When most people look at companies the size of Nationwide, Cardinal Health, and American Electric Power, they see vast organizations with deep pockets and an almost unlimited ability to take on any challenge. In reality, these companies often struggle with the same problems as their smaller brethren, just at scale.
Granted, most organizations on the Fortune 500 list can muster the resources for a Manhattan Project-like approach to problem solving if they so choose, but why reinvent the wheel? That is why seven of the country’s largest companies have created a problem-solving organization that will benefit all of them at once.
Called the Columbus Collaboratory, the goal of this independent company is to tackle problems common to all of the founding stakeholders and come up with solutions that can be shared among them and commercialized for the general marketplace. Along with the three companies mentioned above, the four other founding entities include L Brands (parent company of The Limited and Victoria’s Secret), Huntington Bank, Battelle, and Ohio Health.
The Collaboratory’s business model has four parts: learning, collaboration, exploration, and workforce development. It is funded with $28 million in seed money from the seven founding companies. When fully staffed, the Collaboratory expects to add about 100 jobs to the Columbus, Ohio, area, where it is headquartered.
The Collaboratory initially will be housed in Building 13 on Battelle’s downtown campus, in about 10,000 square feet adjacent to Battelle’s cyber security center.
Brad Ashbrook, vice president of Business Development at Battelle and the interim CEO of the Collaboratory, believes this approach to solving common problems among non-competing companies is unique.
“It’s essentially a cost-sharing center for the seven,” Ashbrook said. “We all have needs and we know how to commercialize products.”
Ashbrook stressed that the Collaboratory is not a proxy for any one of the founding entities but a wholly separate, for-profit entity designed, initially anyway, to deliver solutions based on the problems these companies face.
The Collaboratory will begin by focusing on big data analytics and cyber-security, because these are the two areas with the most need. Cyber-security concerns in particular are not unique to any one company. With big data, the idea will be to focus on areas of common interest, such as call center analytics and voice-to-text.
At this point, the hard work of getting a startup off the ground is ongoing, and over the next six months the Collaboratory will be narrowing the potential list of projects and proof of concepts to a short list on which to direct its focus.
“Although a bit oversimplified, you can think of it as a cyber-security and big data playground for companies to field ideas and solutions,” says Ashbrook. “Each company deals with data in a specific way for the industry. By pulling it all together one place, it gives them a fresh perspective.”
As solutions are found and proof of concepts are turned into working products, the company will begin to look for licensing opportunities – either with one of the founding members or on the private market.
While not the driving force behind the Collaboratory’s formation, attracting IBM’s Client Center for Advanced Analytics to Central Ohio last year was the group of seven’s first success. Ashbrook believes having IBM in Columbus will serve as a lynchpin for not only attracting new analytics and technology talent to the area, but also as a way to keep local talent from moving away.
“We looked at areas of high growth and interest, and one, data analytics, led to the IBM Analytics center landing here,” Mike Keller, Nationwide’s executive vice president and chief information officer, told The Columbus Dispatch. “But there were other elements that weren’t satisfied by the IBM center. So we made the decision to split the missions and create the new venture.”
Now a freelance writer, in a former, not-too-distant life, Allen Bernard was the managing editor of CIOUpdate.com and numerous other technology websites. Since 2000, Allen has written, assigned and edited thousands of articles that focus on intersection of technology and business. As well as content marketing and PR, he now writes for Data Informed.com, Ziff Davis B2B, CIO.com, the Economist Intelligence Unit and other high-quality publications. Originally from the Boston area, Allen now calls Columbus, Ohio, home. He can be reached at 614-937-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow him on Twitter at @allen_bernard1, on Google+ or on Linked In.