Innovation in the midst of the downturn

In the run up to the holiday season I'd like to pause my usually curmudgeonly posts to strike a note of optimism. This week I was in Paris at LeWeb.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

In the run up to the holiday season I'd like to pause my usually curmudgeonly posts to strike a note of optimism. This week I was in Paris at LeWeb. Despite the crappy wifi, food shortage and heating problems over which the organizers had no control, the mood was generally upbeat. Heck even SAP Ventures people turned up. That was a surprise.

Here in Europe, innovation is alive and well with many startups prepared to put themselves under the spotlight. Even the VCs were prepared to admit that Europe has some of the smartest minds on the planet. Who else brought you http:// for instance than our very own Sir Tim Berners-Lee? Or Kazaa and then Skype other than Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom? Let's not forget my good friends (sic) in Walldorf, SAP or the Large Hadron Collider built by CERN. Enough chest thumping. But seriously...

Earlier today I see that Lloyds TSB, a British bank has created an internal innovation market:

Gardner [head of innovation] says the bank has had to put in controls to counter hyper inflation of the Bank bean, but conversely is encouraging insider trading since it makes people want to be on the inside so they can speculate successfully. As Gardner observes, to get on the inside you have to work on the team making the idea happen.

"The idea, we hope, is that with this coupling of ideation and innovation we'll make it possible to accelerate our pipeline of interesting things," he says. "Instead of being scale-limited with headcount constraints in the central innovation team, anyone can be an innovator."

I don't know whether they have gone for a packaged approach or DIY but that is of lesser importance than the fact that a bank no less is prepared to innovate to innovate. Elsewhere and in similar vein:

India's ICICI Bank is set to launch an interactive online service that aims to emulate the branch banking experience, complete with virtual staff.

For me, the really good news is that Chris Shipley is bringing back Innovate!Europe to Zaragoza Spain after a one year hiatus. Innovate!Europe will have a different format from the past with workshops leading up to the main event in May 2009 as a way of selecting and coaching competitors for the main event:

The new Innovate!Europe will begin with a series of complimentary Going Global workshops where entrepreneurs will compete while they sharpen their market position and strengthen their presentation skills with the help of Guidewire Group's renowned team of analysts who've heard and honed thousands of company pitches.

It's good to see Chris and her team re-inventing the format so that startups get more than a show at which to do the dog and pony  thing but also get sustained, real help. Too many startups fail because the pitch doesn't pass the 30 second elevator pitch when they could so easily do better. As an aside, this was the show where I first met an as yet unmonetized Mike Arrington for the first time. Aaah - how times have changed.

And now back to normal programming.

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