Innovation Factory. Sounds good, what is it?

For the past 2,5 years, I've been working at Rabobank as the Lead of the Innovation Factory. What? For those interested in corporate innovation, I share what that is and how we work together on H2/H3 innovation within the bank.

Gert Hans Berghuis
Gert Hans Berghuis
Ex Lead Innovation Factory
5 minutes
March 21, 2022

Innovation is a broad term. When I explain it to students, I tell them that innovation is a process to get from A to B, assuming that B is a more desirable situation than A. Quite broad indeed.

Within the bank, we often talk about McKinsey’s Three Horizons, a widely used model that also often causes discussion in our company, because the dividing lines are rather subject to perspective. Anyway, the Innovation Factory that I lead was created primarily to help the business with H2 and H3 innovation; the search for new business models for the bank. Perhaps you know examples like SurePay and Peaks. So, we’re not involved in the new version of the mobile payment app or the website, for example. That’s what other teams do.

The Business is leading

There are a number of models for setting up corporate innovation. At Rabobank, we chose to do it within the bank, in close cooperation with the business lines Particulieren, Bedrijven, Wholesale & Rural and De Lage Landen.

Unlike the model in which an Innovation Hub determines its own strategy and initiatives autonomously, independently of the rest of the organization, we explicitly chose to put the business lines in the lead.

The reason for this is that many innovations at the end of the funnel either make a spin-out as an independent start-up, or make a spin-in to the business lines. Particularly this spin-in is often difficult in corporate innovation, because the mother ship has to be strategically, politically, emotionally and practically connected in order to embrace the new initiative and give it a place in business as usual.

Another reason is that there’s an incredible amount of knowledge in the business about everything from money to market to context. Think, for example, of our global Food and Agri expertise.

That’s why, at Rabobank, the ownership lies within the business, embodied by the Innoleads. These are the four strategists/managers who prepare an innovation thesis in close collaboration with their business line. That thesis is a vision and strategy for innovation for the coming years.

Within those strategic frameworks, concrete initiatives are then developed in a deep dive, which are picked up by business champs and developed in a Lean Startup-based process.

Think about concrete initiatives in the areas of sustainability, food production in 2050, identity and data management, and future living.

Rabobank Innovation Roadmap

At Rabobank we — like pretty much all corporates that take innovation seriously — follow the Lean Startup way of working. We’ve put that framework in place and renamed it to Innovation Roadmap, but it broadly comes down to the same thing: a funnel process in which we validate hypotheses from Problem Fit to Scale.

Rabobank Innovation Roadmap
Rabobank Innovation Roadmap v1.0

The Innovation Factory supports the initiatives in this process. It’s an internal agency with about fifty great colleagues who, like an internal accelerator, help the business champs to validate their initiative and develop it into a successful product or service. Or decide halfway through that it won’t work out and pick up something else, equally fine.

Our team consists of open innovation consultants, designers, validation experts, coaches and developers who, in different composition, support the initiatives. We build internal start-up teams, so to speak. Some of them are permanently employed, some are freelance or external employees through agencies that provide additional capacity.

All our people have an innovation mindset: we believe that trying and learning is the best way to do innovation. They are open, curious and ask questions, which they also help to answer, by the way.

We are a bank, so as a team we work closely with Compliance, Legal & Risk and IT. Your corporate innovation as a bank is as good as the ease with which you can bring these perspectives into the process. Otherwise, it’s going to cause delays at a later stage.

Sounds fun. But what do you do exactly?

The Innovation Factory helps the business lines within Rabobank to accelerate their innovation on — in particular — horizon 2 and horizon 3.

As Innovation Factory we have four services to help our internal clients innovate:

1. Open Innovation Consultancy

Open Innovation means working with external partners such as start-ups, scale-ups and other corporates to combine forces. We advise our internal clients on the choice “buy, collaborate or build”, do market analysis and scouting of external initiatives, help to shape and set up the collaboration. The latter turns out to be quite a challenge in a large bank, because of the regulatory and organizational complexity.

2. Coaching

With coaching we help the Product Owner to (further) develop a value proposition throughout the entire innovation funnel. Our (mostly experienced and senior) coaches are the navigators and sparring partner for the business champs. Some are employed, others are freelancers.

3. Design and validation

Our design and validation experts help the team develop their value proposition step by step. We design and develop what is needed to validate hypotheses. These experiments can range from paper prototypes or dummy screens of apps to full MVPs. We have a scalable team of internal and external developers who can quickly develop MVPs, using common components like PSD2 links to retrieve transaction information. With these services we help the business champ to validate the viability, feasibility and desirability of the initiative step by step.

4. Trainings

To further accelerate innovation, it’s important that colleagues are trained in skills, knowledge and the right mindset. Therefore, we offer a wide range of trainings, for example on applying Lean Startup, creating value propositions and brands and how to involve Compliance, Legal & Risk (CLR) in the innovation process.


We have a great team in place. The way I write it down, it all seems pretty much in place, so you might ask: where’s the challenge? There are plenty of those, as corporate innovation remains a great adventure.

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About the author

Gert Hans Berghuis
Gert Hans Berghuis
Ex Lead Innovation Factory
Gert Hans works as Lead of the Innovation Factory at Rabobank. He is fascinated by the process of innovation, and the quest for new business models. Next to Rabobank, he works part-time as a lecturer at TU Delft for one day a week. He loves working with students and sharing experiences.