Culture Shift Labs — The Secret Ingredient For Inclusion Driven Innovation

Andrea Hoffman
7 min readFeb 18, 2016


Culture Shift Labs Health and Wellness Think Tank. Photo Credit: Culture Shift Labs 2015.

So you want more innovation in your business.

Of course you do.

Success in business is about being perpetually in motion. Your competition is fierce, constantly snapping at your heels. To survive, you must stay one step ahead at all times. You need to be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to grow and evolve.

If you don’t you’ll become stagnant. All companies are at risk. Even the much-admired Apple underwent a long period of stagnation before Steve Jobs revived it to become the pioneering brand that changed the face of tech.

It comes down to this:

New markets and new ideas.

New markets and new ideas are the lifeblood of innovation.

But how can you find them?

The answer lies in places most businesses overlook. In hidden networks full of untapped potential. We call these networks “the arbiters of the new economy”. The members of these networks are younger than your average “executive”, brilliant and connected. They are diverse in ethnicity and gender.

The new climate of innovation and diversity

Lots of venture capital and private equity firms are rushing to align themselves with the arbiters of the new economy.

The financial technology (FinTech) sector is booming and banks like Barclays, AIB and Standard Bank are urgently seeking fintech solutions. However the solutions are not coming from the banking industry execs or employees but from outside disruptors, and in some cases, “former” employees.

Automotive companies like Ford are now reinventing themselves as tech companies.

Business recruitment used to be very predictable and rely on established pedigrees. Today, companies like Google are grabbing talent from Disney or record companies. Corporations are grabbing talent from non-profits. Non-profits are grabbing talent from law firms. Tech companies are grabbing talent from Wall Street.

Creative and business-savvy celebrities are disrupting tech. Like my friend Ryan Leslie, a successful recording artist, singer, songwriter, and record producer. When he’s not creating music, Leslie is making waves in the enterprise messaging space with his tech company Disruptive Multimedia.

Challenges in reaching out

Companies want to tap into the arbiters of the new economy, but they’re not doing it well.

They want to do it right, but they just can’t.

I was recently speaking to a member of the Barclays Accelerator team. They’re on the lookout for promising new FinTech inventors to mobilize and invest in.

I asked how they would be able to reach out to and include minorities and women.

The answer…..they weren’t.

In today’s world, the old media channels are no longer relevant. There’s an urgent need for relevant new outlets, with relevant stories, relevant marketing, right frequency, and right reach.

Placing an ad in a business magazine just doesn’t cut it anymore.

To find the new stars of tomorrow, outreach and engagement must be approached with intention.

Intentional outreach and engagement to get the “right” results

At Culture Shift Labs, we’re all about intentional outreach and engagement.

We design strategies and tactics that help companies find new markets and new business opportunities. First we obtain valuable insights via our proprietary assessment of each company’s needs. Then we use these insights to tailor strategies.

We’re not your typical corporate development or management consulting firm. We’re different in that we have the global relationships and resources required to execute the strategies.

Our secret weapon is our database of what we call the “diverse elite”.

The diverse elite is our moniker for “innovators, inventors, influencers and investors of color.”

World Famous Arts Institution

A world famous arts institution (name withheld) engaged us to increase diversity on the board. We’ve been working with them for three years.

Year 1: We delivered an exhaustive list of candidates they’d never heard of. Within two weeks of getting the contract, we secured one of the wealthiest black men in the United States. This man had a very low profile at that time. Within a year of being on the board, he donated the largest programmatic gift in the concert hall’s history.

Year 2: We helped them start to engage diverse donor prospects and designed a strategy targeted at African philanthropists. The concert hall had never before engaged an African philanthropist in their entire 125-year history. Culture Shift Labs delivered two African philanthropists: one they’d never heard of and another they’d been trying to access for one year.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company turned to us to help them connect with innovators, investors and influencers of color. Ford needed these individuals to help them imagine the role technology, innovation, and diversity could play in the future of education. We curated a convening to gather these talented individuals in the same room where they could be introduced to Ford.

