“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” Steve Jobs

When we established Gate One, we did so with a desire to create a different type of consultancy with a genuine desire to make a difference on the things that make a difference’.  We embrace curiosity which fuels innovation and continuous improvement in all that we do. Our incubator model epitomises this and is underpinned by these enabled by the creativity and ambition of our team.

But by its very nature, innovation is risky and uncertain, and innovators often fail a number of times before they become successful. So the question became how do we foster a culture of innovation, attract people with an innovative mindset, and deliver new and inspiring solutions for our clients, while also managing risk and channelling our energy and activities in the right way?

Our solution, in part, is the Incubator model. As a fundamental pillar of Gate One, the stated goal of the Incubator is simply ‘to support the Gate One team in the creation, development and launch of successful start-up businesses’. These can take any form – product or service, niche or mass market, technical wizardry or old-world charm.

Why do we do it?

Google found their highest performing teams had a correspondingly high level of ‘psychological safety’ – a willingness and acceptance of sharing new ideas and asking questions, rather than hoarding or worrying about failure or rejection (http://bit.ly/1QvWkNh). The Incubator model encourages this openness, sharing and co-creation, in an environment where it’s ok to fail but the emphasis is on capturing and integrating learnings into future iterations and ideas.

This builds trust, engagement and an entrepreneurial but risk-aware mindset which transcends the Incubator, and directly influences performance on client projects. Specifically, the Incubator:

  • Allows our team a unique opportunity to exploit their creative, entrepreneurial talents
  • Provides wildly diverse opportunities for professional experience and development beyond consulting
  • Fosters a culture of entrepreneurial spirit and creativity in everything we do
  • Offers differentiated ownership/equity and reward/remuneration opportunities
  • Shows clients that we ‘practise what we preach’ in infusing a sense of entrepreneurial flair and pragmatism

How does it work?

As with many consulting concepts, the Incubator is best explained with a process flow diagram:

how does it work

How does this help us move from idea to reality?

We combine the structure and rigour of successful transformation programme delivery with the latest insights on ideation, innovation and entrepreneurship. Thinking from Paul Graham of start-up fund Y Combinator (http://bit.ly/218v4wc) informed the Constrained Problem Solving approach, with a focus on solving known issues and iterating these rather than trying to spontaneously produce complete solutions or business ideas from scratch.

Stemming from project delivery methodologies, the ‘Ideas Funnel’ then uses a gated approach to ensure increased support and funding levels are only made available to the right ideas, at the right time and at the right development stage. Market research, business planning and other due diligence tests and proves the concept before ideas are allowed to progress.

What makes a good idea?

We look for five key elements:

  • Solves a problem
  • Timing is right
  • No significant barriers to entry
  • Team excitement
  • Available experience
  • Constrained Problem Solving: Short, intensive brainstorming sessions combine consulting problem-solving skills with creative thinking, to generate new business ideas focused on solutions to common problems. Techniques such as divergent/convergent thinking help generate large numbers of ideas and then quickly down-select to those with potential.
  • Effective Team Working: We then collaborate to harness collective intellect and insight to sense-check, refine and develop these ideas into potential business opportunities.
  • The Ideas Funnel: A structured development and decision-making process, based on project delivery best practice ensures the potential of every idea is maximised, and only the best get through. The key focus is timing, identified by Bill Gross of Idealab as the number one factor in start-up success or failure (http://bit.ly/1oRp7pb). Our funnel ensures concepts are accelerated or decelerated to only launch when market conditions are right.

Does it work?

In short, yes. In 2015 we launched our first start-up, Oshun Café, run by Gate One’s Liane Holey, funded by the consultancy business and supported by our wider team. While ideas such as waterproof bum-bags and walking stick / selfie stick hybrids didn’t pass the various checks and balances throughout the process, Oshun was successfully launched to become London’s first acai berry café. Acai is a South American superfood, which Liane discovered when travelling in Brazil and was amazed to find wasn’t available in any great quality or quantity back home in London.

Oshun’s ethos is to provide a snack that’s both healthy and tasty. The brand was launched last year as a one-month pop-up café in Shoreditch to raise awareness and test market reaction. We are now preparing for phase two for the business – a wider launch as awareness of acai increases in London – and in the meantime continue to offer Oshun products as a corporate and private dining experience. Liane was recently approached by Hemsley & Hemsley to film a piece on acai for their upcoming TV cookery series, which reinforces that the time is now to capitalise on all the hard work which has gone into Oshun – so look out for our products on a shelf near you soon!

And what do our team get out of it? Mike Goulden, a Principal at Gate One, sums it up well:

The Incubator scheme has been one of the most refreshing professional experiences for Gate One’s team of seasoned management consultants. We’ve invested time away from our day jobs to develop ideas to tackle real-world problems – ranging from reinventing funerals to solving a shortage of showers for cyclists in central London – and are working together to get the funding we need to turn them into reality.