AB InBev innovation experts share their secrets to disrupting the status quo during a pandemic
True or False: A global pandemic is the perfect environment for innovation?
It’s true – we know this because we’re seeing it firsthand. Although the pandemic has disrupted nearly all aspects of life, the AB InBev Beer Garage and 100+ Accelerator haven’t missed a beat. Both teams are still exercising their start-up mindset while bringing tech-based innovations to life in a quick and scrappy way, with backing from AB InBev experience and resources.
“The pandemic has required all of us to adjust to a new normal – with new solutions, new habits and new ways of working,” said Maisie Devine, director of the 100+ Accelerator. “Because of this, nothing is off the table, making it the perfect time for disruptive, creative and new innovations.”
Creating more personal connections, stronger projects
Beer Garage is our tech innovation lab in the heart of Silicon Valley, responsible for seeding new capabilities using emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, computer vision and more. Among the teams’ big ideas in development are a messaging-based food and drink ordering platform to support restaurants, and tech-based solutions to increase full transparency across the AB InBev supply chain so that among other benefits, we can offer consumers better insights into how their beers were brewed and where our natural ingredients are grown.
True to form, when quarantine halted all travel, the Beer Garage was quick to reinvent its third annual summer incubator program, where 11 teams are vying to bring high-potential ideas into proof-of-concept technical products.
“The pandemic presented us with an opportunity to adapt in a lean way to circumstances around us; this is exactly what we encourage the participating teams in our program to do,” said Abi Abili, who leads the incubator program.
To go completely virtual, Beer Garage moved to a more robust project management platform and replaced in-person tours with virtual reality versions. The teams’ familiarity with the Zoom platform made for a seamless transition to online training, mentoring and workshops.
However, the team was concerned about building a strong sense of community among its participants, while at a distance. To help, new elements were added to the program, like lessons in home brewing and regular ‘happy hours’ where talking about work is not allowed, and candid conversations about timely topics, like outer space and global protests, are encouraged. ‘Community meals’ offer another way for people to virtually connect, discuss project challenges and have more meaningful conversations in smaller break-outs - much like they would during an in-person session.
“We’re seeing people really open up, and talk about their feelings and experiences like never before. It’s actually been great for engagement and ultimately it’s making our teams and projects stronger,” said Adi.
Staying connected and finding opportunity at a distance
Meanwhile, our 100+ Accelerator, already a virtual program, also upped contact with its start-ups and entrepreneurs, who are helping AB InBev reach our 2025 sustainability goals designed to positively impact communities and protect the natural resources essential to brewing beer. The latest cohort is developing solutions to challenges like water scarcity, recycling, renewable energy, repurposing brewing by-products and reducing the harmful use of alcohol.
The participants, who receive funding and guidance throughout the six-month program, are staying connected through regular virtual check-ins and workshops, and look to a ‘team captain’ to help them navigate the organization and fast-paced development process.
“Many people were skeptical about hosting creative workshops in a virtual environment,” says Carolina Garcia, Regional Sustainability Manager. “However, with the right pre-work our branding and iteration sessions have brought some amazing ideas to fruition.”
While the pandemic may have delayed its highest profile event - a ‘Global Demo Day’ where participants present their projects for further investment - the 100+ Accelerator continues to flourish in the new normal. Check out their tips for virtual innovation:
Make it personal: The 100+ Accelerator holds a monthly team meeting where the entire global cohort, spanning nearly every time zone, is brought together to share best practices, receive personalized advice and feedback from experts. The meetings create an intimate space for the teams to discuss their challenges and discover actionable solutions, while building relationships and future partnerships.
Bring in the experts: To keep participants engaged, learning and growing, the team hosts webinars with specialists in marketing, finance and sustainability, and weekly check-ins with team captains, mentors and AB InBev leaders.
Find great partners: The corporate innovation firm, Highline Beta, helps organize 100+ Accelerator programming, bringing in new experts and advice on topics such as fundraising and how to address investors, while managing the experience to maximize the value for start-ups.
Make the most of the situation: There are advantages to the fully virtual experience - like having more time for training on how to raise capital, and more interest and availability for VCs to meet with start-ups - likely due to a slightly less competitive landscape, as well as the fact that scheduling pitch meetings requires less time and no travel!