From Ford To Citi, Big Companies Want In On The Silicon Valley Brain Trust

Walmart isn’t the only corporate giant setting up a Bay Area innovation lab. A field guide:

From Ford To Citi, Big Companies Want In On The Silicon Valley Brain Trust
Illustration by Coherent Images

Ford: Silicon Valley Lab

Local Headquarters: Palo Alto
Launch Date: June 2012
Fearless Leader: TJ Giuli, research engineer and former University of Michigan professor
Mission: Encourage automotive innovation, particularly using data to improve car design
Why: “Ford is positioning itself as a tech company,” says Giuli. “It felt important to come to the Valley and take advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit here.”
Staffers: Two
Big Cool Friends: Apple, Facebook, Google
Location as Destiny: Shares its building with a Wells Fargo and a Barnes & Noble
Culture Shock: “The gourmet lunches at Google versus the ‘bring your own’ nature of lunch in Dearborn is pretty striking!”
Going Local: Already throwing around terms like API, open source, and big data like the best of them


Renault: Silicon Valley Research Office

Local Headquarters: Mountain View
Launch Date: June 2011
Fearless Leader: Frederic Maire, engineer and researcher in France for Renault
Mission: Create app-like services for drivers–such as finding parking–and eventually build a self-driving car
Why: “My mission is to help contribute to boost innovation inside the company,” says Maire.
Staffers: None, though looking to have three by December
Big Cool Friends: Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis
Location as Destiny: Across the street from Google
Culture Shock: “Car models change every six years on average. A new iPhone or OS is renewed every couple of months.”
Going Local: Already looking for new office space in Sunnyvale to accommodate growth

American Express: Enterprise Growth Group

Local Headquarters: Palo Alto
Launch Date: December 2011
Fearless Leader: Harshul Sanghi, formerly Motorola Mobility’s managing director of North American venture activities
Mission: Explore how digital payments like Square are changing commerce and how Amex fits in
Why: “We’ve innovated since we first moved money in stagecoaches,” says Dan Schulman, president of the Enterprise Growth Group.
Staffers: 10 to 12
Big Cool Friends: Twitter, Zynga, all the venture capitalists
Location as Destiny: In Facebook’s old offices on University Avenue
Culture Shock: “We always dress in jeans and T-shirts while the entrepreneurs usually arrive in suits!”
Going Local: Already met with 300 companies and committed $100 million to this initiative


Citi: Citi Ventures Group

Local Headquarters: Palo Alto
Launch Date: March 2010
Fearless Leader: Deborah Hopkins, the CIO since 2008
Mission: Make innovation a core competency inside this very large, very dispersed company
Why: “There’s this amazing brain trust happening in the Valley,” says Hopkins. “It’s difficult to be part of it when you’re dropping in from an airplane.”
Staffers: About 25, but not all of them are based in Silicon Valley
Big Cool Friends: Ideo, Stanford, all the venture capitalists
Location as Destiny: AT&T’s innovation team is across the hall
Culture Shock: “The pace can be a big difference between startups and large corporations.”
Going Local: Already talking killer concepts and fast prototyping. Will meet 700 companies in 2012