Agile Strategy Lab at NJII looks cool. What’s inside may be even cooler

Tom Bartiromo, chief innovation officer, Agile Strategy Lab, New Jersey Innovation Institute. – New Jersey Innovation Institute

When the New Jersey Innovation Institute opened the $7 million Agile Strategy Lab last spring, NJII CEO and President Donald Sebastian said the lab was expressly designed to bring together industry, academia and government to find technical solutions to the grand challenges we all share.

“Collaboration is jet fuel for innovation,” he said.

The building, the former home of Newark Central High, sits on the edge of the New Jersey Institute of Technology campus, with the east end looking out at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Newark through a must-stop-to-look two-story glass wall.

The building forms a 14,000-square-foot multipurpose area that includes executive offices, work stations, conference and break rooms. A key feature is its two-story open space that can be configured for a variety of formats to match the needs for collaboration and ideation exercises.

Six months after opening, ROI-NJ decided to catch up with Tom Bartiromo, its chief innovation officer.

ROI-NJ: Why should businesses care about innovation? If some said it was too expensive or time-consuming, with not enough return on investment, what would you say?

Tom Bartiromo: Innovation is a way to protect against business obsolescence. By capturing the innovative process within your organization, you are positioning your company to be a leader, regardless of the industry in which you operate. Whether you are a first mover, fast follower or slow follower, the theme of needing to innovate remains the same. If you are going to have your lunch eaten, it is best to do it yourself.

ROI: So, how is NJII furthering the innovative process?

TB: NJII works with companies to help them listen, collect, refine and act upon ideas that align with their priorities.

Innovation can mean different things. In many ways, it is taking concepts that may work in theory and distilling them so they mesh and work in real-world applications. We have developed a process that manages the flow of ideas that can help not only in making products, but also in improving business operations, while supporting a culture of innovation that in turn inspires an idea and innovation pipeline.

ROI: How do you define a culture of innovation?

TB: Innovation doesn’t happen on its own. If you truly want to innovate throughout your company and leverage the knowledge of employees, you must create a culture that encourages cooperation, rewards creativity and fosters a positive working environment that advances (research and development) capabilities. The focus should not be on controlling or creating a central repository for innovation, but rather on creating the conditions and structure that is a catalyst for innovation engagement across the entire corporation.

ROI: Let’s talk about Innovation-as-a-Service. How can the lab help its clients in this regard?

TB: Innovation-as-a-Service, or IaaS, is a cost-effective and time-saving solution supporting companies in accelerating their innovation capabilities. With nearly 90 years of health care operating experience on our team, we help manage the innovation process and turn creative ideas into products, solutions or capabilities.

Innovation-as-a-Service helps company leaders manage urgent versus important. The constant pull of operations, urgent, can make managing an innovation program the identifies opportunities, important, that much more challenging. NJII partners with companies to help them manage the flow of ideas through the organization, align organizational priorities and take action to deliver results.

ROI: We know health care innovation is a priority. How does that sector fit into what you are trying to accomplish?

TB: We anchor on four distinct areas of emphasis: ideation, simulation, education and research, and commercialization.

These areas can be engaged individually or in unison to create different value. This creates the conditions to go from idea, to prototype, to commercial solution and anywhere in between, depending on needs and priorities.

Health care has no shortage of challenges, and we believe that leveraging Innovation-as-a-Service to advance research and development and problem-solving is a critical component of creating and sustaining business value.

ROI: Was health care the inspiration for the Agile Strategies Lab?

TB: In a way, yes. When we examined the health care landscape, we saw so many great ideas that were simply languishing in project plans or surveys with no way of making an impact. Ideation-based services are used to improve problem solving and opportunity creation in a sustainable way.

We came together to establish a platform and methodologies to move these ideas from concept to production in a thoughtful, timely and effective way. That thought became the genesis of our Agile Strategies Lab and is responsible for everything that is in place today.

ROI: What impact do you think the lab can have on NJIT, Newark and New Jersey?

TB: The Agile Strategies Lab will further release the remarkable skills and talents of NJIT’s engineering students, faculty and staff, while at the same time helping NJII better engage our corporate partners.

For Newark, it means increased economic development and job creation in our backyard. The lab will also help bring more R&D capabilities supporting New Jersey-based companies to advance their competitive business objectives.