Big companies wanting to shake up their business or launch a new product have increasingly turned to innovation consultancies, companies that can help them think outside the box and pick up a few startup-style tricks, in the last few years.

In fact, these innovation companies have become so popular that they are being snapped up by management consulting companies like McKinsey and Accenture, which have grown worried about their own business model.

But who are these innovation consultancies and what do they offer? Which of them are still independent?

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We’ve put together a handy guide for you here — and because innovation agencies speak mainly in inspirational quotes (all of them promising to transform, inspire, ignite something in a design and/or human-led way) we’ve done a bit of translating to tell you what they actually do.

If we have missed one please get in touch with [email protected] Also, if you have worked with one of these innovation agencies and would like to tell us about your experience please get in touch!

 

Who’s bought who

Acquired vs. independent

 

Details of the companies

 

IDEO

Founded: 1978, as David Kelley Design. In 1991, David Kelley, Bill Moggridge and Mike Nuttall merged their design companies into IDEO
Locations: Palo Alto, London, New York, Tokyo, Munich, San Francisco, Cambridge (MA), Chicago, Shanghai
What they say they do: “We create positive impact through design”
What that means: IDEO come up with new business ideas, they design services, products and experiences for customers and employees alike. They train teams in human-centred design thinking, they have their own venture studio and their own investment fund to invest in design-driven businesses. They have worked with companies like Ikea to come up with new concepts for the kitchen of the future, and in Peru, designed an entire school system from the ground up (Innova Schools)
Employees: 750
Acquired: by Kyu in 2016

Notable clients: Apple, IKEA, The Rockefeller Foundation, Planned Parenthood, City of Boston, Swarovski

Read the interview with Ideo partner Axel Unger: What working with Apple and Ikea taught Ideo about innovation

 

Frog

Founded: 1969
Locations: New York, Shanghai, San Francisco.
What they say they do: “We design exceptional digital and physical customer experiences to transform businesses at scale”
What that means: They come up with new business ideas and build prototypes for corporations. They can go beyond just building things, for example helped the American Dental Association think of ways to engage younger dentists and persuade them to join the association.
Employees: 1,300
Acquired: Altran acquired Aricent & Frog in 2017, Altran was subsequently acquired by Capgemini in 2019

Notable clients: Equinor, American Dental Association

Read the interview with London Studio Lead, Ross Landles: Frog Design: Human-centred design has limits

 

 

Fahrenheit 212

Founded: 2002
Locations: Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, Paris, Munich
What they say they do: “Make things better. Make better things.”
What that means: They identify opportunity areas where corporations can increase growth / profit. They come up with new ideas and conduct go-to-market strategy for new products and services, and they train corporate leaders to adapt to their innovative strategy.

Employees: 150
Acquired: by Capgemini Invent in 2016

Notable clients: Advent International, Bain Capital, Coca Cola, Audi, Citi, Gucci, IKEA, John Lewis, Uber, Nestle

Read the interview with Fahrenheit 212 CEO Todd Rovak: Forget thinking “outside the box”. This is why the box is useful

Made by Many

Founded: 2007
Location: London, UK
What they say they do: “Putting people and product at the centre of business transformation.”
What that means: They come up with new digital products and hold digital transformation workshops.
Employees: 70
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Nando’s, Google, Finnair, Skype, World Economic Forum, Burberry

Read the interview with founding partner Isaac Pinnock: “Being a designer is about asking uncomfortable questions”

 

 

BCG Digital Ventures

Founded: 2014
Location: Manhattan Beach, London, New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney
What they say they do: “Invents, builds, scales, and invests in startups with the world’s most influential companies”
What that means: They partner with corporations to build products and services (mostly digital)
Employees: 1,100
Acquired: part of Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Notable ventures: Regi, Ware2Go, AutoGravity, MatMatch, FarePilot

 

