The sky is the limit at INFINITI Lab

Darren Plested is Head of Business Development & Lab, at INFINITI, the luxury brand for cars, with powerful elegant design, technological power and performance, and in-car connectivity.

Darren

INFINITI has recently opened the INFINITI LAB, dedicated to “world’s boldest innovators as they work to advance our lives”. Darren gives us an hand to explore the LAB.

1) Hi Darren,  would you tell us about the mission of the INFINITI LAB? Is this mission aiming at solving a specific expectation at INFINITI, like opening your innovation endeavor to external ideas, and startups, or enhancing INFINITI branding?

[DP] INFINITI is driven to ‘Empower the Drive’ both on the road and in life.  We recognize that historical success is not enough in today’s rapidly changing landscape and we need to continuously be looking forward for the next innovative idea.

We’ve historically been a world innovation leader with numerous world first technologies in our cars that have come from internal R&D, but we created INFINITI Lab 3 years ago with the aim of empowering the worlds entrepreneurs to be the best they can be, and tapping into this external world of innovation to accelerating our innovation drive even further.

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2) Could you introduce us to the 4 programs you’re offering to entrepreneurs?

[DP] INFINITI offers 4 programs to startups, and entrepreneurs:

  1. Ideate – Experience start-up life over 54 hours to kick-start your journey to entrepreneurship;
  2. Validate – The fastest way to evolve your early stage start-up to take flight over 4-6 weeks;
  3. Elevate – Take your start-up to the next level with the full support of INFINITI Global HQ in Hong Kong in a 3 month program;
  4. Integrate – Join forces with INFINITI to develop pioneering business solutions and achieve global scale over 8 weeks;

 

Infiniti Lab Programs

3) What are the main areas of interest of each program?

Retail, Social Innovation, Smart Cities, Women in Tech are some topics of the past Startups Week-Ends: are you focusing on specific thematic areas for the future?

[DP] Our themes change and evolve with demand and need.  We align the needs of our internal corporate strategy and key trends we see evolving in the market and find consensus in what’s we feel is both important and urgent in delivering short to mid term value for both INFINITI and the world at large.

Regarding the part of the program where startups will work with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, you mention enhancing the customer journey: what are your next areas of interest?

[DP] We just completed a 6 week Validate program in Toronto focused on ‘Smart Cities & IOT’ and our next program will be our 3 month Elevate program in Hong Kong beginning in Sept. themed ‘Premium Connected Mobility’.

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Infiniti is part of the Alliance Group together with Nissan, Renault & Mitsubishi, which together is the largest Automaker in the world.  In Jan of this year the Alliance created a $1billion Alliance Ventures fund that will be investing in start-ups over the next 5 years.  We align closely with Alliance Ventures and together we have identified 5 key areas of focus for the immediate future: Autonomous Drive, Electric Vehicles, Connectivity, New Mobility and Enterprise 2.0.

Finally, regarding the Integration stream, is Smart Mobility the recurrent topic?

[DP] Yes Smart Mobility is a current focus along with the 4 others mentioned above.

4) How are entrepreneurs selected to be part of the programs?

[DP] Start-ups are selected by a selection committee comprised of our Global executive mngt team, our local mngt teams in the host markets and our Alliance Ventures investment team.

How many seats are open?

[DP] We target to have 8-10 start-ups in each program.

Do you target external startups/entrepreneurs only, or do you plan to host also intrapreneurs, that is to say INFINITI employees?

[DP] Both.  In addition to the 4 programs mentioned above, we also have an Intrapreneurship program for our internal employees run independent of the external programs.

infiniti-lab-program-members.jpg.ximg.l_12_m.smart

5) How do you recruit your INFINITI mentors?

[DP] We initially recruited Mentors through a simple opt in email request and were surprised at the overwhelming interest to partake.  We now use a much more targeted approach where we focus on the specific needs of the start-up and match them with a Mentor with the highest level of expertise in that area with the aim of providing the start-up with the absolute maximum amount of value.   As an example, if the start-up is looking to scale and build sales volumes, we’ll match them our sales and/or marketing experts.

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6) There are LABs in Hong-Kong, Toronto, Dubai, and Singapore: what is your strategy of deployment? Are you mainly focused on Asia – a doorstep to China-? Are you trying to be close to startups, or close to INFINITI consumer markets? When do you open a LAB in Europe?

[DP] Our primary programs is our 3 month Elevate program which is hosted in Hong Kong next to our Global Head Quarters.  We operate ‘Satellite’ Labs in other global locations based primarily on the start-up ecosystem in those markets, as well as Infiniti’s presence there as we believe having our executive teams being involved in each program adds value to the Entrepreneurs involved.  We then select a winner from each of the satellite programs and invite them to join us at our Global Elevate program in HK.  We have plans to have future Labs in China, USA, Israel and Europe.

7)How will you transform the work completed in the LAB into tangible business for INFINITI? Is the pitch at the end of the Integration program the main connection with the core corporation? Have you one or two examples of startups positively impacting INFINITI business, or other exemplary case study that illustrate the benefit of the LAB?

[DP] I have responsibility for both the Infiniti Lab as well as a dedicated Business Development team that is focused on working with the start-ups selected for our programs to drive these innovative solutions into the business where it makes sense.

One example of this is with a great company called Visionaries 777 who is focused on cutting edge AR/VR solutions.  V777 came through our HK program in 2017 and together we created an AR/VR car configurator experience that was used to launch our all new QX50 at the LA Motorshow last Dec to great success!

Infiniti configurator.PNG

Another is with a company called Pantonium that came into our Singapore program with a very strong dynamic routing & planning optimization algorithm currently employed in the Non-Emergency Medical space, and during our program, co-developed a corporate car pooling solution that will be piloted in our North American offices in the coming months.

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8) No successful LAB without a great team, could you present your team, and its organization?

You can find our Lab team here :  https://www.infiniti.com/pursuing-potential/infiniti-lab.html

Infiniti Lab Team.PNG

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