduced costs – reducing the risk of bringing their digital products to life.

What these corporates have is a loyal customer base, a footprint that can empower innovations and capital to throw at it – the missing ingredient? Venture know-how. And this is where venture building comes into play. 

And this innovative approach to building companies is now coming to the corporate environment. PepsiCo Labs has backed and built ventures along its supply chain and pioneered over 100 ventures. A key ingredient is to spin out a division focusing on venture development – allowing for a different culture, approach, and less corporate red tape. Back home, Old Mutual has set up a structure for this calledNext176 with the vision to create disruptive and innovative new businesses to impact one billion lives positively. Similarly, ShopriteX is the innovation team driving pace-setting innovations like Checkers Sixty60. 

But building a host of ventures simultaneously requires startup know-how and a whole range of skills. While most of these skills can be hired for, in different stages of ventures, one requires different measures of these resources executing. As such, a new type of agency has evolved that offers venture services to large corporates. Venture services are the action of supplying corporate venture-building teams with teams or individuals that can execute specific validation experiments to bring to life the potential of the venture for further development or gain enough insights to reject it as a venture that will likely fail – all while spending substantially less money than what a full software build and launch would have cost.

“It’s about augmenting the venture building teams of the corporates to give them access to a diverse team that lives and breathes startup and venture building techniques,” says Renier Kriel, head of Corporate Venture Services at Specno. 

“Specno is not your traditional consultancy,” says co-founder and CEO Daniel Novitzkas. “We’re bringing a startup approach to corporate innovation, leveraging our extensive experience working with entrepreneurial ventures. We’re not here to tell corporates what they want to hear; we’re here to push boundaries and deliver real value. And we do that by accelerating execution and leveraging know-how learned from our engagement with hundreds of startups. We’re shifting our focus to include corporates because we believe in the value we create when building startups through corporate venture building. Corporates have the resources; they need the right partner to help unlock their innovative potential.”

Where the corporate climate is influenced by constant technological change and economic imbalance, companies cannot afford to stand still. The next frontier of corporate growth lies in harnessing innovation and fully utilizing its existing assets, especially its customer base, using best-in-class startup methods. The future belongs to those corporations that can transform their loyal customers into engines of growth through innovation.


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