Interview with xLab Launch Director Jennifer Thomas

Portrait Photo of Jennifer Thomas

After more than six months of market research, prototyping and validation, xLab has been officially launched this spring. We have successfully completed four sponsored projects that cover digital innovations in digital health, digital banking service, insurance, and digital social connection solutions for teenagers. We are following up with members who sponsored these projects to help them to implement these projects as a part of their broad digital roadmaps.

With the successful launch, we are thanking Jennifer Thomas who has worked with us tirelessly as a launch director. We sat down with her to talk about her experience. 

Question: First of all, thank you for all the hard work that you did in launching the xLab. Let me start first by asking you to tell us what you did. How many meetings, how many phone calls, etc. It would be important to share the amount of work that was involved in launching xLab.

Jennifer: Working with professor Youngjin Yoo, I learned that many large corporations in our region were engaging in digital innovation by hiring innovation leads or adopting technology applications, but without a digital strategy, they were struggling to realize a value proposition from the investments.

Our goal with xLab was to discover the digital innovation challenges inside legacy or established multi-national companies and needs of companies in our region and offer them the opportunity to create a stream of tech-savvy talent into their organizations to help them achieve their goals in digital. We met with over 35 companies and had over 70 meetings in a six-month period and found that most companies had the same pain point.

Question: Wow. That’s a lot of work. Now, what are the most surprising findings when you look back? Is there anything that really jumps out?

Jennifer: Almost every company we spoke with collected data. However, across the board we found that companies struggled to create value from the reams of information they had. In many cases, they had chosen a technology first, such as purchasing sensors and other internet of things devices to collect the data, but were unable to create process efficiencies, a new product, or insights into customer behavior. xLab’s goal is to guild them on collecting the right data.

Question: We always said xLab has an important regional economic mission. Can you share your thoughts on that? Where we are now, where we should go as a region? I know that in your previous role, you were leading DigitalC. You were involved with Blockland. You are now the managing director of Plug and Play in Cleveland. So, you know where the region is going, what these companies in this region need. You know what we are trying to do at xLab. So, can you tell us how xLab can contribute to that initiative?

Jennifer: Our region’s corporate economic strengths are in healthcare, manufacturing and financial services. Through xLab, we have found that while companies are committed to building out their own digital innovation strength, and they also understand the importance of leading with technology on a regional scale to attract and retain the right talent that can help power their transition to digital. We have neighboring cities in Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Columbus that are coordinated around artificial intelligence, robotics, and data analytics, respectively.  This region can do that as well but a key part of the formula is having talent. xLab can be a resource to attract the best students to Case Western Reserve University, train those students with real world digital innovation experience, and connect this top talent to our region's corporations. In addition, digital first companies, like Google, Uber, AirBnB, have interest in regions with strong digital talent.

Question: Now you are at Plug and Play. Please tell us what you are doing there and how you think xLab and Plug and Play might work together to help companies in the region.

Jennifer: In my new role as Managing Director of Plug and Play, we aim to enhance the region’s technology and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Plug and Play does three things - accelerates startups, supports open innovation by matching corporations to startups that solve unmet needs, and invests in startups. Working with our partners Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Philips Health and Einstein Medical, our goal is to build a hub for digital health, pharma and enterprise solutions that helps our partners to improve patient care and outcomes, the provider experience and positively impact healthcare and startup ecosystems.

Question: Any last thoughts or parting comments for xLab and its members?

Jennifer: I’ve really enjoyed working with xLab member companies and look forward to the synergies between our organizations!