We’ve been interviewing some of the companies that have attended our Scaleup Summits.
Today, we’re interviewing Frank Levering, CTO of Geico Taiki-sha, who we met through our Open Innovation for Midsize companies program that we run with the support of the European Commission.

The goal of this program is to expose traditional mid sized companies to Open Innovation and help them to engage effectively with startups to drive innovation in their organizations.
We’ve provided a select group of mid-size companies with dedicated assessment and scouting, and then facilitated 1:1 meetings with innovative startups, in which Geico Taiki-sha was included.

In this interview, Frank shares with us his experience as a midcap searching inspiration and innovation partners with scaleups. Here’s a short transcription from the podcast.

Can you introduce yourself and Geico to start?

My name is Frank Levering, a Dutch citizen, even though I spent most of my professional life in Asia in companies (Singapore, Thailand, …) such as Microsoft, IDC, etc.. and now I work for Geico. Geico is an automotive industry company that builds paintshops, literally creating a building that is part of the manufacturing process for cars. The process of making a car can be separated into 4 parts. The third part of manufacturing a car is taking a car without any color and deliver it with the full color as desired by the customer.
We do this for the car brands (or OEMs) and we deliver an entire building. Then we hand over the key to the customer and they start to take care of their own manufacturing process.

As CTO I’m responsible for internal IT and using technology to offer unique Geico benefits and insights to customers.
We’re trying to anticipate what kind of flexibility they might need and deliver that to the max.
My personal ambition is to identify as many high value options from the Geico perspective that I can see, and try and identify those before the customers even thinks of them.
In short, optimising our existing capabilities and digitising them to create new benefits through technology.

Can you tell us more about your approach to innovation?

GEICO is significantly driven by engineers – and quite people-centric. Our idea of Innovation includes improving the work environment in every sense of the word.
It also covers mechanical solutions driven by ingenuity of internal teams.
And of course the full spectrum of digital improvements, both for internal and external purposes.

In our HQ, the building itself tries to convey this.
It has 3 different parts: the office, a pleasant work environment; the “garden of thoughts”, a huge service area for the state of mind & comfort of employees (restaurant, art exhibition, gym, library etc. We even host guest speakers unrelated to work, to enrich everyone’s mind). Once you pass through, you get to our innovation center.

It includes a full-sized display for customers to demonstrate our IP, latest inventions, improvements, customer scenarios…We try to help customers see what it would look like in their environment.
The smart paintshop is all about doing digital demos in a factory-like environment – although it doesn’t move in the usual production flow – but real size and functioning parts.

How does working with scaleups fit with this strategy?

We’re always looking for interesting developments in the market and translate that into a unique value or solution – preferably to a customer challenge that we already recognise.

We don’t really limit specifically what innovations we go after… unless there is a specific need that the business has already identified.

Industry 4.0 is a very important topic for us – and relatively new to our industry. There’s a wealth of innovation going on both from startups and corporates and we’re trying to maneuver this space unbiased, based on what we believe can offer unique value.

We get ideas from the market, integrate and deliver that into solutions.

How do you work with them?

We listen with great attention to what is their big idea – and identify in what direction we can move together. From then on, it becomes much more like simple project management: defining the right timing, right business model, right level of investment.. And we try to define a joint USP.

We always aim to generate a level of inspiration.Then you can look for this partner to be inspired with you and see how that can fit and reach an endpoint that leads to an actual solution by joint development.

What are the challenges you face when working with scaleups?

The best answer is “none”. We try to provide clarity from our end at every stage and identify what is the next action. The scaleup stage is a great fit for us.

How was your experience with the matchmaking?

Budapest matchmaking was so great, that we really wanted to join again in Milan.

We’ve engaged 5 of the partners we spoke to in a prolonged way – with 2 of them we’re very actively exploring, based on the big ideas we’ve had together. The other 3 are sort of on hold, essentially because we don’t have the bandwidth to run so many projects at the same time. If we could, all of them would probably be developing projects, as they were all very relevant companies.

Advice to corporations when working with startups?

Openness and directness seems to go really well with startups – the people on the other side of the table know what to expect – and when you manage expectations really well, you give the partner the ability to have the initiative to say “now I’m going to focus on something that is critical to my business right now but I’ll stand by and come back when it’s the right time to work together”.

When you have a partner that knows your status, capabilities, vision and has the time to formulate how they can be part of a solution in the future, it becomes a much more productive relationship.

Any last words for our listeners?

You’ll find a spark for a new idea pretty much anywhere, and this event was just that kind of place. In many stages as you move towards execution, you should keep an open mind to making small changes and adjustments – it might seem like a step back, but in hindsight it’ll save you a lot of time going in the wrong direction.

Thank you Frank!

If you’d like to know more about Mind the Bridge’s matchmaking activities, check out our Scaleup Summits or our reports on Open Innovation.

By Maroane Abdallaoui
Head of Scouting – Mind the Bridge