17th June 2019

An Interview with our Innovation Director Annie Krukowska

When we rebranded to IMG ARENA just over six months ago, our vision was clear - to evolve and inspire the way fans engage with sport.  In January 2019 we launched our unique innovation programme, The IMG ARENA Greenhouse.  This week we took the time to sit down with our Innovation Director, Annie Krukowska to learn more about the programme and what the first 150 days of innovation have held.

Annie, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today –firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I have spent the last 20 years leading media organisations through various business development initiatives, often involving cutting edge technologies and new business models. I have been very lucky to work alongside some true digital pioneers and my intrapreneurial spirit led me to corporate innovation. Before joining IMG ARENA, I was at the BBC Worldwide, now BBC Studios, where I ran the BBC Worldwide Labs. That was really where my love for start-ups became my career. A career that I feel lucky to have.

What attracted you to the role at IMG ARENA?

That’s easy - the vision, scale of ambition, and the drive to make a difference to IMG ARENA and our industry. That was apparent early in my interview process and I just had to be part of it!

What fuels your passion for innovation and start-ups?

I love working with people who are super passionate about their businesses or ideas. I love feeding off their energy and enthusiasm for their projects. They also have some great stories to tell from their past entrepreneurial experiences.

Most successful founders I’ve met have failed before. They are excited to share their lessons from failure, but they don’t let it hold them back. I admire their spirit to dream big and not to give up. I think that this mentality and mantra should be used by everyone – not just start-ups. That is why I love involving the team with the entrepreneurs. It is not just them sharing their knowledge, I hope the entrepreneurs share their spirit and way of working.

What is the IMG ARENA Greenhouse?

It is IMG ARENA’s innovation programme. It is challenge and opportunity driven and sits right at the heart of the business, supporting our sport led vision. We co-innovate with budding entrepreneurs, start-ups, scale-ups, and our partners.

How is the programme going?

We have just come to the end of SEED, our first incubation programme. It was a fantastic first step for the programme and the ideas generated were second to none. We saw a large number of IMG ARENA and our IMG Media colleagues become deeply involved as mentors and helped to guide and shape the business ideas and early stage products. We are very lucky to have such an engaged group of mentors and supporters, who also happened to be experts in their field.

We have also made significant progress in our BOOST and GROW streams with one exciting initial investment that will really deliver value to the IMG ARENA business.

What innovators do you particularly admire?

There are a few, but for me, Elon Musk is up there. A textbook definition of the American Dream. Irrespectively of how profitable (or not…) his business ventures are at any time, he gives people hope. He shows that people can make a dent in the universe. Oh, and he is hilarious on Twitter.

What technology could you not live without?

My iPhone, iPad and the laptop – collectively known as Digi Babies. Good old MS Powerpoint and Google docs. Spotify and Audible. Not very adventurous, but we are talking day-to-day 2019 style. If I were to dream about what tech I’d not live without in the future, I hope that would be Mixed Reality. A vision that entrepreneurs who dream about disrupting Magic Leap or HoloLens are going to realise…one day.

What advice would you give start-ups?

The advice I’d give to any business, irrespective of its size and maturity, would be to always validate their ideas with their customers as early as possible. I cannot stress this enough. So many ideas fail because they don’t meet the needs of customers. You need to ensure you listen to what your customers want, not what you think they want. Another top tip would be don’t ask them if they like it, but if they would pay for it. You would be surprised how different the answers can be.

Why do you think corporate accelerators are important?

They are vital for startups and large organisations. Start-ups lack two key ingredients to their survival – resources and scale. This is something that a proverbial corporate has in abundance. They are mutually beneficial to each other’s growth.

Various models of bringing companies and start-ups together have been tested over the decades, but in my mind, one driven by business challenges is the most beneficial for everyone involved. The model focusses startups on customer driven projects, and enable organisations to receive innovative products fast, without diverting their resources away from core business targets. This is the reason why the IMG ARENA Greenhouse is driven by our business challenges.

How do you see fans engaging with sport in 20 years?

I hope it moves to Virtual and Augmented Reality. I would personally love to see that. To experience live sport from inside your home, or wherever you might be, would be a complete game changer and would open up the fan experience on an unprecedented scale.

Finally, what are your hopes for the IMG ARENA Greenhouse?

Delivering tangible business impact and generating great opportunities for IMG ARENA and entrepreneurs. But in a few years’ time, I’d also like to say we helped to grow at least one unicorn (a billion-dollar company).



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