You’re never more than three meters away from 3M Science. Whether it’s the Post-it® Note on your desk or the Filtrete™ air filter in your office, 3M has brought some of the world’s most iconic products to market. And we’re not done. Our innovation has always started with our customers’ real-world challenges. In the 1920s, 3M employee Richard Drew visited a local car body shop and saw workers laboriously covering the body parts with adhesives and newspaper before they started to paint. Drew spent the next two years developing a more efficient solution, an adhesive tape that bonds well but is still easy to remove: Scotch® masking tape.
There are thousands of other stories just like this one, and my role is to help us create even more by finding disruptive companies for 3M to partner with, as well as create businesses inside the company. As the VP of 3M Ventures, my group’s key focus is to align our partnerships with 3M’s immediate and long-term vision in our strategic focus areas such as: advanced materials and process technologies; healthcare and life sciences technologies; and digital solutions. Hundreds, if not thousands, of entities are working in these spaces, but not every startup aligns with our business units and priorities. To find the startups in each space that do fit our narrow strategic focus, we start with one platform for in-depth private company data and expert market analysis: CB Insights. Investing in startups doesn't have to feel like gazing into a crystal ball. It’s all about having the right tools to process all the information that goes into making sound business decisions.
Backing Winners Aligned with Our Goals
CB Insights is a tech intelligence platform that provides companies with the data, expert research, and collaboration tools they need to drive growth and improve operations using technology. It stands out from the competition in one mission-critical way: it provides in-depth, verified data on startups and their funding history and is often our first point of contact with potential outside partners. I truly value the data we get from CB Insights.
When somebody references or recommends a company that may be a good fit for 3M, our first instinct is to validate their intel in CB Insights—because it works.
Recently, we used CB Insights to research and invest in Moxe Health, a cloud-based clinical data clearinghouse solution, and Metalenz, which makes smartphone camera lenses out of silicon nanostructures instead of plastic. That investment process starts by taking a good look at 3M’s business units, understanding what their strategic goals are, what their gaps are and which gaps an external company could potentially fill. Then, we put together a core team, including members of 3M's technical community, the specific business unit, and my team, to canvass the landscape. We first build a Market Map, a birds’ eye view of an industry ripe for disruption and the startups behind it. It breaks down information into a highly-visual, easily-digestible chart that identifies each company’s strengths and shows the competition. Take a field like home automation—what is it really? How does it fit with your plan as a company? And who else is competing in that space? We customize the maps to our business requirements and preferences, and then share it with colleagues inside and outside our team. It's the perfect kick-off point for deeper discussions and further research. The next step is to get another view of potential market fit with CB Insights' industry data visualization tools for up-to-date intel by geographic location or industry. Staying with the home automation example, if we're looking for home automation startups in the US or internationally, I can see how many startups are working in those countries, how much venture capital they've raised, and what percentage of global VC investment flows into those two markets. This information is often readily available for public companies, but it’s difficult to obtain for small, private companies. CB Insights is one of the few platforms that has that breadth of private market data.
Selling Internally with Exclusive Data and Reports
What will the market look like in five years? In 10 years? CB Insights helps us understand the answers to those questions. With the market overviews and visualizations of global VC activity, we can see the areas where it makes sense to place our money now and in the coming years--in just a few clicks. We can map where deals are globally, as well as investment activity such as the number of deals and their value. Armed with that knowledge, I can go to our board and put a dollar value on the potential of a geographic region or market sector and lay down how we can maximize our current investments as well as where we can put resources in the future.
With access to CB Insights data, you can move faster than your competitors.
Once we start to map out our long-term vision, we use CB Insights research reports and analyses to get valuable insight into these spaces. The reports weave together anecdotal information, current news and hard data into a comprehensive big picture of the trends and challenges in the spaces we care about. We are all big fans of the CB Insights Intelligence Analysts. Not only is their commentary entertaining in the newsletter, but CB Insights analysts know tech and what’s next for corporate venture capital. In a world where buzzwords and jargon are common, analysts tell it like it is.
Investing with Trust
At 3M, innovation is who we are. And with CB Insights, we’ve been able to push that even further by giving us more visibility into the startup ecosystem aligned to our strategic priorities. One great example of this is Eko Health, an innovative company that operates a digital platform for heart health. We partnered with Eko Health to launch the Littmann® Core Digital Stethoscope. Now, a 200+ year old technology is getting a makeover, enabling doctors to use AI to more precisely diagnose heart conditions.This type of partnership couldn’t have happened without using CB Insights to map the market and identify the right potential partners. The valuable insights and visibility into the startup space from CB Insights has taken the guesswork out of investing in innovation, allowing us to take on bold new businesses without having to roll the dice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vice President, 3M Ventures at 3M
Ben is the leader of 3M's Corporate Venture Capital group focused on creating disruptive businesses that help 3M bring science applied to life. He has served in a variety of roles within 3M, giving him a broad range of expertise including Corporate Venture Capital, Business Building, Mergers and Acquisitions, Strategy and Strategic Planning, Marketing and P&L Management; and New Product Development, Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. Outside of 3M, Ben served as Vice President, Marketing and Sales for Appareo Systems, LLC. As Vice President, Ben was responsible for leading Appareo’s Marketing and Sales functions as well as driving the company's revenue growth. Under Ben’s leadership, Appareo Systems experienced significant revenue growth, which resulted in the company being named to the Inc. Magazine 500 – a compilation of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the country. Ben also spent nearly eight years in the Army as an Aviation Officer and helicopter pilot. During his time in the Army, Ben gained extensive leadership experience, including leading troops in combat.