Ep. 281 - Jackie Miller, On Deck Corporate Innovation Fellowship Program Director on Building a Community of Peers To Navigate Change
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Jackie Miller, Program Director of the Corporate Innovation Fellowship at On Deck. She's also a former corporate innovator at Chobani and Chanel. Jackie and I talk about the ups and downs of corporate innovation and the benefits that a community of peers can bring to helping both startups and corporates navigate today's fast-paced world of change. Let's get started.
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Interview Transcript with Jackie Miller, Program Director of the Corporate Innovation Fellowship at On Deck
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Jackie Miller. She is the Program Director of Corporate Innovation Fellowship at On Deck. Which is an accelerator for startups and careers. Welcome to the show, Jackie.
Jackie Miller: Thanks, Brian. Happy to be here.
Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show to talk about this amazing On Deck Program focused on Corporate Innovation. You've got some heavy chops in corporate innovation yourself. I know a lot of our audience is familiar with the startup scene and what's going on in corporate innovation.
And they may have even heard about On Deck. Because I know over the last year on-deck has been putting on a variety of different accelerator types of programs. And now this move into corporate innovation. Maybe start off with telling us a little about what is On Deck?
Jackie Miller: Yeah, absolutely. I was really excited to discover it existed. To your point, like working in the corporate innovation space, you're always a few steps away or immersed in like the startup ecosystem and world.
But I think that what On Deck is doing is something really unique and special. On Deck was founded by Erik Torenberg. He was early, employee number one at Product Hunt. And later founded Village Global VC firm. So, really immersed in this space. And started On Deck or the vision for On Deck as a series of live dinners for founders, founders in between, people, ambitious people, thinking about their next move. And started with some like in-person IRL dinners that quickly kind of grew outside of San Francisco. And clearly was filling a need.
Then in the pandemic, really accelerated this community to become a virtual global one. Right? The idea that there was such demand for this leveling up. Finding your next thing. And connecting with the right people, and ideas. So that really created the On Deck momentum that has brought us to today.
It started with founders. A community for founders. And then quickly grew from there. So, we raised our Series A about a year ago, and now we have a startup accelerator. Yes. Which we announced recently. But we see ourselves as, like you said, as a career accelerator. So, there are programs for Chiefs of Staff, Product Managers, Designers, Marketers, Business Development, and now Corporate Innovation.
Sort of designed to help people, whether you're starting a company or joining a company or kind of growing an existing company. How do you level up? How do you connect with your peers? And how do you find the safe space for digging into some of those ideas? And this is exactly the kind of thing I think, as you and your listeners probably know, could add a ton of value to corporate innovators.
Brian Ardinger: I've followed On Deck from the beginning. Has a lot of different overlap with some of the audience as far as things that we talk about as trends. Whether it's no code or podcasts, or angel investing. And all these types of multitalented types of people that have this intersection of building things.
And so, when you came to me and said, hey, we've got this corporate innovation fellowship spinning up, what do you think of it? I'm super excited to be part of it. And why is there a need for a corporate innovation fellowship versus anything else that's out there?
Jackie Miller: You know, as you mentioned, I spent some time doing this at Chanel, spent the last few years in this space. And will probably be a surprise to no one that innovation in a corporate context can be really challenging. Right?
The idea that every time I talk to people in this space. Both my colleagues at the time and my peers at other orgs. You quickly kind of realized that what people were looking for was moral support. Like this is almost envisioned as a support group, right? Like-minded builders who are navigating the same internal politics. Sometimes it's such a relief to hear.
I was talking to someone the other day who described it as like, I feel like a unicorn in a forest. Find the other unicorns. Where they live and what they're doing. It's a really comforting and motivating, energizing feeling. And, you know, you mentioned following obviously the startup space.
There sometimes it feels like we're drowning in startups, right? There's so many out there, but finding really good, vetted enterprise ready startups and having mutually beneficial outcomes with them is really hard too. As we all know, there's a big cultural difference there. So, there's a need for a better interface between corporates and startups.
We know both sides want to work together. But more often than not, it's hard to integrate those two worlds. Which usually comes down to the very, not so sexy part of innovation. Which is really like internal processes, infrastructure, and governance. I've always found that it comes down to this and none of us are reinventing the wheel with how you strategize and plan around that. But it's really hard to know what works and where the roadblocks are.
And to your, you know, No Code mention on some of the other trends, I think all of this is intersecting around emerging tech. And like trends that are impacting brands. And, and why they even have to think about innovation. So, all of this to say, like there's a lot going on here. We're all facing the same challenges. Wanted to take down the innovation theater and buzzwords. And create a space for real talk about what's going on.
