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Watsco: Corporations and the open innovation model

Today, we continue our corporate innovation and startup investing series by heading south to Miami where Watsco — one of the world’s largest HVAC companies — is pioneering the next generation of their business.

Ivan Rapin-Smith currently leads Watsco Ventures and is on a mission to invest in new technologies and business models. He formerly ran the startup accelerator program at the Venture Hive in Downtown Miami, and co-founded the first startup accelerator in Belgium. Ivan brings more than twenty years of experience in startup creation, mentorship, and strategy to his role as a corporate investor.


Startup Angels: How does Wastco, Inc. -– the largest air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration company in the US — invest in relationships with the startup community?

Ivan Rapin-Smith: Watsco Ventures was created in December 2014 with a mandate to invest in new technology and business models to create profit streams adjacent to Watsco’s core business.

We have a corporate venture fund, as well as an innovation lab for incubating companies in-house… but we are also very interested in supporting entrepreneurs outside our walls. I’m always looking for fresh, talented teams who are interested in creating new technology-enabled products and services in our industry where there are many exciting opportunities to create profitable B2B and B2C businesses.

Startup Angels: What investment models encourage innovation inside a corporation like Watsco?

Ivan: I’m excited by the open innovation model, where you invite entrepreneurs to work on problems worth solving. Watsco can provide capital, industry expertise and distribution at scale to innovators. These innovators can join us as intrapreneurs with a full-time job for the security or can choose to work as an independent startup. The way to collaborate is flexible, as long as we are innovating together and creating value…our mindset is “come work with us, and we will remain open to whatever workflow and suggestions you have to offer.”

By building teams in-house that are innovative, you can foster an environment that retains some of your most creative colleagues while resonating with entrepreneurs outside the company. The end-goal for major corporations is clear– you have to innovate.

The good news is, this whole trend of incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces is making it so much easier to get plugged into the startup ecosystem. This is happening in Miami, and across the United States.

Startup Angels: As a consultant in the art of unlocking human resources, how would you characterize productive intrapreneurship in a corporate environment?

Ivan: By investing, you have the ability to observe trends that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and it gets the creativity flowing… it forces you to look at things in a different way.

What I personally love is following startups and investing as a way to spend time with the founders to understand how they see the world and then identify strategic opportunities where 1 + 1 can equal 10. In those scenarios, both the startup and investor win. It opens up your vision of what the world can be, complementing and expanding the views of your own customers, vendors and employees.


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Interested in learning more about the people and strategies behind corporate venture investment? Attend one of our workshops and learn new best practices in funding technological innovation.