Ford wanted to hold an awards event to honor diversity in technology. They asked for our help to select deserving candidates for the awards. We secured 12 outstanding candidates, none of whom Ford had previously heard of. Today, Ford is working with several of these candidates in a variety of groundbreaking projects. One of these innovators is record-setting pilot and educator Barrington Irving, founder of “Classroom in the Sky”.

Platform Summit

The Platform Summit is a trailblazing conference and networking event. It gathers the world’s foremost thinkers and doers and addresses the themes of innovation, society, and invention.

Platform asked us to identify and engage influencers of color and corporate executives and accomplished entrepreneurs who support diversifying the innovation economy.

Year 1: We hosted 189 influencers.

Year 2: We curated the guest list and increased that 189 to 525.

Curating events to generate breakthrough ideas

Culture Shift Labs Guests (Chris Williams, Debra Martin Chase, Bernard & Denise Tyson, John Utendahl). Photo Credit Culture Shift Labs 2015.

At Culture Shift Labs we also curate events with the goal of getting like-minded attendees to collaborate and be provided with access to deal flow.

For each event we invite selected individuals from our database of the diverse elite, chosen for what and who they know. Our database includes experts in virtual reality, mergers and acquisitions, product development, corporate development, consumer product development, new media, technology, innovation, and digital. We have access to civic leaders, former politicians, Wall Streeters, investment bankers, former CEO’s, COOs and more.

Depending on the focus of the event, our invitees include high-caliber people such as:

Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, now CEO of the National Urban League

Guy Primus, former CEO of Will Smith’s production company, now co-founder and CEO of The Virtual Reality Company.

Candice Cook, leading start-up attorney and business strategist.

At our events, we usually find that only ¼ of the room have heard of each other.

We curate different types of events depending on client goals: Think Tanks and Innovation Labs or custom events for our clients such as our Secret Suppers.

We like to explain the difference like this:

Think tanks are like dating. Innovation labs are like getting married. Secret Suppers allow permission to play the field.

Think Tanks

Our customized Think Tanks are the precursor to our Innovation Labs. Where companies are not yet clear or ready to act, we create day long Think Tanks for them. Our aim is to help companies “think” about what’s possible.

We bring together brilliant and interesting people from really diverse backgrounds. Invariably this sparks unusual and innovative ideas, resulting in an intellectually rewarding experience for everyone who attends.

Our business is very “high-touch” allowing us to tailor solutions, curate subject matter experts, and facilitate unique collaborations. This enables our clients to solve problems and identify unforeseen opportunities for growth.

A client recently wanted to gain insight into the role that technology and diversity can play in education innovation. We gathered some of the nation’s leading thinkers and doers for a day of what we call “Imagineering”. It not only blew the client away, it blew away the other people in the room. We were able to introduce people who should have met or collaborated but never did. As a result, ideas and initiatives were funded and expanded and collaborations were forged.

Innovation Labs

Our Innovation Labs are focused on generating breakthrough ideas and creating new business models. The goal is to inspire participants to reach beyond the most obvious ideas and attain a “future state.”

Each lab is attended by our facilitators who are design thinking expert. Our facilitators challenge the participants to step out of their comfort zone, resulting in creative approaches towards developing new products and new markets.

We curate subject matter experts for each lab to introduce perspectives that companies often cannot find inside their four walls. Sometimes the problem in trying to do this inside a company is the companies’ cultures themselves, which tend to squash new ideas before they have a chance to blossom. They tend not to have mechanisms to bring the right mix of people together to spark and activate new ideas.

Our Innovation Labs are the business equivalent of world-class jazz musicians improvising during a jam session. Our participants riff off each other to create a magical moment in time, feeding off each other’s creative genius.

Facilitating introductions and leveraging new opportunities

At Culture Shift Labs, we facilitate introductions to new people and we advise on how to leverage new opportunities to the fullest.

We get people to act and offer a roadmap and resources to get there.

At Culture Shift Labs, our mantra is “growth by way of diversity and innovation.”

Want to find out more?

Visit us at Culture Shift Labs.



Andrea Hoffman

CEO @ Culture Shift Labs | Growth Strategist | Biz Dev Exec | Advisor to Leaders | Author | SME: Diversity & Innovation | Serving Early Adopting Execs.