Tech Scouting and Innovation Investing During Systemic Pandemics

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Vice President, Technology Innovation and Strategy

The infographic below from Visual Capitalist illustrates that viral disease transmissions in the past decade are smaller; probably due to advances in medicine, but also more numerous, probably due to increasing population density and globalization of travel. 


The Global Business Travel Association ( has some rather interesting statistics for us road warriors. In their 2018 report: 

  • Total number of business trips was 405 million, 1.3 million trips per day 
  • Trips per year per traveler 12-14 
  • Number of nights away 4-6 
  • Average age 45.9 years 
  • $327.3 billion in the U.S. alone in spending 
  • $117.8 billion on domestic flights 
  • $31.6 billion on international flights 
  • Since 2008, business trip number has increased 38% per year 
  • In 2017 global business travel reached $1.33 Trillion 
  • GBTA predicted growth to $1.7 Trillion by 2022, a 6.9% CAGR 

Almost needless to say, our current black swan event changes things. 

A key component of effective technology scouting is the usual exercise of going out and meeting entrepreneurs and investors.  Of course, prior to that is the usual desk research to collect and select the targets; the conferences and companies to attend and meet.   

So is the current coronavirus crisis a blip in the process, or does it perhaps represent a watershed moment where standard practices are forever modified and changed?   

Certainly, the world is now on alert, and early monitoring, diagnostics, and far more effective response mechanisms will undoubtedly be developed.  But the question for us is, as always, what is the most effective way to achieve coverage of potential technology investment areas? 

Some ideas to consider for the current period and beyond: 

  1. One way to maintain and even grow productivity is through the expanded use of proxy services to expand the breadth of coverage per unit time, i.e., to build virtual technology and innovation scouting capabilities.
  2. Another is to reconfigure your stage-gate process to facilitate more “rifle shots” vs. “shotgun” approaches to scouting, viz., external trips are reserved for further down in the innovation funnel [and upstream scouting enhanced by Step 1 above].
  3. Web 5.0; while most business content descriptions of the future internet focuses on the potential of the semantic web to provide active agent and emotional intelligence support; one potential avenue we envision is the propagation of mixed reality to provide immersed, interactive tours and prototype demos from startups to potential investors and partners. 
  4. Reverse the process typical of innovation scouting, i.e., moving from passive observation to active engagement, to more active identification of ecosystem(s) of both thematic and geographic interest, with active participation in building that ecosystem.  One then has the benefit of having fewer pots to watch, and of having the data flow to you as opposed to chasing data. 
  5. Lastly, perhaps focusing on fewer priorities is the way to achieve success with reduced risk and anxiety.  Clients are often surprised by my asking the question, “If there was one and only one thing you could get done in the next year that would be of significant positive impact to you and your company, what would it be?”  I often get a long pause after that.  Follow up question, “Why aren’t you bending every will and effort to achieving that?”  Longer pause.  With less commute time and more contemplation time available to us, perhaps we can actively choose to focus on those things most meaningful.

During this global pandemic, some companies have elected to curb their investments in innovation and tech scouting. Others have used this as an opportunity to increase their focus on innovation and tech scouting. Where does your organization fall?

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