Board of Innovation

Founded: 2009
Locations: New York, Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Singapore
What they say they do: “We make corporates innovate/think/work like a startup”
What that means: They offer strategy & business design consultancy for corporations and they train corporations in adapting to a new mindset that will foster innovation and new growth — for example, they helped Roche draw up a new digital innovation strategy
Employees: 65
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: GE, Danone, Philips, ING, Roche, Toyota

Read the interview with CEO Philippe De Ridder: “Half of all corporate innovation providers will fail in 5 years”

 

 

Founders Intelligence 

Founded: 2013
Locations: London, San Paulo, Berlin
What they say they do: “Entrepreneur powered consulting”

What that means: They are the strategy arm of Brent Hoberman’s Founders Factory and bring big companies together with startups and entrepreneurs. They have typically three types of projects: Strategy projects where clients asks how they will participate in the key business models that are transforming their industry. Capability building projects where they help clients deliver on their strategy from a human and operational aspect. Delivery projects where they source external partnerships for clients and help them work with tech start-ups, invest in start-ups or build internal start-ups

Employees: 40
Acquired: Still independent (part of Founder’s Forum)

Notable clients: Facebook, BP, Fannie Mae, Henkel, Unilever, Shell, Sky, Diageo

Read the interview with CEO Rob Chapman: Want a corporate innovation hit? You need a big budget

 

 

What if Innovation

Founded: 1992
Location: London, New York, Shanghai
What they say they do: “We bring experimental change to business”
What that means: They work with corporations to identify opportunity areas to increase revenue. They offer workshops to train teams in a ‘what if innovation’ mindset. For example, they helped AB InBev guide teams through a 11-week accelerator programme and worked with Ikea’s UK team to create a new style of leadership.
Employees: 70
Acquired: by Accenture in May 2019

Notable clients: AB InBev, Ikea, Pfizer, KFC, EasyJet, Sainsbury’s, BP

 

 

Fjord

Founded: 2001
Locations: Atlanta, Auckland, Austin, Berlin, Canberra, Chicago, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Helsinki, Johannesburg, London
What they say they do: “We put design at the heart”
What that means: They offer design-led strategy and help customers create new products. For example they worked with NatWest to create the new banking service Bó, with Unilever to create an employee engagement tool and with Velux, the window company, to create a virtual reality sales tool.
Employees: 1,200
Acquired: Accenture in 2013

Notable clients: NatWest, Unilever, Velux, Unilever, Finnair, Maersk, Sonos, Commerzbank, Hemköp

 

 

8th day logo

8th Day

Founded: 2018
Location: London, UK
What they say they do: “We help the world’s most progressive brands to anticipate, design, and plan for their future”
What that means: They help consumer brands launch already existing or new products and services in different geographies and cultures. For example, they helped a world leading beauty conglomerate launch new, regional specific products in Asia
Employees: 12
Acquired: Still independent

 

The Bakery

Founded: 2012
Locations: London, São Paulo
What they say they do: “Scaling and starting transformational new ventures that solve real corporate challenges”
What that means: The Bakery is one of the oldest connector between startups and corporations as a way of promoting innovation. They run multiple accelerator programs to help startups and corporations at different stages, with different problems. They have the Start Programme: for individual entrepreneurs who are pre-idea and pre-team. It is ideally suited to talented entrepreneurs with exceptional technical or business skills and knowledge, the Accelerate programme: for early stage tech companies who are looking for investment and to accelerate the growth of their business through working with a corporate, the Partner programme: aimed at Start-ups looking to get revenue from their first big customer and the Bakery Invest: for Start-ups who are looking for strategically aligned corporate investors.

