Ideawake’s Collaboration Tools Help Companies Identify, Solve Issues

In 1974, Arthur Fry, then a scientist at 3M, heard about a new type of glue his colleague Spencer Silver was developing. The adhesive was strong enough to make two things stick together, but weak enough for them to be easily pulled apart.

As the story goes, Fry had been using small paper scraps to mark pages in a book of hymns he read music from when singing with his church choir. After learning that Silver wanted to find real-world applications for his glue, Fry came up with the idea of applying a small amount of the adhesive to one side of a piece of paper. The result was 3M’s (NYSE: MMM) Post-it Notes, which are found today in millions of homes and offices across the globe, and have inspired digital look-alikes.

Fry and Silver’s collaboration more or less happened by chance, and of course it turned out to be fortuitous. Today, several businesses are marketing tools aimed at helping companies track, evaluate, and implement ideas for new products and initiatives. That can involve bringing people together—in a way similar to how Fry and Silver joined forces—and weighing the pros and cons of ideas in order to advance the ones deemed to have the highest potential.

One such company is Milwaukee-based Ideawake, which has developed software allowing employees at medium-sized to large organizations to suggest ideas, rate and critique them, and monitor progress on projects that stem from those ideas. Ideawake co-founder and CEO Coby Skonord says the startup’s digital tools are designed to be versatile; an organization that licenses Ideawake’s software can also solicit ideas and feedback from their customers, or any member of the public, he says.

Skonord says Ideawake markets its products to corporations with 500 or more employees.

“What these companies are looking to do is [bring] transformational change,” he says. “They know that change is going to come from the front lines. They need to involve more than just the board room in the innovation process, because the best ideas come from unlikely places.”

When large employers show that they listen to their rank-and-file workers, that can improve employee engagement throughout the organization, Skonord says.

Ideawake, which has nine employees, is currently seeking to raise a $750,000 seed funding round, Skonord says. The company has received investor commitments for about three-quarters of that total, he says.

Launched in 2013, Ideawake is seeking to make inroads in a sector that is not especially crowded. Still, there are other venture capital-backed companies that have gained more traction than the Milwaukee startup has thus far.

Ideawake’s head-on competitors include Brightidea, Idea Drop, and Spigit, Skonord says. Spigit, which is based in San Francisco, has raised tens of millions of dollars from investors since launching in 2005, including a $13 million funding round announced in 2015.

Skonord says he nevertheless sees an opportunity for Ideawake to get its software into the hands of more large organizations. The startup’s current roster of clients include Kennedys, a London-based law firm, and the Wisconsin-based garbage disposal maker InSinkErator, which is part of the appliance giant Emerson (NYSE: EMR).

Since ideas are sometimes new solutions to previously identified problems, Ideawake’s software allows users to post “challenges.” A challenge can be associated with a problem someone is experiencing, or a call for suggestions on how a team can meet a particular revenue growth or cost reduction goal on time, for example.

After a new challenge topic is posted to an organization’s Ideawake forum, other users can propose ideas to address it. (It’s also possible to bypass the challenge stage and post a new, out-of-the-blue idea, the company says.)

When sharing a challenge or idea for the first time, the user gives it a title and brief description, and can also estimate the impact he or she believes it will have on the company’s bottom line.

Users can share new topics company-wide, or target a specific team or group of departments. The next step is for co-workers—and people at client organizations, if the company authorizes it—to weigh in. Users can like (or “up-vote,” in Ideawake parlance) ideas, and comment on them. An organization with thousands of employees might have its executives review only the ideas that have gotten the most positive response, Ideawake says.

It’s possible to post a challenge or idea anonymously, according to company materials.

Ideawake has configured its software so that when someone comments on an idea, its originator receives an email notification—similar to how Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) can be set up to trigger alerts when someone likes or replies to your post.

Skonord says Ideawake projects its revenues will grow more than threefold from 2017 to 2018.

Ideawake was originally called Inventalator, and focused on “open innovation” by creating a digital forum where inventors could share concepts for new products, and allow others to comment on them. The company then made a shift, narrowing the scope of the software to address the wants and needs of a single organization. (Ideawake participated in the Wisconsin startup accelerator Gener8tor following the pivot and name change.)

Given its roots, Skonord says, his company’s tools are flexible, and “can be used just as easily for open innovation” as they can at companies that want only their employees to have access to their idea forum.

Big corporations have reaped major payoffs by welcoming comments from the community, as well as new ideas from the ranks of company employees.

The consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble (NYSE: PG) is known for its “Connect + Develop” program, in which it looks outside the company for help in improving its beauty, grooming, packaging, and cleaning products, among others.

Another large company that consistently appears at or near the top of innovation rankings is Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL). The Web search and advertising giant has for years encouraged employees to spend one day a week—or 20 percent of their working hours, across multiple days—working on side projects. (Some former Google employees have claimed the company doesn’t always practice what it has preached regarding the “20 percent time” rule.)

The trend is that companies want to get their employees more involved in thinking about the overall vision for, and direction of, the organization, Skonord says. As a result, more CEOs are encouraging their workers to step back from the minutiae of their day-to-day projects and think about the big picture, he says.

When someone has a “light bulb” moment, Ideawake wants to be the place where she goes to jot down the idea, and starts to build on it. Easier than circulating a Post-It Note, anyway.

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