Brian Ardinger: I think the other trend that this is really hitting on is this whole move to education. You know, this changing trend of education. And like you said, career paths. You know, we talk a lot about this slash career or this portfolio career that people are having to embrace because change is happening so fast. And you used to be able to get a degree and continue your career for 20 years. And that'd be good.
But nowadays, everything's changing so fast. You need to have outlets to learn new skills and things along those lines. So that's another thing I really liked about what On Deck's doing is again, it's not focused on one particular thing. Even though you do get the depth, but you'll also have the opportunity to see what else is out there and strengthen your skills in different ways. Let's dive into a little bit about what this particular program is all about. Who's it for? What's entailed. Things like that.
Jackie Miller: In terms of who's part of this community and who we're seeking to be part of the community, we're casting a pretty wide net with innovation, right? We're looking at people who are a little bit further along in their career. This is probably Director Level and above. People who have eight years, maybe more, of experience. They've been at this for a while.
And the title or duties could include everything from Innovation to Growth Strategy or Corporate Development. Labs, Venture, Transformation, the kind of Future of. You know, I joke that there's so many new titles in this space. My title at Chanel was Head Innovation Catalyst. It's a lot of innovation within innovation.
So, we're casting a pretty wide net. But the personas essentially are anyone who is an active practitioner in innovation. Which I think is an important distinction. There's a lot of service providers and other folks that are part of the ecosystem, who are great, and we want to work with, but for starters, we want to focus on those innovators who are actively in these roles at large companies or organizations.
And the three personas that we think they fall into are the culture and capabilities, which is that internal building, internal focused approach. And building and incubating new ideas, businesses, and ventures. And then lastly that investing in and acquiring more of your Corp Dev venture kind of side of things.
So, it's a pretty big umbrella. Sometimes as you probably know and have seen like one person is all three of those things, depending on like the structure of any given innovation practice. So, we recognize that it's broad. And there's a lot of variety there. We want to have lots of opportunities to bring those people together. But also segment and do some really curated sessions and content for different ones.
But I think beyond just those types of folks in those types of roles. What's important to us is, you know, I mentioned that innovation theater and avoiding the innovation theater trap, is people who really have a mandate to build and scale their innovation projects. Especially with startups. And I think that's part of the value of the On Deck community.
People who are really tasked with that. They have the budget. And the time and the mandate to do that. That's where we think we can have the most impact. And, you know, Spirit of Service is one of our core values. It's yes. It's about learning, achieving your goals, and growing and making progress, in your own career, but that's only possible in a community like this when you can support. There's a lot of peer-to-peer support, learning, exchange. So that kind of Spirit of Service and bringing things to the community, will be a key filter too.
Brian Ardinger: That's pretty exciting, because again, I've looked around and I haven't seen a lot of frameworks out there that really do approach and have that Inside Outside approach. I've seen a lot of people focused on internal innovation. And how do you do design thinking inside of a company, things like that. I've seen that these corporate venture sides where you're talking about investing in startups.
But very few really understand that the value of having that cross-politization between the ties and the t-shirts or the tucked and the untucked. How I like to call them. Folks that I think you learn quite a bit by seeing that exploration side of starting something brand new and building it.
And then on the reverse side, you know, startups get a lot from understanding what it takes to scale. And exploit and execute on something that they built. So, I'm excited about seeing that overlap. With this, how much do you see the programming being around specifically working with startups versus internal building? Or talk a little bit about the program itself.
Jackie Miller: The programming itself is designed around these formats, right? It's very community driven learning. But it's about both group sessions and curated connection. So, we do a lot of facilitating that in the format of deep dives, panels.
Something I'm really excited about that. I like to call a template potluck. Where we all ask our fellows to bring to the table, a pitch deck, a project strategy, a budget, even of things that have worked. For you, scrubbed of sensitive details. And a way to kind of just share and see what others are working on.
Lots of like social opportunities to connect and access to our platforms. Right? So Slack and the Directory, which is almost like our own internal LinkedIn. As well as access to the sessions for all of our programs. Right? So, if our Chief of Staff program is doing a deep dive on Web Three. That's something we can tap into the expert network of On Deck to take part in. So, there's going to be a lot of different formats.
In terms of the topics themselves into your question of, you know, how we take the broad topics and the specific ones. I think that certainly we'll do deep dives on things around like Open Innovation, Internal Culture, and Building. And the kind of specific challenges of Venture Building and certainly Building Corporate Venture Practices.
