When you think of Quaker Oats, you don't exactly think innovation. The Chicago-based company, founded in 1877, has been cranking away for decades making signature products like Quaker Oatmeal, Quaker Oats, and dozens of other foods we eat every day.
But believe it or not, innovation is a core belief at the company, Quaker says, so much so that they have an Innovation Culture Team designed to foster innovation and creativity throughout the organization. But to be a truly innovative brand, Quaker knew it needed to get closer to Chicago's tech community and the city's future business leaders.
So Quaker has decided to launch a partnership with Chicago tech hub 1871 where it will work closely with startups to see what new technologies Quaker can bring to its business, and to learn about innovation from those who do it best.
"We wanted to be directly involved with technologies and companies that are going to shape our future," Quaker’s Innovation Culture Team Leader Doug Healy said in an interview. "Being a part of such a large company, it can be a bit insulating. We get so focused on making our goals that the future might sneak up on us once in a while. But the partnership with 1871 allows us to have a constant reminder that change is coming."
Healy said working with 1871 will help Quaker identify technology trends before they hit the market. But working with startups will also help Quaker's culture, Healy added, and the company plans to alter how it motivates and inspires employees based on what it learns from Chicago startups.
"We want to see what kind of lessons can we absorb by seeing how entrepreneurs work, and what about that can we take into our everyday work life," he said. "There's a lot of books out there about working and thinking like a startup, but it's different to read it than it is to see it. So we really wanted to expose our employees to what it’s really like."
Through the partnership, Quaker is sponsoring an 1871 scholarship through a Diversity in Entrepreneurship Initiative, where it will provide 1871 membership to minority-owned startups. So far Quaker has awarded scholarships to mRelief, a company that simplifies the qualifying process for social programs by quickly showing people if they are eligible for things like welfare and food stamps, and Sustollo, a crowdfunding platform that helps individuals and small business owners with resources and support.
"Each of these startups has a very specific connection to helping people in their local Chicago communities," Healy said. "And we’re really proud to support them and offer as much help as we can."
Additionally, Quaker has designed a new conference room in 1871 that can be used by 1871 members to brainstorm and collaborate on projects. Quaker will host events at 1871 and allow employees to work out of the space, all in an effort to be closer to Chicago's innovation community and learn how to bring those practices to its company.
Innovation is a word that's typically tied to startups and tech companies, but Quaker wants to prove that you can be innovative, even at 138 years old.
"Innovation is not just startups, and it's not just new products. Sometimes at a big company, innovation is a new way of doing things," Healy said. "At Quaker we take that very seriously. We’re teaching innovative behaviors to all our employees, no matter what business they're in. Things they can apply to their everyday job that will help them innovate simply in the way they work every day."
Image courtesy of 1871
Correction: Quaker was founded in 1877, not 1901.