How Mirvac hatched its innovation mission

Every company wants to create an innovation culture – but Mirvac is doing it. We check in with Mirvac’s group general manager of innovation, Teresa Giuffrida, to find out how.

The basement of the EY Centre at 200 George Street may seem an unlikely place to find an urban farm, but Mirvac’s Cultivate pilot program is bringing real food to office workers and helping them to get their hands dirty.

The pop-up urban farm is a partnership between Mirvac and Farmwall, a start-up that creates natural, food producing ecosystems in urban spaces.

Using grow lamps and hydroponics, Cultivate’s volunteers are growing herbs, leafy greens and other vegetables. The farm also produces mushrooms, grown in coffee ground waste saved from landfill.

It takes just seven minutes for the food to get from ‘parking lot to plate’ and Cultivate has started supplying some produce to nearby cafés, including Avenue on George and the Song Café.

Cultivate arose as Mirvac’s innovation team, known as Hatch, began to explore how urban spaces such as car parks, rooftops, basements and community areas could be better used.

“Hatch was established four years ago to build innovation capability across Mirvac’s business,” Giuffrida (pictured right) explains.

Leading a four-person full-time innovation team, Giuffrida also supports a larger network of 50-plus “innovation champions” who spend two or three days each month working on ‘missions’ to improve Mirvac’s business and experience for customers.

“If you want game-changing innovation, you need diversity – and that means working with people from across the business,” Giuffrida explains.

Hatch has embraced a “unique innovation model”, Giuffrida says, based on “leading academic research”.

“We teach our people a best-practice process – one that is customer-centric – that they can apply to everything they do.”

The first thing Hatch does is define a mission. Cultivate arose from the mission to make better use of Mirvac’s assets. The Shopping Nanny service – which has thrown a lifeline to busy parents visiting four Mirvac shopping centres – was the result of a desire to increase customer dwell times. Hatch’s team speaks to customers to explore “pain points” and look for problems.

“You’ve got to pound the pavement to speak to customers. The number one reason why innovation fails is because it doesn’t solve a customer problem.”

Next, Hatch crafts a challenge and hosts an “ideation session”.

“Typically, half the people who come to an ideation session are non-Mirvac people. We bring in students, business owners and customers because we want new ideas, not those that everyone else in the industry is thinking about. Diversity is fantastic for creative output,” Giuffrida says.

The team typically comes up with 100 ideas to solve one problem, “and then we decide which ideas will go to the next phase of experimentation”.

And then Hatch experiments.

 

Experiment first, implement later

“Many businesses have an idea and go straight to implementation. By missing experimentation, they miss the opportunity to test the idea cheaply with customers.”

Cultivate is one of those experiments, and Mirvac plans to learn as much as possible over a six-week period. Giuffrida says it’s about “making small bets along the way”.

“The learnings we are getting from Cultivate are very rich and valuable, and we are only three weeks in,” she says.

The results so far are fascinating. Hatch expected 20 to 30 people to express interest in being urban farmers – but more than 200 people from Mirvac, EY and AGL registered to participate.

“We’ve educated 61 people in urban farming so far, so we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Giuffrida explains.

Cultivate ticks a lot of boxes: health and wellbeing, collaboration, sustainability and new supply chains are just a few.

Urban farmers have been delighted to discover their own oyster mushroom in the soup of the day served in the staff café, while others are scheduling team meetings down in the space.

The seven minutes it takes to get the food from farm to plate is impressive, and with zero chemicals, pesticides or packaging waste, it’s easy to see why Cultivate is a sustainable solution. But it’s “more than a garnish,” Giuffrida says.

Cultivate has also been a great collaboration tool and “conversation starter”, Giuffrida says. “Bringing the natural environment into the workplace is proven to boost creating thinking. And the garden looks great too – it’s been well executed so it has enhanced our building asset.”

The project has the broader advantage of testing out different ways of using car parks as autonomous vehicle technology develops.

Krishna Mohan, one of the amateur farmers who joined the program to learn more about growing food, has been impressed by how “amazing” the food tastes, and says “it is also really nice to have a break from my desk in such a unique way”.

 

More than a hackathon

After Cultivate winds up, the Hatch team will collate their learnings, refine their approach and then decide on the next experiment.

Giuffrida says lots of people are seduced by “innovation theatre” – the hackathon or innovation lab – but aren’t really doing the “hard work” of talking to customers, understanding their problems and using a structured process to find solutions.

Hatch has its own budget, support from Mirvac’s leaders and a growing army of champions. “We are set up for success,” Giuffrida says proudly.

Among the projects underway is an experiment which explores Mirvac customer attitudes to solar energy. Customers at the Ascot Green apartment development in Brisbane have been given the option to upgrade to solar panels, and Mirvac is looking to learn what drives behavioural change to deliver solar energy more effectively.

“We are working with lots of different technologies – robotics, AI and drone technology for example – with a robust pipeline of strategic projects underway that link to an innovation mission and solve problems for our customers.”

But Hatch isn’t just about technology.

“Hatch is about building innovation capability across the business. By immersing people in our thinking and process, they can take that back to their everyday roles. The whole model is designed to ripple out innovation across the business.

“We are seeing huge benefits, but it’s a transformation that takes time. Mirvac has chosen the long game – one that will embed innovation throughout our business.”