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Accelerating entrepreneurship: Our New Ventures Competition

The team behind the Real Estate Portfolio Optimizer solution, from left: Sarah McEwen, Conrad Voorsanger, Navin Verma, Mariana Jimenez Werther, Halil Cobuloglu, Linda Dempah, Bruce Simpson and Albert Fan.

– Imagine this: you envision a groundbreaking technology solution that will completely change how your clients do business. After pitching your idea alongside other budding entrepreneurs, you secure the funding needed to turn your idea into reality. With a team of expert developers, designers, and advisers, you’re able to bring your product to clients in just 3 months.

This sounds like a pretty typical path for a Silicon Valley tech start-up—but it may be surprising to know that it’s also happening here at McKinsey through our New Ventures Competition.

The competition is part of McKinsey New Ventures, the firm’s internal innovation arm where we are using new technologies to accelerate and expand our impact with clients. “We are enhancing our client-service model and leveraging the creativity of all of our colleagues, ” says Bruce Simpson, senior partner in Toronto and one of the leaders of New Ventures, “This allows us to be at the forefront of innovation.”

Explaining PiQUE, a mobile-based learning app

“The competition is a fun, fast-paced, but ultimately low-risk way to see what it’s like to work at a start-up,” says Bill O’Keefe, a partner in our Minneapolis office and a past winner for building a solution that helps small to midsize insurers create digital experiences and compete with larger providers.

The competition begins with an application process open to anyone in the firm. Winning teams then go on to participate in a 3-month accelerator program, during which they build their projects with the guidance of senior sponsors. Winners work with engineers, technical developers, architects, data scientists, project managers, and designers to bring their ideas to life and receive legal, risk, and financial advice in addition to funding.

“The real value happens when frameworks, models, and workflows developed through the competition begin to help our clients,” says Teresa Dietrich, who leads product and engineering for New Ventures.

The team who developed Watchtower, a solution to manage tech transformations

The competition isn’t McKinsey’s first attempt to internally crowdsource innovation. Twenty years ago, we initiated the firm’s Practice Olympics, where colleagues would submit proposals for new knowledge projects. With the rise of advanced analytics, machine learning, and other technologies, the Practice Olympics evolved into the New Ventures Competition and a methodology for McKinsey colleagues to develop solutions that rapidly deliver impact for clients.

“The competition gave our idea life,” says Bill. “We wouldn’t have had the resourcing or the opportunity to expand into a new client segment without it.”

Since its official start in 2016, the competition has received entries from over 4,000 colleagues, comprising some 870 idea teams. All of the firm’s regions and practice areas have been represented, and 90 percent of the winners who’ve completed the full process are now using their new approaches with clients—with 120 active clients among them. And several clients have asked us to help them create similar programs for themselves.

Sarah McEwen, a former consultant with expertise in building innovations in the telecommunications industry, returned to the firm to oversee the competition. She says, “It’s amazing how quickly we can stand up these solutions—it’s been inspiring for both our clients and our colleagues.”

One winning solution that’s already seeing traction is OMNI, which helps some of the most innovative brands in retail use geospatial insights to optimize location strategies for new stores. The idea was developed by a diverse team comprised of specialists in retail, geospatial analytics, and venture capital.

“The best ideas come from the intersection of geographies, tenures, and backgrounds,” says OMNI manager Alana Podreciks.

Another idea is ACE, a cloud-based solution that uses predictive analytics to help retail banks optimize their cash inventory, and is proving effective in Middle East markets.

“Right before this, I was building a digital solution for a bank, so I knew what tools were needed,” says Andras Kovacs, an engagement manager with ACE. “The competition helped us move from an abstract idea into a real solution very quickly.”

For colleagues looking to join Andras, Bill, Alana, and other innovators, the 2018 Competition is about to begin, with the deadline for submissions fast approaching on May 31.

“I’m so excited by the ideas the New Ventures Competition is able to surface within the firm,” says Bruce. “It truly is a special platform, and we’re just beginning to see the incredible impact it will have.”

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Adventures in New Ventures for our returning entrepreneurs

– In 1988, Harvard Law School graduate Dayne Myers joined McKinsey as a consultant. In 1991, he left to follow his passion as an entrepreneur and went on to run six technology companies, including a fantasy-sports business and a cybersecurity software firm that he cofounded. Then earlier this year, a quarter century after his last day at McKinsey, Dayne rejoined the firm.