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article imageINFINITI Global's Dane Fisher talks digital transformation

By Jack Derricourt     Jul 20, 2017 in Business
If you’re not innovating in the automotive industry right now, you’re dead and dying. The influence of disruptors like Tesla and the fast pace of technological changes in vehicles are driving companies to rapidly future proof their product lines.
For Nissan’s luxury brand INFINITI, much-needed innovation comes from the startup community.
Dane Fisher, General Manager of INFINITI Global’s Business Transformation and Brand, sees startup entrepreneurs as a vital part of Infiniti’s digital transformation.
“Startups or entrepreneurs, they’re the type of people we like to spend time with. They want to challenge the status quo, they want to push boundaries, they want to be moving forward. And that’s what we’ve always done as a company, that’s the kind of culture we’re trying to cultivate. We believe strongly that supporting startups to achieve their potential helps us from a cultural, transformational point of view.“
But being able to work with startup founders means aligning your company with the changing pace of the automotive world.
“We’ve got to make sure our platform is right to be able to absorb talent and ideas. There’s nothing worse than not having the right platform and you can’t support bright ideas."
READ MORE: Rover comes out on top at culmination of the INFINITI Lab program
INFINITI is working towards a robust business platform within the next year to 18 months that includes connected cars, more developed autonomous drive technology, and HMI or connectivity interfaces for increased services in each vehicle.
“But it doesn’t mean we wait till then,” says Fisher. “That’s why we’re talking to startups now — to help think about what our future customer wants. What is the journey for that customer?"
It's a two-way street: by working with startups, INFINITI gains insight into where technology is heading; and those developing companies get a chance to grow exponentially with help from the car company's network of experts. The kinds of opportunities being offered to smaller companies through the INFINITI Lab accelerator program are tremendous.
“We think that we can give a lot to startups in terms of the resources we can provide, whether or not it’s executive mentorship, whether or not it’s coaching and development through our VC partners, or even access to our production, R&D and design facilities to really get them to speak to the experts.
“There’s two sides to it: development of their existing business and making them meet the right people… we don’t have all those connections for them, and that’s why need to work with partners like Multiplicity here in Toronto, or Nest VC, our Hong Kong and global partners. These guys know all the VCs, they know the networks and it’s their jobs to introduce the startups to them.”
For the recently concluded Toronto Lab, INFINITI partnered with Multiplicity, the City of Toronto, OMERS, TechStars, Telus Ventures and Fleet Complete.
During Lab s panel discussion  Mayor John Tory and INFINITI s Dane Fisher spoke of the need for citi...
During Lab's panel discussion, Mayor John Tory and INFINITI's Dane Fisher spoke of the need for cities to embrace startup culture.
© Jack Derricourt
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the INFINITI Lab program is the chance that it awards early-development startups to get a sense of what the larger market really needs right now.
“Our job is to let them see behind what people think of as the ‘Iron Curtain’ of automotive. Tell them what we’re really looking at, what we’re really interested in. We’re condensing months, if not years, of networking, mentorship and coaching into a very intensive period. It’s hard work for them, but I think it will really give them an unfair advantage for taking their business to the next level.”
The Toronto program is the third Lab accelerator program held by INFINITI, and the first in North America. The Toronto companies that Fisher has overseen have been impressive.
“For a four-week program in early stage businesses, the cohort we had here was much more advanced and polished than I thought.”
Rover and NXCAR took the big prizes at INFINITI Lab’s pitch night. The former moves ahead to the three-month intensive accelerator program in Hong Kong. NXCAR will continue on for a chance to join in the program through further development efforts. Both companies will look to drive the automotive industry forward and put Toronto’s innovation reputation on the map.
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