Taking the lead on innovation: TomTom Lab builds new ideas and connections
Mehdi Comeau·Nov 15, 2023

Taking the lead on innovation: TomTom Lab builds new ideas and connections

Mehdi Comeau blogjpeg
Mehdi Comeau
Nov 15, 2023 · 4 min read
TomTom Lab builds new ideas and connections | TomTom Newsroom

Innovation is easier said than done. Yet so many companies are talking about it that the word has been reduced to a meaningless buzzword. It’s hard to tell who’s just saying it and who’s acting on it. So, we looked beyond the term to find out how TomTom’s innovation program, TomTom Lab, is taking action to create an impact.

We talked to Chris Poppe, the Engineering Program Director who’s been the TomTom Lab Lead for two years now, and participated twice. “I absolutely love it!” he tells us, “Combining creativity with hacking something together; thinking about how to pitch the story and meeting many different people; bringing together a small team of enthusiasts and guiding them till we built something that even surprised ourselves.”

TomTom’s innovation program: TomTom Lab

The program culminates in the company-wide hackathon: What The Hack. The ninth edition is wrapping up this week. Energy remains high as hundreds of TomTom’ers around the world finish up an intensive week of hacking.

“When I became the lead,” Chris tells us, “we looked at the initial goal and evolved it. TomTom Lab is now a program to boost innovation across the company and to connect people with each other, with our products and services and with our company strategy.”

So far, hackathons are the main activity. This year the company also hosted a GenAI mini-hack to give TomTom’ers more chances to think up and work on fresh ideas. Those ideas then have the chance to develop and go on to What The Hack.

Structure, freedom, results

To drive innovation further at the big hackathon, TomTom sets focus areas that are relevant to current challenges facing the business, industry and society. This year’s hackathon had four focus areas: Open Data and TomTom; ChatGPT, AI and Machine Learning; Red-tape busting; and The Feedback Loop.

Each area guides and inspires TomTom’ers’ thinking as they come up with ideas, and meeting-free hacking days give them time to bring those ideas to life, before pitching to a live jury. Ten teams go to the finale, where the company will watch as the teams pitch to the company’s top leadership team.

Such structure combined with the freedom to think up your own idea, build it and pitch it is what creates results, and innovation that makes an impact.

As an example, one idea from TomTom Lab went on to be developed and integrated into the TomTom AmiGO app. The feature, “hearing-impaired mode,” is now helping deaf drivers navigate. From another hackathon, TomTom created their new internal developer portal, which is also now used for the hackathons.

As Chris says, “Everybody has the chance to have a meaningful impact on the way we work, the products and services we build and the direction we follow.”

There’s more to innovation

What’s another reason that TomTom Lab has been so successful and popular among TomTom’ers? It brings people together who wouldn’t normally meet, working in different departments, offices and countries. As a team, participants can learn from each other and develop new relationships in and outside of the workplace.

Our hackathons are fun. They’re a great way to meet new people, to do something else than your day-to-day activity. As such, they provide possibilities. Thanks to TomTom Lab, products and services have evolved, people have moved to different roles and long-lasting memories and friendships have been created.

Chris Poppe

TomTom Lab Lead and Engineering Program Director, TomTom

Producing innovators

Now let’s look at Chris’ career journey. He joined TomTom over 10 years ago, as a Research Engineer who was inventing and implementing algorithms that look at GPS probe data to find errors in the map. Since, he’s been able to pursue his interests through varied roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner, Project Manager, Engineering Manager and, currently, Engineering Program Director.

Similar to Chris’ career path, innovation is a process of development. It doesn’t just happen. And to truly introduce something new at a company, the company must support the process. That goes beyond statements of innovation and into the heads and hands of employees.

As Wired noted, to be innovative “we need people to possess a series of thinking skills and behavioral traits that result in their ability to discover, develop, and test ideas and solutions that will result in positive changes.” TomTom Lab does just that, all within the kind of growth culture that fosters innovation, or, as Wired puts it, produces innovators.

Making it mean something

Beyond the word, innovation at TomTom appears to live and breathe through the enthusiasm, ideas and hard work of everyone involved. There’s a dedicated process that’s been running for nearly a decade, with a safe and structured environment to be creative, embedded in a culture that altogether fosters the skills and behaviors people need to innovate.

Do you want to join TomTom’s next hackathon? All you need to do is become a TomTom’er. Every employee is invited to participate, pitching their own ideas or joining another team.

Chris notes, “You don’t have to be technical to join. Every team can use people that are creative, can help in building the story, can assist in evaluating or testing a product, do user research or market analysis, for example.”

Give it a shot. You might surprise yourself.

Find your impact at TomTom

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