Continental’s head of startups got some excellent advice after he was put in charge of the supplier’s new entrepreneurial unit.
“The thing we do is more art than science,” Juergen Bilo remembers being told by Thomas Andrae, who is an advisory board member at co-pace GmbH, which is a separate company Bilo runs that Continental formed to help strengthen its ability to innovate.
Andrae, who spent six years at the director of chemical giant 3M’s corporate venture capital unit, told Bilo that there is no formula to determine if a startup will be a winner.
“He [Andrae] said you have to get the fingertip feeling,” Bilo told me. “You have to address a pain point so you can say, ‘That is something I would invest in.’ There is no matrix. That was the biggest lesson.”
Bilo gets to use the lesson everyday because of his role at co-pace.
The first project from co-pace, which was formed in 2017, was an internal competition that resulted in 420 entrepreneurial concepts from a pool of 32,000 Continental employees.
Three of the ideas -- an intelligent light switch, a smart door lock, and an electric drive for wheelchairs -- were picked for further development in Munich.
I asked Bilo whether he was disappointed that none of the ideas has a direct benefit to Continental’s automotive business.
“We probably shouldn’t be as open as were where this time,” Bilo said. “On the other hand, we wanted to do it this way because it was the first time and we wanted to see the potential.”
He said Continental still has to decide whether it will be more specific in its next request to employees for their cutting-edge ideas. It would make a lot more sense to Continental if those ideas could provide it with new, innovative ways to earn money.