The iBrew Innovation Café Network: “We brew innovation”

The iBrew Innovation Café Network: “We brew innovation”

by Madanmohan Rao

Email: madan@techsparks .com
October 16, 2011

Given the rapid pace of innovation across socio-economic sectors and the global potential of emerging innovations, the time is ripe for a worldwide chain of iBrew Innovation Cafes (“iBrew” = innovation + coffee/beer!).

The Cafes will focus on commercial as well as developmental aspects of innovation. Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood have built on rock and Hollywood themes — the iBrew Innovation Cafes will use a similar model for the domain of local and global innovation. The iBrew Cafes will facilitate innovation within a range of sectors, promote inter-disciplinary innovation, and popularise the innovation message among mainstream audiences as well.

Each iBrew Innovation Café will be a café – think Starbucks or Hard Rock Café – but with important additions. Each iBrew Innovation Cafe will be a gathering spot for the local innovation ecosystem: startups, students, investors, policymakers, service providers, academics and civil society.

The Café will host networking and capacity-building events, display photos of innovators/innovations from around the world, highlight inspirational quotes for entrepreneurs, play videos of innovation, exhibit and sell books by innovation experts, promote local and international innovation conferences, provide directory services of local innovators/investors, and serve an international mix of food and beverages. Each iBrew Innovation Cafe will also have an online social media component and facilitate meetups, eg. between local innovators and visiting global investors.

Each Cafe will have separate meeting rooms for breakout sessions and private functions. In addition to informal gatherings, there will be formal events organised according to a specific programming calendar. Weekly themes will address innovation in different sectors (eg. Internet, energy) different phases of innovation (eg. starting up, prototyping, exit strategy), and the role of investors and government. Formats will range from panel discussions and brainstorming sessions to startup pitches and unconferences/barcamps. There will also be monthly and annual special events (eg. Annual Innovation Conference).

The retail Café chain in different cities will also be networked via social media, thus facilitating regional roadshows of investors and startups, sponsorship across countries, and a petri-dish for analysing innovation trends. The retail operation will be profitable as a café by itself; the innovation component will open up new revenue streams. This model will vary with maturity and diversity of innovation in different cities around the world. Each city will start off with only one iBrew Café, with more added depending on demand. The Cafes will perhaps be best suited for emerging economies, but eventually will have a place in all innovation hotspots.

Across the world, there is growing appetite for innovation, spurred by startups, investors, government incubators and universities. Globalisation is going hand in hand with local and cross-border innovation, thanks to migration, business travel, budget airlines, the Internet and book series such as the “Entrepreneur Guides” for specific countries. The iBrew Innovation Cafes will play an important cultural and business role in this new ecosystem of knowledge flows.

The Cafes will not only attract entrepreneurs but also reach out to mainstream society to spread the energy and message of innovation. Even people who do not think of themselves as innovators will leave the place feeling creative and inspired. Innovation communication and design thinking, after all, should target not just innovators but all of society.

The Cafes will therefore be located in ‘main street’ areas. (There will also be related iBrew Cafes set up within corporate and university/college campuses; other versions will be in schools, to bring the social energy of innovation right down to younger ages.)

Sample weekly programming calendar in each Cafe: Monday (mobile/Internet/ICTs), Tuesday (healthcare/agriculture), Wednesday (investors/VCs/incubators), Thursday (education/learning/HR), Friday (automotive/manufacturing), Saturday (media/entertainment/arts), Sunday (urban/rural, energy, governance).

Monthly features: Mobile Monday, Women Entrepreneurs, Social Entrepreneurship Panel, National Innovation Agenda Roundtable, Government Services Innovation, Public-Private-People Partnerships roundtable, Corporate Intrapreneurship, Country Spotlight (eg. focus on Singapore, Finland, Canada, Germany, Estonia, Australia, Brasil, South Africa, South Korea), book launch/signing.

Special Features (once a year): iBrew Innovation Festival (local), iBrew Innovation Awards (local + national).
Publications/Research: Annual iBrew Innovation Report; white papers released by consulting firms, VCs, government agencies, UN/World Bank.

Branding tagline: “iBrew Café: We brew innovation”

Everything about the Café experience will evoke the word ‘innovation.’ A strong innovative design ethic will be built into each and every element of the retail Cafes: beverages, furniture, cutlery, music, interiors, seating formats, activities, employee dress codes. This will also bring in the local creative community to showcase their designs, and be a possible source of sponsorships and awards (eg. Funky Furniture!).

Each Café will become a magnet for local design, media, tech and business students who will get a chance to showcase their work and ideas in the design of the Café (eg. posters on innovation advances in biology, checklists for organisational innovation teams, daily quiz competitions on innovation, interactive touchscreen exhibits). Parents will be attracted to the Cafés to learn about creative thinking techniques for children and teens; seniors will also be invited to share their interpretations of key innovations over their lifetimes.

Each city will highlight its local and international innovations in the local iBrew Cafe. This local angle will make the Café attractive to government agencies who want to promote local innovation achievements to a broader audience, attract foreign investors/entrepreneuers, and nurture local innovation talent.

Unlike other hubs which focus only on technology or social causes, the iBrew Cafes will span the whole spectrum of sectors and thus encourage inter-disciplinary innovation and cross-fertilisation of ideas. The Cafes will thus have a more informal air than incubators, and a more serious air than a normal café.

The Cafes will address not just technology innovation but also creative achievements in culture (eg. musical genres, creative movie directors), agriculture (eg. farming techniques), education (eg. teaching styles for children) and governance (eg. co-creation of energy grids).

Phase I may begin with iBrew Innovation Cafes in three cities in India: say Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Phase II will expand to five other cities (covering all five continents), and Phase III will cover 100 cities.

OK, maybe that is getting ahead of the story a little bit! But if you are interested as an investor, partner, advisor, manager, sponsor, event organiser, talent scout, government ministry, tech/business academic, or business journalist – drop me a line!

Status Update: October 21
(1) The domain name and Twitter account @iBrewCafe have been registered.
(2) Expressions of interest in setting up iBrew Innovation Cafes have been received from Bangalore, Delhi, Dhaka, Bangkok, Singapore and Dublin; more to come!
(3) I have received 300+ emails over the two days since I sent out tweets/emails; thanks to all for the suggestions, keep them coming!


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