Employees: 34
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Google, BMW, Unilever, RBS

 

 

Studio Graphene logo

Studio Graphene

Founded: 2014
Location: London, UK
What they say they do: “We turn ideas into show-stopping designs, and designs into market-ready products”
What that means: They come up with new business ideas and build prototypes for corporations, including a lot of app and website design
Acquired: Still independent

Notable customers; Mars, Diageo, Coca-Cola

Read the interview with Studio Graphene founder Ritam Gandhi: Companies should fail more often

 

Bionic logo

Bionic

Founded: 2013
Location: New York, San Francisco
What they say they do: “We ignite growth revolutions”
What that means: Bionic offers what they call “a Growth OS” (operating system). They work together with a group of selected C-level executives to establish an internal growth board that works in the same way as a venture capital investment committee. The growth board evaluates 10 venture ideas put forward by Bionic. The idea is to establish a continuous growth function within the corporation. They also offer “corporate venture capital-as-a-service” (Bain & Co’s new service offering) and they have Bionic Venture Studio where they build their own businesses e.g. Green Room
Employees: 60
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Citi, Procter & Gamble, AB InBev, Exelon

Read the interview with Christina Wallace, Vice President of Growth: “You need to know where the bodies are buried”

 

Happen

Founded: 2007
Locations: London, New York, Amsterdam
What they say they do: “We expose real consumer frustrations and unmet needs, and exploit those insights with commercially-viable innovations to protect and grow your business”
What that means: They use big data to analyse growth opportunities / new business ideas and build prototypes for corporations. They also help enterprises track their brand from a consumer perspective.
Employees: 50
Acquired: By Accenture Interactive in 2019

Notable clients: M&S, Tesco, Heineken, Diageo, Sanofi, Nestle

 

Droga5

Founded: 2006
Locations: New York, London
What they say: “We create communications and experiences that ignite business growth with brand”
What that means: They are a brand agency, but a really good one. For example, they did HBO’s For the Throne and New York Time’s The Truth is Hard to Find
Employees: 500
Acquired: By Accenture in April 2019

Notable clients: HBO, Barclaycard, Amazon, Mailchimp, The New York Times, Covergirl, HBO, Chase, Prudential

Fluxx

Founded: 2011
Location: London, UK
What they say they do: “We do product and service design at such pace that we transform the way organisations work”
What that means: They can help brands reposition themselves, for example they helped More Than change the image of its claims service to be more friendly

Employees: 88

Acquired: entered into a strategic partnership with Bain & Co in 2019

Notable clients: More Than, Atkins, Lloyds, Ada, HSBC, Arla

 

Stryber
Founded: 2016
Locations: Zurich, Munich, Kiev
What they say we do: “We build venture portfolios“
What that means: Stryber helps corporates to build a strategically relevant venture portfolio, rather than building just one startup. They help to determine the parameters, such as investment thesis, portfolio size and governance structure, and then actually help their clients to build their portfolio by providing a blue print for an operational modus operandi, the initial resources and the initial portfolio management.
Employees: 80
Acquired: still independent

Notable clients: Migros, Swisscom

Read the interview with Co-Founder and Managing Director Alex Mahr: “The important knowledge is being created in the market right now and not necessarily written down yet”

Possible Future

Founded: 2016
Locations: Paris, New York
What they say they do: “We create sustainable innovations, from idea to launch”.
What that means: They identify new, sustainable business opportunities for corporations, by combining design, engineering and business skills. They design & create both products and services, they build prototypes and test the opportunity. In some cases they even create dedicated startups to launch and scale the business idea.
Employees: 65
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Saint-Gobain, Westfield, Sanofi, Danone, Mondelez, McCain.

 

Designit

Founded: 1991
Locations: Copenhagen (HQ), Aarhus Barcelona, Bengaluru, Berlin, Lima, London, Madrid, Medellín, Melbourne, Munich, New York, Oslo, San Francisco, Stockholm, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo

What they say they do: “We work with ambitious brands to create high-impact products, services, systems and spaces – that people love”
What that means: They offer the traditional innovation consultancy services including venture design, digital design, 
customer experience analysis and graphic design services but they stand out by also having skills in architecture and 
space design.

