A new program at area construction giant Black & Veatch hopes to hatch and accelerate innovative ideas by adopting a concept common among startups.
The Overland Park-based corporation recently created the B&V Growth Accelerator, which hopes to challenge the global firm’s traditional methods of generating and launching ideas. The internal program is led by nine engineering experts who have experience in water, telecom, power, renewables, oil and gas, and corporate strategy, said Laura Adams, a co-director of the program.
A water resources engineer by trade, Adams said the accelerator’s team has met with several leaders in Kansas City entrepreneurship to inform the program’s structure. She added that Black & Veatch — which works with the likes of Tesla, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and KCP&L — hopes the program will tap into its entrepreneurial roots to reinvigorate its ideation process.
“There’s recognition that we can’t just keep doing things the same way,” Adams said. “We’re trying to figure out how to rapidly create smart and profitable growth for Black & Veatch by challenging convention and be a part of defining the future. … Entrepreneurship has always been a core value for Black & Veatch — it’s embedded throughout the company, but this is an entity we’re standing up to promote it.”
Founded in 1915, Black & Veatch is a global construction firm, working in the fields of energy, telecom, water, oil and gas. It’s nabbed recognition from Forbes as a 10-top private firm in nuclear power, water supply, fossil fuel, telecommunications and more. “We recognize as a company that diversification and being a part of defining the future is critical to our success and to fulfilling our mission.” – Laura Adams
“We recognize as a company that diversification and being a part of defining the future is critical to our success and to fulfilling our mission.” – Laura Adams
While its size and history as an established market leader help the firm, it can present challenges in fostering avenues to create and implement new ideas. That’s why Adams and other Black & Veatch leaders set out to create opportunities to cultivate new methods for ideation.
Adams said that part of their approach was to encourage an entrepreneurial ethos to extract new ways of thinking.
“We solve really complex problems all the time — that’s what engineers do — and we do that through innovation,” she said. “What we need to do more of is diversification and the many small things that make up something big. That’s where entrepreneurship can come in. One of our ways to challenge convention is to encourage and inspire the entrepreneurial spirit within the company.”
In 2015, Adams said that Black & Veatch launched a virtual ideation platform via Bright Idea that the company’s entire 10,000 team could access. Via that platform, the company would pose broad questions — for example, finding new revenue opportunities — on which staffers could propose thoughts.
Hundreds of staffers offered ideas, which Adams said were categorized and paired with subject-matter experts around the company. The flood of ideas, however, made it difficult to execute on the best.
Now the B&V Growth Accelerator program is charged with moving the best of those ideas forward with the intent to grow the firm, Adams said. The ideas eventually could turn into new products, services or companies.
“We recognize as a company that diversification and being a part of defining the future is critical to our success and to fulfilling our mission,” Adams said. “Getting ideas from bottom-up instead of just top-down is maybe one of the most effective ways to do that to make sure we’re relevant.”
Others co-leading the accelerator program are: Rick Azer, Patty Corcoran, Connie Foutts, Roger Li, Ryan Pletka, Sam Scupham, Brian Sifton and Christy Zeltner.
Adams said that Black & Veatch hopes to engage the broader Kansas City community with its accelerator program. The company also plans to soon host an event at the accelerator to connect with entrepreneurs and the community.