Henry Ford once said: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Bill Coughlin, the president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies, has taken that message to heart. Over the past decade, he has spearheaded Ford’s efforts to accelerate mobility innovation and entrepreneurial ventures in Detroit, the legendary automotive capital of the world.
“It’s exciting to be part of the resurgence of mobility,” said Coughlin, who delivered keynote remarks on Wednesday at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. “We don’t want the Motor City to lose its mojo as an innovator in the mobility space.”
Leveraging the power of intellectual property is the key driver behind Ford’s innovation strategy and its long-term goal to be a leader in urban mobility, according to Coughlin, who is a patent attorney. As a subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., Ford Global Technologies is charged with oversight and protection of the company’s patents, trademarks and other intellectual property. It also has a mandate to leverage IP for optimum value and to enhance the company’s business strategy. Coughlin and his team have developed a detailed roadmap for achieving these ambitious objectives.
“We look at intellectual property not just as a legal matter but as a business, and we run it as a business,” Coughlin said. “It’s an important growth business for us.” Ford’s approach to creating value around intellectual property includes: co-sponsoring innovative projects, coaching employees internally and making investments in start-ups and cutting-edge technologies. Currently, Ford is the industry leader in creating patents that will fill the company’s pipeline for years to come. “If we do all this right, it becomes a virtuous circle, and we can sustain our competitive advantage,” Coughlin adds.
Among Coughlin’s and Ford Global Technologies’ most successful collaborative initiatives are:
TechShop Detroit – Ford and TechShop Inc. have turned a 33,000 sq. ft. facility adjacent to Ford’s Dearborn product development center into a Silicon Valley-style start-up incubator. Innovators, ranging from weekend tinkerers to software engineers, are able to use the facility’s tools, prototyping equipment and computers to invent the next big thing in automotive technology.
Techstars Mobility, Driven by Detroit – Ford is partnering with Magna International, Verizon Telematics, Dana Holding Corp., McDonald’s Corp. and American Honda Motor Co. on the launch of the mobility- and transportation-focused business start-up accelerator. Initially, 10 start-up companies have been selected from among nearly 350 applicants for the three-week mentorship program, which kicks off on June 9. Over the next three years, 30 companies will move to Michigan to build mobility solutions and bring new technologies to market.
In 2013, Ford made its first acquisition in 13 years when it purchased software start-up Livio Radio, a Livonia, Mich.-based maker of a platform for in-car apps, with a focus on audio and music services. Now operating under the Ford Global Technologies umbrella, Livio is advancing connectivity for customers and leading the way for in-vehicle connectivity throughout the automotive industry.
While substantial progress has been made at Ford Global Technologies since Coughlin took the helm, creating new ideas and escaping the old ones in an industry long known for its stodgy ways and silo mentality continues to be an uphill climb. “We’re trying to think more like a Silicon Valley company,” Coughlin said, “but Ford still has a ways to go in working with start-ups and venture capitalists.”