Establish an environment to allow ideas to grow within a company. An incubator gives support for a new idea. Universities, notably Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, have used this method to transition ideas from academia to the commercial market. Corporations can do the same to foster innovation by providing incubation for ideas from any employee. This will best take advantage of the collective knowledge of an organization.
Ideas have difficulty getting visibility of senior management, and employees do not have a place to test them. Additionally, ideas need time to develop. Firms are missing opportunities for innovation because ideas fail to get recognized and develop.
Establish an incubation center where ideas can be tested and explored. Ideas are submitted for peer review and allowed to enter the incubator. The employee follows the idea and works on it without distraction from management. Once accepted to the incubator, the employee leaves behind his old job responsibilities.
This is different from a venture capital arm which invests in external firms because an incubation center focuses on ideas from within the organization. Also, an incubator is different from a new business/new product division because the incubator is isolated from existing corporate structure and hierarchy.
The incubation center is just the infrastructure to test ideas. It can be office space and/or lab space. It must, however, be separate from other facilities at the company to maintain its separation from the company’s existing structure.
Ideas can be submitted from any employee. All ideas are posted on an internal website and ranked by the rest of employees in the firm. The top 5 or 10 ideas are then selected and each originator is given a budget to go off and develop the idea. Mentors from within the company can provide guidance and support but mostly the ideas are left to the originator to develop and grow.
Have the CTO select an idea or two from within the organization and allow the originator to set up a way to test and develop the idea. On a small scale, this could be an inexpensive project. Check the results after a few months and see how progress has gone. Once a basic framework is set for the incubator, expand it to admit more ideas.