The UAE is in the midst of a massive innovation push. The country has a national innovation strategy, is set to expand its annual innovation week into an innovation month, and was recently named one the world’s top 10 countries for community innovation.
It’s not just government pushing that innovation though. A number of private sector players also play in the innovation space.
One startup pushing the bounds of corporate innovation in the UAE is Innoway.
Founded in 2015 by Spanish duo Fran Lafuente and Jorge Castellote, the startup helps organizations improve their innovation results, but also works closely with startups to validate their business model and grow.
We recently got the chance to speak to Jorge about what inspired Innoway’s formation, its biggest wins to date, and why the UAE is ripe for an innovation explosion.
Engage Me: What inspired you to found Innoway?
Jorge Castellote: It was a combination of internal and external forces. Internally, after more than seven years of corporate consulting across EMEA, I realized I wanted a different challenge in my professional career, and wanted to do things differently.
Externally, the focus of the UAE on innovation to become a knowledge-based economy motivated me to be part of the change. Finally, the global economic transformation lead by companies such as Google, Apple, and Amazon was a wakeup call to embrace the new company practices: take risks, experiment, and leverage technology to disrupt their industries.
EM: You and your business partner Fran have both studied and worked around the globe. What made you decide on the UAE as a place to start your business?
JC: The UAE is a very dynamic place that offers many opportunities to people willing to work hard on pursuing their dreams. Over the past six years, I have witnessed bold movements and ambitious plans accomplished across the region. It is a dynamic environment that provides many opportunities, and we wanted to give it a try.
This combination of high ambition and ruthless execution made us realize it was a positive environment to start our own business, doing it our own way: inno-way.
Although I wouldn’t say it has been easy, so far we have managed to make our clients happy while growing our business. Also, as I mentioned previously, the country’s ambition to become a knowledge-based economy — with all the new initiatives around innovation — set the right path to “surf” the wave.
EM: What kind of approach does Innoway take when it comes to solving business challenges through innovation?
JC: We view the world as a big lab. We believe in the experimentation method, which considers everything as a hypothesis that needs to be validated (or invalidated) in the market. This means that if we want to innovate, we must “get out of the building” to test our ideas. We want to run away from academic exercises and focus on how we can test this idea fast, to validate or invalidate it, in a continuous learning loop. Nobody knows if that is going to work, only the market will tell. The faster you test your idea in the market, the faster you will make a decision to continue or discard.
EM: What have been some of Innoway’s biggest successes to date?
JC: At corporate level, we are very proud to have helped big UAE organizations, such as Dubai Chamber and ADNEC, on their innovation journey. We are also part of the business transformation of international companies, such as Philip Morris International.
In the startup space, we help many new teams validate their business ideas, and are very proud to be an early advisor (and investor) of a new and innovative startup that recently got backing from one of the largest accelerators in the world.
EM: Is the UAE doing well when it comes to innovation in business?
JC: I believe UAE is on the right track. We are seeing many efforts coming from different sources (public and private) and UAE has already proven its ability to execute. At the moment, the country is still in the early stages, looking for its own model, although evolving fast.
What I like about UAE is the ambition, the alignment of efforts and ruthless execution when the country decides on something. Also, the risk-taking, willingness to try new things, and lack of fear of failure, are what push innovation forward.
EM: How important has the UAE government’s focus on innovation been to Innoway’s work?
JC: So far it has been crucial, as we are all learning how to effectively move mindsets towards a knowledge-based economy. We feel that there’s an increasing appetite from public institutions to adopt innovative practices internally, and a willingness to embrace new ways of doing things.
On the other side, a major challenge is figuring out how to adopt methodologies from other places (in our case the lean startup, scientific methods and agile approaches) and adapt them to UAE’s reality. Again, we are results-driven and try to move away from “death by PowerPoint”, but it is not always easy. Sometimes it feels like a case of “three steps forward, one step back”.
EM: Where are you hoping to take the Innoway going forward?
JC: We want to consolidate ourselves as a reference for innovation in the Middle East, especially when it comes to applying scientific methods from the startup world. We do not consider ourselves a consulting practice. You could, however, say we want to bring together the consulting world with the way startups leverage technology.