But there will be some broader topics that I think are, they're the things that light up when I have conversations with different folks, at least. Like one of these is that when we touched on of like internal processes and structure of an innovation team. You know, how do you interact with the business units? How do you create good communication between all your stakeholders and get buy-in on what is often a huge challenge in this space? Or even the small bets, right.
Brian Ardinger: Like measuring if you're on the right track in the first place. That's a big one. Understanding the metrics around it.
Jackie Miller: Figuring out you're solving the right problem. Right. So I think those are things that are going to apply across the board. I think there's things like leadership, talent development, hiring, and when that should look like for the future of an innovation practice. That I think will apply across the board.
And there's the founder mindset. I really believe that corporate innovators are at their core, they're founders, right. They're just not pitching to venture capitalists. They're navigating a much more constrained universe of what success looks like. But there's a lot of the same skillset mindset that a founder needs.
And one other topic, I think that has been interesting to see across the board is sustainability, diversity, and inclusion are some of these big drivers of innovation right now. These are some of the core pain points or challenges that businesses have to solve.
So, there's this intersection with innovation, that's exciting to me that I've heard from different founding fellows from Starbucks and Nike, JP Morgan, Walmart, who have all raised similar challenges.
Brian Ardinger: And that's the other interesting part about it is because it's kind of industry agnostic. Like I think a lot of us can learn from what's happening in another industry and apply that to our own industry and vice versa. And so, I think that's a big strength to this type of program that you're pulling together as well.
Jackie Miller: I think that's huge. I mean, I really think that in innovation, we already get stuck in a bubble sometimes. In your own echo chamber of the buzzwords. But then we do that in our industries too. When I was at Chanel, I can't tell you how refreshing and inspirational it might be to have a conversation with Pepsi, for example, right. This idea that it doesn't always have to be your exact peer to get really interesting new ideas and new insights.
Brian Ardinger: When can people apply? When does it start? Some details around that.
Jackie Miller: We just announced this in January. So still excited to see those applications roll in. The program actually kicks off in mid-March. So, applications are open. The deadline to apply is February 27th. You'll be tagged as an Inside Outside applicant, so that we can fast track your application. Once people apply, some will be invited to interview. And then they'll receive an offer to join us when the program kicks off in mid-March.
Brian Ardinger: And you and I were talking earlier that you created a special URL for IO listeners. If they go to go.odci.io/podcast, they can apply via this link and get fast-tracked.
You've been in corporate innovation. And you were with Chobani, and I think you launched a successful accelerator for early-stage food and tech companies there. And most recently, like you said, you were at Chanel. What's some of the biggest mistakes or biggest learnings, maybe that you've learned by being in corporate innovation. Where have you stubbed your toe and where do you think you can help others not.
Jackie Miller: It's a great question. I think that my experience on the spectrum of, you know, different approaches to corporate innovation is one that I come back to time and again, right. This idea that innovators, people in corporate innovation should almost be in the position of making their roles obsolete.
Right. Like putting themselves out of a job, in a way. Which is maybe a little provocative. But what I mean by that is, you know, it shouldn't be siloed. And you can see very clearly, early on whether or not a program is going to be a program or a practice or a department. It's going to be successful, if it feels siloed and stuck on to the side, rather than truly a top-down initiative. And then there's top-down buy it.
And it doesn't mean, not to get into like the details of the corporate governance or anything than that. It's mostly about like the right stakeholders and the right communication line with the stakeholders, right. This idea that you need to be in between the business units on the ground and the leadership at the kind of strategy and priority and decision-making. And really navigate between those spaces. And it's easier to do that when you have that top down buy in.
My experience at Chobani. Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of Chobani, really prioritized the incubator program. It was important to him. It was extremely founder friendly. We didn't take equity. It was just something that was part of his personal values and mission. And that, you know, shows in how he got hundreds of employees, internally, to be involved and engaged and really scale up that program.
That kind of top-down buy-in makes a huge difference. And yeah, you need that combination of top down and grassroots impact, right? So, I think that not every corporate innovator has an influence over that kind of strategy and structure of that team. But those communication lines with leadership, are just as important as the structure itself.
Brian Ardinger: The fact that the practice of spinning up something brand new, or working with a startup, for example, that doesn't have it all figured out. It doesn't have the business model all ready to scale, is significantly different than what most people are typically working in, in an existing business. Where they know the business model. They know what they're supposed to be doing. Their job is to scale and execute and make that better.
