“We see things — amazing things”: What it’s like to work at an innovation incubator

by Christine Tatum
July 27, 2017



Through its partnership with the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, Arrow Electronics has helped entrepreneurs of every stripe turn ideas into real products, offering support in design, engineering, supply chain and more.

And innovation is infectious: Because Arrow's varied disciplines have collaborated to make the partnership work, employees say it’s made the company more innovative in its own right. 

We met with Arrow’s team to find out what it’s like to “see amazing things” all day — as the president described it — and then to help bring those things to life. 





WHAT IT DOES: Helps entrepreneurs turn tech ideas into bonafide products, offering support across design, engineering, supply chain management and marketing.

ALSO: Evaluates entrepreneurs' ideas for feasibility, awarding badges to projects its engineers believe can be delivered.  

WHERE IT IS: Centennial, Colo.

PRODUCT MADE REAL: A set of headphones shaped like cat ears. Meow.  

PRODUCT IN PROCESS: Playdate (shipping this summer). This smart ball, which you control from your phone, lets you play with your pet from anywhere.

EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE: “We see things — amazing things.”




How does Arrow’s partnership with Indiegogo help launch new tech products and services?

Rachel Oborny, business development manager: Together, we help entrepreneurs through every stage of the process of getting a product to market. Indiegogo connects entrepreneurs to crowdfunding. The successful completion of Arrow’s Incubation and Certification programs give products street cred to help them gain crowdfunding support. An Arrow Certified badge signals to potential backers that our engineers have assisted with the product’s development and have verified that its electronic design is feasible for manufacturing.

How do you work with entrepreneurs?

Oborny: First, entrepreneurs can apply to join Arrow’s Incubation Program. That program helps them achieve a working proof of concept. It offers a lot of benefits, including engineering design review, access to online design tools, discounts on product purchases from Arrow and guidance to create and launch a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

With a proof of concept, entrepreneurs can move on to Arrow’s Certification Program to access the help they need to prepare their design for manufacturing. That program’s benefits include more access to funding, design tools, engineering review and expert assistance with supply chain management and marketing. It’s a total package of benefits worth up to $500,000.

How did you come to partner with Indiegogo?

Oborny: It’s such a mutually beneficial relationship. Indiegogo was looking for a strategic partner to offer much more than crowdfunding — and that’s us for sure. We wanted to coach and help — and not just at the point of distribution. We can offer full solutions, and our networks of resources and distribution are global. We’re already engaged with tech companies and customers around the world.




Kathleen Timbol, senior marketing specialist: When you work for an organization as large as Arrow, it can be challenging to bring different groups together — but this partnership has brought together financing, engineering, supply, marketing and more to show everything Arrow has to offer. This has been really good for everyone internally to see about ourselves. Supporting entrepreneurs from the earliest stages and through every step of the process is challenging all of us to be more innovative and to break down some of our own silos.

Timothy Hoehl, senior manager of product ownership: Our work with Indiegogo is turning out to be a great way to build new relationships and move into full partnerships with our customers. We are looking to engage with them from inception to design to actually getting them to market and to fulfillment. Building out that full end-to-end relationship is huge. It’s a big game changer. We want everyone to know that, when you have a great idea, Arrow can help you put that to market — with Arrow engineers who are best in class pushing it forward.




What are some common mistakes entrepreneurs and early-stage companies should avoid?

Oborny: First, entrepreneurs often underestimate the time and everything it really takes to move a product from idea to market. Second, they overestimate the importance of funding, mistakenly believing that’s the only thing they require. Third, they believe they have to do everything alone. I love that they have this underlying determination to make something happen — but they do not have to go it alone. They can and should surround themselves with resources.

Timbol: We hear it all the time: “We wish we had you earlier on. You would have saved us so much time to market.”

How does Arrow decide if something has real market potential?

Oborny: The best part about this partnership is that we let the crowdfunding platform decide. We get surprised by what resonates with consumers, but we really do let them determine market potential. However, we cannot deny the laws of physics — meaning there are just some things that are never going to work.

Which products have caught your eye?

Oborny: The cat-ear headphones. Who knew?

Timbol: The smart ball for pets that has a camera inside.

Matt Anderson, chief digital officer and president: We are working to address so many interesting problems that it’s hard to pick just one, but my favorite right now is WaterBot. WaterBot measures particulate levels and alerts users in real time when and where water quality has been compromised.

We have 20 people helping to figure it out fully and get it to market for the sake of improving water quality everywhere. This innovation superhero team know things about security and, specifically, water security. They know how to manage relevant data in the cloud. They know how to partner with just the right people and companies to drive this forward. Arrow gave $75,000 in flash funds to that team to help them scale their product.




How has the partnership’s innovative vibe affected Arrow as a company?

Timbol: We have seen a lot more engagement with this program because the ideas and products are innovative, and they’re fun. Because we are bringing so many different solutions from Arrow to the table, everyone from our different work groups has a better understanding of how their specific work helps entrepreneurs.

Sure, we’re in a large company, and each of us may have to focus in just one area, but this partnership lets us all see how that one focus is important to the whole group — and maybe to the world. Through this partnership, you can see how you make a difference. It’s nice.

Hoehl: This is an exciting way to see how the market is turning toward a very entrepreneurial spirit fostered among many. Large companies are known for helping other large companies be very successful in tech — and that’s great. But at Arrow, we’re also putting everything on a personal level for everyone, even kids, because we want to be at the heart of innovation.

Anderson: Arrow is fueling an innovation revolution, and it’s exciting for all of us to be at the nexus of some of the biggest trends of the world right now. You can’t help but feel it. We see things — amazing things — three years before they are even written anywhere.

Before an Indiegogo campaign goes live, someone might have been working with us for a year or more. The opportunity and potential we see in them and their creation — and we see in ourselves — is just the beauty of Arrow.

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