What is ZX Ventures?
ZX Ventures is the disruptive venture growth arm of AB InBev that focuses on early stage innovation – helping take new businesses within AB InBev from small to big. ZX operates within, but separate from, AB InBev, giving it the best of both worlds. On the one hand ZX Ventures has the autonomy and freedom to operate quickly and flexibly, but on the other hand they leverage all of the competitive advantages of the company, from manufacturing to sales.
But they didn’t get here overnight. After 4 years of experimenting with the operating model, ZX Ventures built a highly sophisticated early stage innovation arm that is responsible for both building and investing in new ventures, outside of the core.
Why did ZX Ventures launch Zxlerator?
As a company, AB InBev has many large strategic priorities that span geographies and categories. With smart people working on these priorities from around the globe, ZX Ventures wanted a way to systematically collect the hypotheses that people had about problems they felt AB InBev was well positioned to solve. That’s why Zxlerator was initially born. Allowing employees around the world to submit their challenges and ideas, it’s the ZX Ventures team’s job to sort through these ideas and prioritize 10-20 of them to go through the rigorous Zxlerator program each year.
Highline Beta comes in to accelerate impact
Highline Beta worked with ZX Ventures from the very beginning, when the accelerator program was just an idea. Our role was to help prioritize and select the ideas or challenges that go through the program and then run a 2 week intensive bootcamp to help teams reframe their opportunities and validate their ideas to move them towards investable businesses. The bootcamp has gone through several iterations, refined each year to deliver the best content around Lean Startup, Design Thinking, conducting user research, prototyping and more.
After the bootcamp, Highline Beta met with each team weekly to set goals, design experiments and help them uncover the entrepreneurial mindset and ways of working to be successful. In 12 weeks, the goal was to get the ventures through as much of the early problem, solution and business model validation they need to pitch for internal investment.
“It’s hard to do good consumer research. How do you know what people do vs. what they say? Highline Beta has helped us build that muscle, but it takes a lot of practice to get there.”
— Alexandra Savona, Global Manager, ZX Ventures
In such a big company with a highly sophisticated innovation strategy, why work with Highline Beta?
“The way we define innovation is going after true consumer problems with solutions that we competitively can deliver. Highline Beta has been a great asset in pushing us to always put the consumer first — it can be very easy to solve our own problems as a business, so the external push and validation helps us keep the consumer at the centre.”
— Alexandra Savona, Global Manager, ZX Ventures
The results of Zxlerator speak for themselves
At the end of the summer accelerator, the executive board converges in New York for Demo Day, where each company pitches to get the investment they need to make their vision into reality. After 5 summers and 60 companies have gone through the program ZX Ventures is beginning to reap the rewards from its portfolio that has done over $1 billion in sales.
ZX Ventures and the Zxlerator program prove that with the right team and the right resources, innovation outside the core can be hugely successful for large companies.
Today, ZX Ventures maintains a portfolio of innovative companies across verticals and stages around the world. Their focus is firmly on seeding, launching, and scaling new products that deliver exceptional consumer experiences and bring people together.
Evergrain is a circular economy focused on finding and commercializing use cases for barley. EverGrain Ingredients create sustainable, nutritious, and functional ingredients for foods, beverages, and nutraceuticals from the power of barley, one of nature’s ancient grains.
Behold the new Black Crown gin and tonic that doesn’t need any extras because it is extra. Made with South African produced citrus fruits, it has a taste that can only be enjoyed by those that appreciate locally crafted excellence. A truly unapologetically African drink made for the ones who are bold enough to own their crown.
Many ventures from the internal accelerator have gone on to receive funding from within AB InBev’s core business or from ZX Ventures itself, and will continue forward to validation and market launch.
This is a testament to the structure, process and intensity of the internal accelerator. Ventures were measured against the problem/solution fit they’d discovered, along with the early traction they’d achieved. Participants acquire new skills, capabilities and confidence in pushing innovation forward in a new way throughout the company.
“We fundamentally believe in the power of creating new ventures and the internal accelerator model to drive growth for AB InBev. Highline Beta has helped us immensely in designing and delivering the program, guiding teams on using a rigorous validation approach to new ideas, and providing an entrepreneurial perspective that helps our new ventures succeed.”
— Alastair Kenvyn, Global Director ZX Ventures
Through the internal accelerator model, ZX Ventures and AB InBev are able to validate (or invalidate) new product, brand, business model and venture opportunities faster and more effectively than was ever possible before. In a short 12-week time frame, AB InBev is able to take control of their innovation pipeline, invent new businesses and drive growth.