Digital City is a gleaming corporate utopia in Suwon-si, an hour south of Seoul. One floor under Central Park is an underground crossroads that connects high rise buildings (and protects workers from Korea’s hot summers and cold winters) and is the epicenter of Samsung’s commitment to innovation.

Jay Lee leads the Creativity & Innovation Lab, C-Lab for short, a corporate incubator launched in 2012 with the goal of being “Creative igniters for the future.”

Open to any Samsung employee, C-lab is temporary home to about 100 staffers working on new projects. They get a two year runway, some investment and technical assistance.

The incubator has spun up 180 business ideas in 16 categories (below) from 750 participants.

Some of the ideas picked for development include:

  • EyeCan: eye tracking mouse for disabled users
  • Noe.Ye.Mo: brainwave sensing wearable that detects strokes
  • TipTalk: uses vibrations in your finger to answer smartwatch phone calls
  • Idea printer: compact printer that connects to phones and prints on sticky notes.
  • Mr VR: motion headset that lets you feel VR (below)
  • Mopic: phone accessory that enables 3D content
  • HumOn: transcribed humming into musical score with orchestration
  • Relumino: improves vision for sight impaired
  • Ignis: thermal imaging devices and gas mask visor for firefighters

In the next few years Samsung plans to invest $1 billion in venture deals including C-Lab companies.

There have been 32 spinout companies from C-Lab. About a third of the ideas are abandoned. Samsung will rehire entrepreneurs if they aren’t successful developing a product or developing a market fit.

In addition to serving as an innovation engine for the Korean tech giant, C-Lab is a cultural experiment. Founding values include creative ideas, pioneering spirit, lean thinking, and collective intelligence.

Borrowing from Zappos, C-Lab models a holacracy where teams operate with autonomy. Jay Lee explains that by forming many small business units they hope to spur disruptive innovation and a new kind of hybrid organization.

Budding entrepreneurs in the lab use Mosaic, a collective intelligence platform that combines analytical, marketing and communication tools.

Each year the 30 C-Lab staffers hosts two hackathons where all Samsung employees can work on new ideas.

C-Lab for Education?

C-Lab is a great example of a corporate incubator, but what does it mean for education?

A recent education conference in Seoul hosted by the World Bank and the Korean government included representatives from southeast Asian countries. Participants visited Samsung looking for secrets of the innovation economy–for industry and education.

Every region needs a C-Lab for learning. Some regions already have an incubator: LearnLaunch in Boston and 4.0 Schools in New Orleans, for example. Tech incubators like

Y Combinator in San Francisco and 1776 in DC also serve EdTech startups. (See full list of incubators and accelerators).

Denver Public Schools is the only school district with its own incubator, the Imaginarium, where teacher teams can design new learning models.

C-Lab gets five things right that regional edu-incubators could learn from

  • Everybody can propose new ideas–and good ideas rise to the top
  • You drive your idea (and it doesn’t get jacked by the mothership)
  • Teams get a two year runway with some investment and technical assistance
  • Teams with demonstrated market fit get venture investment
  • Five year safety net: you can get your old job back if the idea flops

Samsung, Hyundai, LG and other Korean companies are making the shift from decades focusing on low cost manufacturing as the competitive advantage to innovation as the new leverage point. C-Lab is a great step in that direction.

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