Dec 10, 2012 • By

The daily duties of an innovation entrepreneur

One of 10 Innovation Entrepreneurs (IEs) at General Mills in the U.S., Jenny Maack-Mcaab has the unique role of connecting the dots between the business needs of the divisions she supports – in Jenny’s case, our global snacks business – and the precise capabilities of myriad external companies we partner with through our open innovation platform, the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN).

For the past six years, our open innovation strategy has allowed us to enhance and accelerate our innovation efforts by facilitating partnerships with world-class innovators from outside of the company.

Beyond the buzzword, open innovation is above all else a resource for the company’s business teams.

To ensure that our business leaders are engaged and committed to tapping open innovation as one way to meet their business needs, an IE is dedicated to each of the major categories of food made by General Mills.

As Jenny knows well, success as an IE requires a delicate balance of maintaining and fostering internal and external connections.

She must be nimble, as no one day is the same when you’re working on 20 projects with 10 internal teams and 15 external partners at any given time.

We asked Jenny to provide a glimpse into her ever-changing world by journaling a “typical” work day.

As evidenced by the great variety of tasks chronicled below, it seems there’s actually no such thing as “typical” in a day-in-the-life of an IE.

Jenny’s journal of a recent work day:

8:30 – 8:45 a.m. – Call a co-packer to discuss product samples received and ensure all of the information I have is correct before meeting with the business team.

8:45 – 10:30 a.m. – Head to weekly meeting with other IEs to discuss external innovation approaches, share best practices and review training needs. One thing we discussed today was the structure for a new IE “Boot Camp” to help onboard new team members as they enter the program.

10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Attend business team meeting to review product samples and discuss next steps. Today, we taste a few options for a new type of savory snack that we’re considering launching next year. Yum!

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. – Have lunch with the IEs, share projects and activities in our respective areas. We try to stay connected with each other as much as possible, so we’re always learning from each other’s projects and experiences.

1:00 – 1:30 p.m. – Meet with External Supply Chain manager, who coordinates our day-to-day relationships with outside suppliers, to discuss upcoming projects and align on who the best partners are to connect with. In the pipeline, we have the opportunity to work with partner companies all across the country, from right here in Minnesota to Ohio to California.

1:30 – 2:00 p.m. – Review and respond to a recent novel submission that came through our G-WIN online portal. Ask submitter for further information before I present the opportunity to the business team.

2:00 – 2:15 p.m. – Book travel to head to an upcoming Innovation Conference with a fellow IE to learn from others’ approach in this space. Rhode Island, here we come!

2:15 – 2:30 p.m. – Run into a colleague in the hallway on the way to a meeting. He tells me about a new product he saw at a conference that may be interesting for the Snacks teams to check out.

2:30 – 3:30 p.m. – Connect with new products pipeline team for fruit snacks and discuss emerging needs to keep an eye out for potential partners.

3:30 – 4:30 p.m. – Discuss a current technical challenge we have in the grain snacks area with the Nature Valley team and decide that we’d like to engage an outside expert to gain additional perspective. Plan to discuss with the X-Squad, our centralized external innovation team, to find out where they recommend we look first.

4:30 – 5:30 p.m. – Wade through the slew of email messages that have amassed during the day and respond to the various teams’ needs. Can never seem to get caught up, but I try!

Successful snacks

As Jenny knows first-hand, when it comes to measuring the success of a company’s open innovation program, the proof is in the pudding … or in some cases, the brownies.

One recent open innovation project that Jenny played a part in facilitating was the development of Fiber One 90-Calorie Brownies.

In order to quickly bring the product to market, the Snacks team enlisted an open innovation partner with the baking experience and pilot plant facilities needed to test and perfect the baking process to their exact specifications.

That partnership saved an estimated nine to 12 months in terms of taking the product from concept to launch, and Fiber One 90-Calorie Brownies have already proven a terrific success, reaching more than $100 million in year-one retail sales.