Temple Review: why big companies still lead innovation and how that’s changing

How large technology companies still lead innovation in the world is the focus of a freelance story I wrote for Temple Review, the alumni magazine of Temple University.

Read the story here or download the PDF here, on page 24.

An earlier nut graf: Innovation has been seen as strictly in the purview of tiny, agile startups, taking an idea and bringing it to market. But as the speed of new technologies continues to quicken, the need for large businesses to help bring products to market becomes even greater. So big corporations are not only playing a remarkably underplayed role in innovation, they are also innovating in how they change the world altogether.

Give it a read and then check some of the extras from my interviews that didn’t make it into the piece.

Munir Mandviwalla

  • Founding chairman of Fox’s Management InformationSystems Department
  • ‘Small businesses may be the inventor or the conceiver or even who brings that innovation to the initial market, but you really need the larger firm to actually see these innovations through
  • LiquidHub is also a company that is letting IT lead. Campbell’s is heavily outsourced IT, while Merck has very high internal IT, but both focused on innovation.
  • “We have this herd mentality of chasing the next great startup that will save the world,” Munir says. “We just believe it’s true, but we need a network of big players to make it happen globally.”
  • “In corporate culture of the 80s and 90s, you’d say, ‘if you buy IBM, you cannot get fired,’ because there was such a movement with conservatism and IBM was that safe choice that would work and was no risk and did not really show innovation.
  • “Really, the largest part of success with innovation in technology has to do with standardization. When there is too much standardization, you find new innovation, but to really grow that innovation to start, a company needs distribution power that startups or other small companies just don’t have.
  • “There is a fortuitous relationship between small and large firms. Large firms have these tools to create success and small firms don’t have much to lose so they will bring new products, but in technology, they usually cannot grow themselves. They have to die or be acquired or have their idea stolen altogether, for it to really succeed.”
  • Using the technology of Mosaic, a University of Illinois project that is called the first popular graphical web browser, Microsoft developed Internet Explorer and began packaging it with its Windows operating system. “Without Microsoft, the Internet and the browser would not be as ubiquitous as it is today. Despite the power of that technology, it took the explosion of what became a large company to truly spread that innovation to non-technical types.”
  • “Cisco really did most of its innovation through acquisition.
  • “But now, innovation is a hot word for old boring corporate America, and they’re serious about it because if they think it’s just a fad, they’ll never survive.”
  • “A lot of companies want to sit on their asses, and wait for good things to come around. During the financial boom, it was much easier to finance innovation acquisition.”
  • “You look at the creation of the Internet and find large, somewhat bureaucratic organizations really fuel that innovation, something like HTTP protocol needed to come from a force that was something like a large company to create standardization.”


  • “It’s always interesting to make something from nothing. The larger companies provide a platform for when that technology becomes adopted.”
  • “When you look at how quickly the country adopted radio, then TV, then the internet and now social networking, you see the role for the big company to provide market acceptance or infrastructure for all of those.”
  • “We’ve had products sit in our vault and now we want to just take the intellectual property and package a solution when it fits a demand.”
  • “Microsoft is moving to a cloud model. If you’re a big software company, you have to wondering how do you charge. The business models of the last five years are going to change like they did before then. We have to be excited to take risk.”
  • “Big companies are becoming more flexible because they have to be.


  • Mattiazzi, who relocated to King of Prussia in 2006 to launch Ci&T’s North American headquarters,
  • Leonardo Mattiazzi, ’09, VP of International Business at Ci&T, helped oversee the product get to market. 37 [Feb. 8, 1974], 14 years with Ci&T, moved from Brazil in 2006. summer 2009 MBA graduate
  • Ci&T has 1,100 employees but now 35 percent of revenue comes from North America. It’s a progressive, young company that relies mostly on a client basis of big corporations. It’s core business is developing tools and applications for large companies, like Johnson and Johnson and Coca Cola.
  • “People focus on smaller startups because it’s sexier. It’s that simple. People love the idea of an entrepreneur taking an idea and creating something new. It’s a story worth telling. Everyone wants that person to be successful, we can relate to that as an individual.”
  • Also, when you’re a smaller company, you’re usually identified with one product, so it’s easier for people to identify with your innovation. Walk into a supermarket and you’ll find Johnson and Johnson products everywhere, with innovation behind many of them, but it doesn’t feel innovative.
  • “In order to really disrupt the market, an established company needs to take precautions because it’s often not beneficial to their core business. Their resources are assigned to their primary businesses, not creating new ones. Something new needing investment and resources is very tricky.”
  • It’s somewhat slower pace of things because these big companies need to get their returns.
  • These companies can also create things that are disruptive, but it’s difficult because it’s dangerous to what they have established.
  • Big companies have more resources, more experiences and they have a process in place to get to market. You may be very bright but some things require a lot of equipment or expertise or direction. One thing is for sure, innovating requires a lot of trial and error and a smaller company or individual may not be able to experiment in the way a bigger partner can.”
  • “A technology startup today is very inexpensive, creating an online product or a mobile app is very cheap today. There is the cloud, open source software, not much need for infrastructure.
    It can happen very quick, but not everything is online or a mobile device. When you look at physical products, like GE or Johnson and Johnson, things that need to be manufctured involves cost. Bigger companies are better prepared than some.
  • “I think we’ll see a lot more small companies coming up in new places. There will always be big companies doing innovation, one way or another. Today it’s really expensive technology startup and this happens cheaper and cheaper. The barriers are lower, and they will be even lower in the future. that helps us as individuals.
  • “Innovation has been centered in particular places, like the United States, a center of technology and other innovation, particularly in Silicon Valley and happening in other places, like Boston, D.C. and Philly. Now that other countries are becoming more and more important in the world economy, you’ll see this huge population that will have access to what they didn’t have in the past.
  • Other countries that are becoming more important in the world economy, well, historically, they had a lack of capital, so people came to the U.S. Now these other countries are developing their own capital markets. It’s a huge opportunity for investors in the U.S., Europe and Japan to work with new places. It’ll be more decentralized.
  • I don’t think that means that China will be the center of innovation. I think it’ll be across the world in lots of different places, and large companies have global experience. If a big company can apply ideas across borders, be a ‘cross-pollinator of innovation,’ well, they’ll do well.
  • P&G has created products for rural China and India. Who else can do that? Not many smaller companies, when it comes to research, design and distribution.
  • It’s one thing to distribute your new improved detergent in the U.S. through Wal-Mart and Target when they are a few blocks apart, but someplace in China, there not might be a paved road. What do you do then?
  • How did Fox prepare you for your work? Other than the beer Happy Hours?
  • “I had a lot of practical learning, but I needed the theoretical foundation for my work. Fox offers a lot of both.”
  • Below check the preview of the Runens mobile app from Ci&T I mentioned in my lede and read from one of the developers or the TechCrunch coverage.
  • I put roughly an hour and half for email, nearly that long for interviews, three hours for notes and a first draft and a bit more than an hour for finalizing, with another hour for filling new paperwork.