Laurent Dupraz: Taking a customer and business focused approach with corporate innovation

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Laurent Dupraz serves as the Director of Digital Innovation Services for the global scents and flavors powerhouse Firmenich in Geneva, Switzerland. Laurent began his career within the technology industry, driving complex infrastructures and application projects. His expanded role allowed him to liaise between the research and development group and the IT team. As the R&D team would create new ways to produce innovation, Laurent was tasked with finding technological solutions and implementing the ideas in practical, scalable methods. This background has led to his current role as Firmenich’s Director of Digital Innovation Services where he has created a human-centric approach to support each of the business teams. To achieve a corporate-level innovation transformation, Laurent created and implemented an innovation framework and devised methodology to support the organization’s digital transformation.

With an engineering background and an innovation mindset, it is no surprise Laurent’s team motto is “a strategic approach brings great ideas to market.” He is known to be a dynamic, motivational team leader and manages cross-functional and multi-national teams located in Geneva, the United States, China, and Spain. He welcomes complexity and thrives in discovering innovative ways to transform the industry. Laurent Dupraz is known for his action-oriented mindset, one making an industry impact.

VINAJ: You have an interesting background and experience in innovation. Tell us how you go into innovation?

LAURENT: I started as a network engineer and worked for 10 years in telecom. Then moved to Nestle creating a network of labs creating new technologies video conferencing and working with Cisco. This was challenging to start in a lab environment to test, pilot before scaling. Now it’s technology that you use at home. I had a budget of $1M in an interesting environment tinkering with cables, technologies to test so that the CEO could use it to communicate with 2,000-3,000 employees.

I joined the IS organization at Firmenich 14 years ago to be in charge of the infrastructure and managed the relationship between R&D and IS. I had a global team. I was excited to think about what bridges the R&D activities that have 10+ year horizon vs. the business which was short term. I started to learn about innovation and did a design thinking workshop which was not successful at first. Then we tried idea management and that was a great first experience. This was bringing a new mindset into Firmenich.

I created an innovation lab at Firmenich three years ago in Geneva. Now there are three digital labs – Geneva, Barcelona, and Princeton. I strongly believe that the connectivity between technology and use cases is critical… reverse engineering.

VINAJ: Provide a little bit of context about Firmenich and the innovation spirit historically?

LAURENT: Firmenich trenz walk - it’s a way to collect new trends. Every year Firmenich collects the color of the year and the smell of the year. Firmenich is well known in the industry for driving this. Last year the color was violet, and the taste of the year was fig.

Every department in Firmenich has an innovation group that focused on technologies. But my role is bringing a different aspect of innovation with a strong customer centered approach leveraging key methodologies.

VINAJ: Can you tell us more about how your role brings a “different aspect of innovation”?

LAURENT: I bring a customer-view to the thinking for the business through running workshops on design thinking, business model canvas, and lean startup. I bring creativity to the thinking process. The business units love it. My team also helps their partners prioritize and select solutions that are interesting.

Prototyping is a new focus, which is enabling our team to develop very quick prototypes within an hour. It has opened our minds on digitalization and inspiring with new tech VR, IoT, etc.

Through this approach, my team helps the business units be a key partner to their clients.

VINAJ: You mentioned using methodologies such as design thinking, Business Model Canvas and Lean Startup as an important part of the expertise and services you provide within Firmenich. How and why are these useful?

LAURENT: These are new ways to approach challenges with a customer-centric focus. These methodologies bring a lot of diversity, bringing people from different departments with different mindsets and perspectives and are a great enabler to tackle challenges. This has brought a lot of buzz for the innovation team with divisions asking for more.

Methodologies, however, are not enough. Governance is important. A lot of workshops were great, but nothing would happen afterwards. Now the focus is on taking the ideas and incubating them.

We realized design thinking is a process and methodology helpful in understanding customer needs. Empathy interviews were really interesting and valuable. The Business Model Canvas became immediately clear that it is a great mechanism to answer key questions that are really important for the foundation of ideas.

VINAJ: What advice do you have for other corporate innovation groups?

LAURENT: Start small. Do not invest too much money in the beginning. Developing prototypes are easier, faster and cheaper today than it was in the past.

Learning techniques are very valuable for workshops, prototyping, incubation and governance. It’s important to do these three together. Again, start small and grow it.

Staying positive is really important. From the outside, innovation looks very sexy; but it’s a roller coast ride and a hard role in a large company. It requires a balance between pragmatic and results oriented while aspiring for change.

Some folks believe innovation is for fun. Other people provide operational projects that don’t lend themselves for innovation. The role of an innovation leader is to maintain a spirit that helps keep moving forward.

VINAJ: Any other thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

LAURENT: Networking is extremely important. Being open is important. You need to meet the right people at the right time. Don’t hesitate to share what you are doing while being humble at the same time. This includes exchanging with communities and other companies. Seeing best practices from other companies can be very inspiring; it helps identify opportunities within companies.

Finally, the size of the team is important… large coaching teams can be hard to manage. Staying small allows you to being nimble.