Employees: 550
Acquired: Acquired by Wipro in 2015

Notable clients: Eviation, Lufthansa, Smartmatic, Celsia

Bundl

Founded: 2008
Locations: Antwerpen and Amsterdam

What they say they do: “Build your corporate venture from the ground up”
What that means: They offer full track venture development and they place Entrepreneurs-in-residence

Employees: 33
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients:Telenet, HSBC, Luminus, EDF, BNP Paribas, Asics, Spadel Gemic

Founded: 2008
Locations: New York, Berlin, Helsinki, Toronto

What they say they do: “Reimagining markets from a human perspective”
What that means: They offer innovation consultancy to large corporation focused on discovering new business opportunities

Employees: 43
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Ford, Arla, Nikon, PepsiCo

Hellon

Founded: 2009
Locations: London, Helsinki

What they say they do: “Helping organisations transform towards customer centricity is our passion”
What that means: They offer customer insights and research and they design new services for large corporations

Employees: 38
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Tesco, Volkswagen

 

Rainmaking

Founded: 2006
Locations: New York, London, Berlin, Taipei, Singapore, Dubai, Copenhagen, Mexico City, Kuala Lumpur, Miami

What they say they do:Making innovation a predictable driver of growth

What that means: They offer innovation consultancy for large corporations and they build corporate accelerators

Employees: 126
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Tesco, Volkswagen

 

INNOArchitects

Founded: 2015
Locations: Bern, Switzerland

What they say they do: “Your boost from now to next”
What that means: INNOArchitects co-create in close collaboration with their clients new products and services. In quick build/measure/learn cycles they create, launch and scale new business ventures on the market.

Employees: 31
Acquired: Still independent

Notable clients: Microsoft, Lufthansa, Migros, Swiss Post

 

BAS ITG logo

BAS Interesting Times Gang 

Founded: 2008
Locations: Stockholm
What they say they do: “We are an innovation and business development company that can take revolutionary concepts, new services and products from ideas to global success in 12 months”
What that means: They have built mobile phone and connected speakers for Marshall and designed hotels for Thomas Cook. Can take on anything from clean air to water conservation and they believe that innovation does not only mean digital transformation.
Employees: 50
Status: 50% owned by BAS Brand Identity
Notable clients: Ikea, Volvo, Sandvik, Callisto Integration, Thomas Cook, Megafortris, Marshall, Stora Enso

EY Seren

Founded: 2003
Locations: London, Dubai, Stockholm, Paris, Oslo, Madrid, Johannesburg, Dublin
What they say they do:EY’s dedicated customer focused transformation engine
What that means: They offer their consultancy on digital design and innovation of customer service and experience and works with leading firms across a number of sectors.
Employees: 200
Status: EY Acquired Seren in 2015
Notable clients: None disclosed but in the categories of governments, banks and media organisations

 

Ipsos Strategy3

Founded: 2015
Locations: London, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Beijing, Chicago, Austin, Hong Kong and others.
What they say they do: “We’re not a consulting firm, research agency, or innovation lab. We’re all 3”
What that means: They focus on keeping the consumer at the heart of the innovation exercise, by expanding on the strength of Ipsos in market research where they can conduct consumer ethnographies, broad-based social media listening exercises, quantitative segmentation, amongst other market research studies. Based on the results, they then work with their clients to develop new products/services, go-to-market strategies, supply chain requirements, and even go into post-launch tracking programs.

Employees: 200
Status: Strategy3 is a unit of the larger group Ipsos
Notable clients:McDonald’s, Foot Locker, HSBC, Mars, GSK, Clorox, P&G, Honda, HP, Starbucks, Nestlé Waters International

 

The Upside

Founded: 2013
Locations: London
What they say they do:We create Upsides that positively impact our world”

What that means: They are a traditional innovation and growth consultancy but with a particular strength in: Multichannel Marketing & Communications, Real-Time Marketing & Communications, Building Audiences, Innovation Consultancy, Strategy, Insight, Foresight, Proposition development, Growth, Brand strategy, and Sprint design

Employees: 12
Status: Independent
Notable clients: Google, Shell, Adidas

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