Listening to market demands is a key component for innovation, a process that, by definition, turns ideas into solutions to add value for customers. Kapil Kane, director of innovation at Intel China, learned this lesson on the field as the head of the company’s corporate startup accelerator GrowthX.

Kane recalled that the six-year-old accelerator was focused on developing projects involving robots or drones in the first few years. These things “seemed very cool” but they are “difficult to bring to the market in a timely fashion,” he said, addressing a half-full audience attending TechNode’s Emerge 2021 conference in Beijing on Friday.

Through talks with such Chinese clients as Alibaba and Tencent, the US chipmaker gradually learned what kind of innovations are necessary from the users’ perspective. In some cases, changes made in response to customer demands would open a completely new market for the clients, he added.

Instead of going for the moon-shooting ideas, Kane and his team shifted their innovative approaches in pursuit of something they call “adjacent innovations.” “We don’t try to change or build a new thing. We try to use what we have and create new applications on top of that, which bring value to our customers in the industry,” he said.

Some believe big names like Intel have the edge in advancing innovations with abundant resources, financially or otherwise. Another cohort, led by Amazon’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, trusts that the nimbleness and flexibility in small teams are true propellers to unlock innovations.

An organization’s size doesn’t matter for Kane, however. Companies that aspire to encourage internal innovation should forge a platform or mechanism to facilitate idea flow and growth. “The key is to take that first step to get moving. And also to get some small wins step by step,” he said.

Co-working, as a relatively new working mode, has been linked with startups and entrepreneurship for allowing extensive cost savings and better opportunities for networking.

Sean Lim, general manager at real estate and co-working space operator TianRun Asset Management, takes a similar customer-concentric approach for running shared spaces, or modern hubs for startup and innovation culture. As space operators, it’s important to understand what are the challenges and requirements the startups face so as to support their development by creating an ecosystem that incorporates crucial factors, like funding opportunities, government support, and occasions to connect with similar-minded peers. 

Covid-19 has drastically changed the coworking industry, along with a series of businesses that are offline in nature. “It’s all about offline before the pandemic when everyone had a workstation”, said Lim. After the pandemic, companies are adopting a safer approach to utilizing space.

Since sales teams spend so much time outside the office anyway, many companies are thinking about moving them away from the office permanently to reduce staff density due to social distancing concerns. Some also are thinking about moving their R&D teams to more decentralized locations because of cost concerns. Others adopt a more hybrid approach, he explained.

Emma Lee

Emma Lee is Shanghai-based tech writer, covering startups and tech happenings in China and Asia in general. We are looking for stories related to tech and China. Reach her at lixin@technode.com.