Inspiring Innovation: LG’s Mission for the Future
Inside LG’s Mission to Uncover Innovation
As a brand, LG’s name is synonymous with appliances, mobile phones, TVs and laptops. Behind this Korean conglomerate, LG’s tentacles extend far into many more verticals people may not even be aware of. More recently, LG has started focusing more time and resources on expanding their own innovation as well as helping other companies discover their own. After seeing all the craze over the LG NOVA Mission for the Future pitch challenge, I decided to sit down with Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, the SVP of Innovation and Head of LG NOVA, to learn more about this pitch challenge as well as LG’s specific mission and path to inspire and discover innovation. Read on to learn more about the challenge and LG aims to help other startups achieve their innovation goals.
Sibyl: Sokwoo, prior to joining LG, you worked as the Associate Director for Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) Innovation at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce, covering innovation programs for Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities. You also managed the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC), a U.S. federal government program, to develop a global ecosystem of major business and technology stakeholders to create replicable and scalable IoT/smart city projects. That must have been an exciting time to have a birds eye view of what was happening across so many cities around the country. What was the most valuable lesson you took away from your time working on that?
Sokwoo: That’s a great question. As you mentioned, it was a fascinating experience to work with over 200 cities across the globe.
There are so many cities around the world and many of them are working on smart city projects, but the pace of deployment is slower than desired. In my role at NIST, the question we looked at was: How can we expedite the deployment of smart city solutions to make a sustainable impact for all of us? When we look at each smart city project, every one of them seems unique, but if you have a chance to interact with over 200 cities and see their projects simultaneously, you realize many cities are actually trying to solve shared problems.
For example, virtually every large city has some kind of traffic management problem. Many cities have issues on effectively dealing with natural disasters. A lot of them have water quality issues.
To make it more interesting, I realized cities were very siloed and there was very little collaboration between cities and many of them were “reinventing the wheel” to address shared issues. For example, one city may have developed an interesting traffic management software platform to reduce the traffic jam, and at the same time, the other city might be developing a different solution to address the same problem. What is more interesting is that, when you see the solutions developed by different cities, they end up being largely similar because the problem was similar, hence “reinventing the wheel”. When I realized this, it was clear to me that smart city innovation should happen through collaboration, not in siloes.
Surely every city is unique and different, but the technical solutions to their problems do not need to be unique. That’s how I came up with the approach of first finding a solution by collaboration, and replicating it everywhere else. My philosophy that the best innovation comes from collaboration was formed through this experience. We’re trying to take this to the next level at LG NOVA, by working with many different groups to find new ways of innovation.
Sibyl: Overseeing the innovation initiatives for a company like LG has to be exciting. There must be so much you’re looking at. How would you describe LG’s approach to innovation? And separately, what motivated LG to kick off this pitch challenge at this point in time?
Sokwoo: There is a lot of innovation happening at LG. While LG is well known for our kitchen appliances, TVs, and other home consumer products, we are doing many other things. We have research labs in five locations across the globe, including an air, water and food lab and testing facilities. We’re in automotive, solar and other business solutions. We’re investing in reducing eWaste, the carbon footprint and building products for the next generation with an eye on eco-friendliness. Our innovation initiatives span across all of our business units.
LG NOVA was created because LG recognized that innovation through collaboration has the potential to yield greater results faster. Through the LG NOVA team, we’re marrying outside-in innovation with the work that we’re already doing internally to continue to grow the company and help it build products that improve the quality of life.
In some companies, you have this not built here mentality when it comes to innovation. That is not us. We’re excited to work with startups, not just to consider them for M&A, but to build something with them. That is the thesis of our challenge program. In the Mission for the Future challenge we’re opening up an application process for startups to pitch us their ideas. We then hope to select 50 companies from what I expect will be many excellent entries, and this is where we will get to work. In the six to nine months process, we’ll be right there with them to build out their proposal, test it in the market, and get our startups the resources they need to be successful. Our goal is to give them the opportunity to accelerate their idea into a viable business, with the support of LG resources and brand.
As a billion dollar business, we have a vast network of global resources and a strong brand that can help grow these businesses.
Sibyl: LG’s Mission for the Future challenge is very unique in the way it’s set up as it takes place in three different stages. In the first stage, you’ll select 50 startups to a program, the second stage you’ll narrow it down to 20 startups and give them a chance to work with LG and do a PoC and the third stage you’ll select 10 startups, giving them a potential business opportunity to work with LG and be granted significantly more resources and the potential for investment of millions of dollars. How did you come up with the idea to structure the pitch challenge this way?
Sokwoo: The Mission for the Future challenge is a unique approach. We’ve engineered this process because our goal isn’t just to find great ideas. Our goal is to create businesses. Good successful businesses are not created overnight. By extending the competition in these three stages, we’ll give these businesses the opportunity to work with experts and each other to test out their market thesis, not just on paper, but in real life. We’re creating opportunities to market test with the resources and support of a global company and our corporate partners. What this means for the startups is an accelerated path towards a viable business that might end up with LG acquiring the business, creating a joint venture, commercial partnership and agreement or something else that is a win for both LG and the startup team.
Sibyl: As one of the largest corporations from South Korea, LG has really grown in prominence and recognition all over the world particularly in smart home appliances and consumer electronics (TVs, tablets, computers etc). A decade from now, what do you think LG will be best known for?
Sokwoo: We will be known for what we are known for now, plus what we are doing at LG NOVA. We’re the company that is innovating for a better life. LG’s brand stands for Life’s Good. That is who we are as a company. We’re not only creating product solutions that improve quality of life, we’re doing the things as a company to make our collective future a better world. We have a strong commitment to creating products that have zero negative environmental impact — reducing our carbon emissions as a company in the production phase by 50% and completely transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
At LG NOVA, we’re working alongside the same principles. We want to focus on innovations that have an impact and improve how people live their daily lives. We want to support diverse communities and create equality with the products that we’re creating. We are exploring the areas where we feel that we can have that impact — healthcare, EV mobility, smart lifestyles and the metaverse. We want to partner with the startup communities to build this future world.
Sibyl: Sukwoo, thanks so much for taking time to connect and share your perspective. Best of luck with your Mission for the Future Challenge!
Companies interested in applying to LG NOVA Mission for the Future Challenge should submit applications before 11:59 PT on Monday, October 25th: https://missionforthefuture.lgnova.com/
Sibyl Chen is the Senior Director of Program at Berkeley SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s premier tech accelerator. Learn more at skydeck.berkeley.edu