Matt Wald, president and CEO of Columbus Collaboratory, is a 2018 Columbus Smart 50 honoree
Several years ago, partly to generate more technology job growth, some area CIOs rallied together. They got their CEOs to commit capital and the Columbus Collaboratory was born.
It was rooted in the idea of collaboration among seven of the largest companies in Central Ohio, which were, by design, non-competitive. The new organization could minimize duplicated efforts in data analytics, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Not only would it make them more competitive, it could raise the region’s visibility and attract talent to get away from cycling people around the beltway.
The board did a national search to find a president and CEO for the fledgling organization. Matt Wald, who was working from home for a San Francisco Bay Area-company, thought it seemed too complicated at first. Then, he realized it was an opportunity to build something unique and critical to the future of business.
Wald got the job in March 2015.
“It is absolutely amazing what we’ve been able to do. We started, literally, from scratch. I was employee No. 1,” he says.
The Columbus Collaboratory had to find its footing on new ground, including trying things like open source technology, which it ultimately deprioritized in lieu of bigger opportunities. It had to experiment and evolve quickly.
“There wasn’t a lot of precedent that we could pattern this after. You couldn’t go study five other companies that were collaboratories like this one and go by their playbook,” Wald says.
Today, the organization has close to 40 employees, which could double over the next five years as it meets plan objectives.
Wald has found it useful to accept that some things will remain unknowable, while building a strong partnership with the board. It was also important to find people comfortable with ambiguity and unafraid to lead.
“The combination of those things really helps us manage that uncertainty and identify where the opportunities are and then to go after them,” Wald says.
Plans to commercialize
The next step is taking the intellectual property the Columbus Collaboratory has created and selling it through subset subscriptions. Wald says they’re looking for highly aspirational companies across all industries. So far, it’s been Central Ohio-based businesses, but there are plans to increasingly move outside of that geography.
“We want to be the company that’s the catalyst that demonstrates how collaboration can be a force multiplier for companies that join our collaborating group,” he says.