What does an innovation agency do?
Innovation agencies typically provide a mix of the following services:
Strategic consulting: how to define and position innovation in an organization; from setting an innovation mission, to translating it into objectives and creating a supporting governance framework.
Business design: building and validating new products and business models; from ideation to the first prototypes in a variety of formats.
Coaching/training: uplevel innovation skills across the organization. This is usually a mix of training on design thinking, lean start-up, and agile.
Open innovation: supporting organizations in collaborating with an external ecosystem of partners; from start-ups and universities to established technology providers.
7 criteria for evaluating an innovation agency
Know which skills you are looking to add
Since innovation consultancy, like any other form of consultancy, comes down to the people you work with, make sure you know what kind of skills you are looking to add to your organization. Depending on the type of products and services you are looking for, you will need different profiles:
Strategic consulting: strategy consultants with a business background who understand how to navigate the corporate landscape.
Hands-on entrepreneurs: ideally you can find an agency that has a mix of entrepreneurs that have worked in fast-paced environments such as start-ups/scale-ups, combined with intrapreneurs that have a background in corporate innovation. This will allow you to bridge the gap between a great idea and an implemented one!
Coaching/training: consultants with a background in learning and development understand that innovation training is not an isolated event, but a long-term learning journey that someone in your organization goes through.
Open innovation: similar to the hands-on entrepreneurs, you want to look for profiles that have experience with open innovation from the start-up/scale up world. Ideally these profiles also have a technical background, allowing them to better assess potential partnerships coming out of the open innovation programs.
Offerings can vary, make sure you ask for use cases
Innovation is an official contender for the buzzword of the decade… It’s being used in increasingly many contexts, causing confusion around the actual meaning of the word. The ambiguity of the word makes it even more challenging to select the right innovation consultancy. Additionally, every consultancy has its own way of translating their services into generic innovation terms. So how do you make sure you are selecting the innovation partner with the right offering, when their offering does not align 1 to 1 with your definition of the word innovation?
- Go broad enough when launching your initial RFP
- Ask for use cases, to get an idea of approaches and wording
- Find out where in the innovation process the provider has most experience, and see if it aligns with your needs
3. Local understanding
Evaluating an innovation agency that has local market knowledge
4. Flexibility / room for ambiguity
Define clear deliverables but build in flexibility in the approach
5. (Adjacent) Industry experience
Select an innovation consultancy that understands your industry, but do not expect deep industry expertise
6. Way of working
Look for an innovation consultancy that has a flexible, hands-on, and collaborative way of working
Look for an innovation agency that wants to understand how solving the brief will impact the business
These criteria are not exhaustive, but are meant to serve as a source of inspiration when you are evaluating innovation agencies.
We are also very interested in hearing from your experiences what assessment criteria work(ed) best for your organisation. Let us know in the box below!