We’re amazed about some companies and people responding in creative ways to the current situation and pivoting their business models. This week we had a call with Charles Vaillant, CTO/CDO of Mann + Hummel about their efforts to conquer COVID-19.

In the last years we have helped their teams to innovate air and water filtration solutions to reposition themselves within new markets. We’ve used an agile and lean startup approach within several batches of the InCube program where small teams of intrapreneurs work for 6 months within an accelerator in the silicon valley and successfully launched several products (https://www.streametric.io, https://i-qlair.com/). Last week we decided to circle back with them to hear what they have learned in launching new products and services as a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve been particularly curious to hear about the impact of the current situation on the entrepreneurial culture InCube has helped to create. Charles compared the current work situation with that of the Apollo 13, when air pressure in the space shuttle dropped in an emergency which led to people innovate a solution within tight boundaries.

Here are the notes we took from the interview:

  • While time constraints were crucial for the InCube teams, current task force teams accelerated the phase from idea to launch by a factor of 10.
  • We’ve skipped customer discovery, pressing problems are evident and selected within minutes by the leadership team (need to filter triage area of temporary hospitals or not enough facemasks available), while being mindful of what problems are directly linked to the crisis and what may lead to sustaining innovation.
  • Our main advantage is just this: being human and wanting to help in crisis, people are hungry to join a task force team and are highly intrinsically motivated, plus they are able to leverage a good internal global network of entrepreneurs working together
  • The crisis suspends bureaucratic processes and makes space for high autonomy within the teams to create solutions, adding to the entrepreneurial culture and can-do attitude. The risk of failing is suddenly dwarfed by the risk of losing lives to the virus.
  • Before the crisis, Scrum and Agile was perceived as being slow and chaotic; now the use of agile tools like Trello for collaborative task management naturally fits into the workflow and is adopted widely. However we need to improve the timing commitments and delivery because we can’t afford a lot of sprints. Daily communication in a Standup is the only way keep high velocity, high communication and high commitment to deliver on time.


MANN+HUMMEL InCube Entrepreneurial Program

Predictive maintenance for membranes in wastewater systems 

Intelligent indoor air quality management 

Conditions for innovation illustrated using the story of Apollo 13