Fundamentally, there's a lot of knows. Versus the world of startups, the world of innovation, where fundamentally it's all unknown at the start. And so how do you manage those expectations on both sides. Expectations from the people who are building that. Whether it's a startup itself or the internal team that's building up something from scratch. And then communicating that to the upper management, like timelines may be different. The measurements may be different. What you're looking for may be different. It's all very important because they are fundamentally different worlds to some extent.
Jackie Miller: I think that's right. When you're pitching something new, it's sort of like, I think that empathy is at the root of all like change. And innovation at its core is about change. You know, it's about problem solving and introducing new kind of ways of doing things. Put yourself in the shoes of that person hearing that pitch. Right.
And this idea that, of course there's a preconceived set of KPIs. And how we measure our projects and our initiatives. Really setting the stage and then making the case for exactly what you're saying of, okay. We're entering the unknown here. And introducing upfront the, these are going to be different metrics for success. And really defining. That really primes people to be more receptive to change. It can be a hard thing for them to process
Brian Ardinger: So, what do you see are the biggest opportunities for corporates who can do innovation well? Why should they be doubling down on this?
Jackie Miller: There's a lot of opportunities here. Right? And like a few things come to mind. Corporate innovation more often than not can be found in a cost center, right. This idea that, you know, how close are you to the business impact. To revenue. To building something new. I think that every corporate innovation team or program should have an eye towards that possibility.
I think there are certain things that absolutely should be separate and are about experimentation and are about learning. It's something important for any department within a company thinking about what's the long-term sustainability and scalability of what we're building here. That should be part of the discussion part of the conversation.
Another piece is interacting with emerging technology trends and startups. It's very easy for corporates to feel like it's a foreign language or that world is so far away. And I don't know what I could possibly do or how I could add value to that conversation or that exchange. I think corporate innovators really kind of understanding the value they bring to those exchanges. And how meaningful those exchanges with a startup or a founder can be even if we're talking about really big cultural differences.
If you really go in knowing, and sometimes the things you wouldn't expect are the things that are super valuable. I can't tell you how many times what a startup really needed from me as a representative of the big company was like an org chart Sherpa, right. Someone would tell me, how are things organized? Who does this? Who owns that?
And like, yes, ultimately that may be just who do I sell my thing to, but more often than not, it's about learning. What are the priorities? How are things organized? How are things structured and how do things get done? That is hugely valuable to a startup. And I think we oftentimes undersell the kind of knowledge and insight and support we can bring to startups. That goes beyond just the petting zoo. But is actually like here's some actionable information to help them achieve their goals.
Brian Ardinger: What are some of the trends and opportunities that you're seeing out there in the marketplace? Whether it's technology trends or things that people should be paying attention to in this space.
Jackie Miller: Part of the reason I was so excited to join the On Deck team, and you mentioned it upfront, about the work we were doing in no code. The fact that we are a fully remote company. Future of work is obviously a big topic when you look at like innovation culture and capabilities. And I think things like No Code, the idea that, and this is very challenging for large enterprises, where there are a lot of IT, data, infrastructure limit to what kind of tools you can use.
But there is something fundamentally innovative about cultivating the skillset and the knowledge to use tools like No Code tools. And we're talking about like an Air Table or a Notion, or some of these. And while yes, there are enterprise platform challenges. I really think that the trend here is it's also that like talent wants to learn how to put on their resume and talk about how they were able to build things.
They may not be coders. But they were able to build things themselves. Like that's what talent is looking for. That is what truly innovative projects come from, that kind of mindset and that kind of talent. Trying to find ways to create spaces.
You can do this with Microsoft. Like when I was at Chanel, we use Microsoft and there are all kinds of interesting analytics and automation tools that you can experiment with. You don't have to be expert level. But I think there's something there. And future of remote working, right. Every corporate is navigating hybrid or remote, and what that looks like.
These are new demands in the idea of innovative talent and the war for innovative talent. So, I think there's sort of a must have in terms of exploration, that are not necessarily suited immediately to the corporate environment. But I think it's something that corporate should definitely be thinking about.
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Brian Ardinger: Yeah. We've talked about that quite a bit. And how, if nothing else just being exposed to some of these tools gives you a different appreciation for the speed at which disruptors could come on board. Or other ways that you could change the dynamic within your company or outside. Thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing your experiences and that. If people want to find out more about you or the On Deck Program, what's the best way to do that?
Jackie Miller: The best way is to visit us at https://www.beondeck.com/corporate-innovation
Brian Ardinger: Well Jackie, thanks again for coming on. I'm excited to be a part of the Fellowship. I encourage people who are listening to check it out. Looking forward to having further conversations.
Jackie Miller: Thanks so much Brian.
Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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