Key Insights on the Challenges of Whitespace Innovation

by | May 29, 2024 | Blog

We recently sat down with three big-picture thinkers at Veranex to talk about whitespace innovation — its challenges, how we’ve seen it done successfully, and our unique approach. Read on to find out what Lisa Carmel, Greg Johnson, and Mike Susi have to say on the topic.

Lisa Carmel, EVP Strategic Partnerships

Q: What is your role at Veranex?

A: I lead our global strategy partnerships and the majority of conversations I have with innovation leaders involving whitespace innovation needs.

Q: There has been a slowdown in M&A activity across the medical device industry these past few years — how do you feel this is impacting innovation?  

A: Large strategics often acquire technology and shape their teams and competencies around it so that they can continue to iterate around that core technology. So when they start to consider whitespace, they either don’t have the teams internally, or those teams haven’t been set up yet. They likely don’t have a built-out team specifically for new innovation in a space they want to go after because they haven’t bought anything in that space yet or didn’t see anything they wanted to buy. The starting point is having a team. Conversely, there are companies that would like to have some sort of internal innovation accelerator, but they don’t have the foundational technology to build around, which forces them to think more about organic innovation. Because the technology can be so complex (involving AI, large capital equipment, wearables, across divisions, etc.), it can be a large investment to set up those internal teams to go innovate, which can lead to a need for external collaborative partners.

Q: How does Veranex help medical device companies explore new whitespace?

A: We bring curated subject matter expertise to the area a client wants to explore from initial strategy through the desired endpoint or full product development, if needed. We provide flexible options which best suit our client and collaboration, from curated teams to work alongside theirs or independently.

Lisa Carmel
EVP Strategic Partnerships

Greg Johnson
Director of Human-Centered Design

Greg Johnson, Director of Human-Centered Design

Q: What is your role at Veranex?

A: I help lead our Human Centered Industrial Design capability at Veranex . We specialize in developing informed, actionable and inspiring products for our clients and their customers. We are purpose built for the White Spaces.  That critical period between blue-sky to proof of concept requires an investment of experience, curiosity and capability.  Regardless of the size of the client we are committed to being that investment for the advancement of patients, practitioners, and our clients who serve them.

Q: You help lead design projects for some of the world’s largest medical device companies, why do you think it’s challenging for them to find and invest in new whitespace?

A: Larger companies are highly structured internally. No one owns whitespace on the inside. If you’re a project leader on a program, you’re in charge of that portfolio. If it doesn’t fit neatly into a company’s franchises or business units, it’s a challenge. With innovation, they’re considering a dollar amount, how disruptive or impactful the technology is, and if it fits into their business units.

Q: Expand on that, how do you think company structure plays a role in new whitespace programs being successful?

A: The biggest problem and why larger companies are slower to innovate is because there’s no convenient place for these whitespace projects to land. Especially with innovation — it’s outside the realm of normal business units. The value has to be so compelling that it forces people to pay attention. If it’s a market-disrupting, high-capital win, why wouldn’t you be interested?

Q: How do you see your clients best using Veranex for this type of engagement?

A: Veranex can be an extension of their innovation team/project accelerator.  We understand the tech landscape, user needs, and know how to generate tech to fill those needs. We pull from our BioDesign process to accomplish this. The biggest hurdle is if there’s no one in the organization to catch golden ideas and own them. You need an internal champion for innovation. Sometimes facilitate whitespace innovation through co-development agreements. They invest X, we invest X. If it looks viable, we’ll set a milestone, and the client may purchase the whole kit and caboodle and carry the product through commercialization. That’s how I’ve seen it done most successfully before.

Mike Susi, SVP Product Development

Q: What is your role at Veranex?

A: I lead our product development group at Veranex.  

Q: What is your team’s philosophy on whitespace innovation?

A: There’s this book called Lateral Thinking. In it, the author argues that creativity is not a talent that you have or don’t have, but a set of skills that you hone through practice. There’s this thing called a “creative pause” which is recognizing when is the right time to ask, “Is this a good spot to introduce some innovation into what we’re doing?” Some things are set and don’t need innovation, but it’s important to know when there’s an opportunity to try something a different way. You can know a space so well — e.g. driving to work 200 times a year, taking the same route. It works just fine, but you may not recognize there’s an opportunity to take a shorter, more scenic, or less busy route unless you pause and do some research. There’s being creative once someone has told you to, and there’s knowing when is the right time to consider being creative — looking at a business, segment, group, or product, even if it’s doing fine on the market. You also need to be careful of taking a reactive approach. “The competitor’s product has more features!” You need to be thoughtful and use informed innovation. The low-hanging fruit isn’t always the best opportunity.

Q: Why do you feel larger companies struggle with whitespace innovation when they often have the most resources to spend on it?

A: Innovation is harder the bigger you are because you’re encouraged by investors to be risk adverse. They want reliable returns and the least risky way to do innovation is to acquire. For a while the answer was to acquire innovation firms, but that’s a tricky formula in my opinion because you acquire these firms, then implement your own structure and process and crush the innovation from them. Someone from the outside who is not encumbered by a certain process can approach a project with fresh eyes and find opportunities for innovation, then drive the process. Often, internal resources are tied up on stuff they already do — projects that are running, products that are in manufacturing, etc. There usually isn’t a whole separate team that’s working on whitespace innovation and they’re not about to spend the next year hiring and training a whole new team with the right expertise.

Q: For organizations without the right internal resources, how can they best explore new whitespace?

A: They can outsource that to an organization with a proven track record in this area like Veranex. We’re a machine when it comes to running an innovation process because we work on 50+ projects per year. We’re more likely to have 10–20 people that can be deployed on a project strategically because we’re more agile.

Thanks to our Research, Design and Human Factors team, we’re able to uncover new pathways to innovation with user-generated research. We observe with a completely open mind and don’t come in with a set list of questions. This ties to articulated vs. unarticulated needs — how do you make the best version of a product that creates the right experience and is safe, effective, confidence-inspiring, cheaper, and faster?

 

Mike Susi
SVP Product Development

Ready to talk whitespace?