What Does Corporate Innovation Mean In Our Post-Pandemic World?

A walk around Inspire Brands’ Innovation Hub in Sandy Springs is a uniquely tasty experience.

The center opened in 2021 as a way to test out new technologies that could ultimately end up at various franchise locations across the country.

Some of those technologies you’ll be able to experience firsthand soon; like the heated lockers for pickup orders or new cooking methods for your favorite menu item. Other innovations are behind the counter and focus on “operational efficiencies and team-member engagement,” vans nelsonInspire Brands’ Vice President of Restaurant Profitability, Efficiency & Innovation, told Hypepotamus during the tour.

On the Westside of town, Alliance Kitchen recently opened as a new type of “ghost kitchen” for those hankering for food from under the Inspire Brands’ umbrella restaurants while using a more convenient delivery method.

Both of these new spaces, opened since the pandemic started, highlight a new phase in corporate innovation for Inspire Brands. And it also showcases how corporate innovation as a whole has shifted focus over the last several years.

Corporate innovation was a buzzword in Atlanta several years ago as Fortune 500s looked for ways to speed up digital transformation efforts. 40 companies built out physical spaces outside of their traditional offices to focus on such innovation.

Previously, those innovation hubs looked to be at the “center” of the action. That was good news for places like Tech Square and the Midtown neighborhood, which the Metro Atlanta Chamber reports housed 23 of those 40 centers.

But post-COVID? While several physical spaces have closed their doors or reduced staff, companies have become even more hyperfocused on experiential innovation.

Nelson said Inspire Brands is looking to create better experiences for franchise owners and staff members at each restaurant. And that is no easy feat as physical restaurants navigate supply chain issues, staffing shortages, and changing wage demands.

It’s a slightly different story for manufacturing giant Georgia Pacific. With product innovation buildings across the Metro Atlanta area, the team has spent the last five years building out The GP Ventures team to bridge the gap between internal businesses and the startup and venture capital ecosystem. Key to that was the creation of a partnership with Engage, an innovation platform and investor community connecting corporations with startups.

That partnership with Engage helped “bring an entrepreneurial mindset into the overall company,” said Grant Culbertsonwho runs Corporate Venture Business Development for the company. “We needed a new criteria [for partnerships] that wasn’t just about the balance sheet.”

Georgia Pacific’s connection with Engage has recently helped the company navigate what it said was its biggest post-COVID pain point: tapping into new talent pools. Specifically, Culberston highlighted that Engage portfolio The Mom Project as being critical to bringing new talent into the company during stressful hiring times.

Engage itself has added several new corporate partners over the last two years, including Wellstar and Inspire Brands itself.

It has also added several unique startups in the HR and workforce development technology space. Could that help us better understand what the next chapter of corporate innovation looks like for the city?

Corporate innovation started as a buzzword for companies looking to plug into high-tech or deep-tech startups. But the next chapter of corporate innovation might just be more about workforce development, the hiring process, workplace engagement, and improving overall corporate culture. And that is something agile startups can definitely help larger corporations understand and build up…and a pain point more tech startups are specifically solving for.

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