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Emma Heaton-Esposito | Director of Marketing & Innovation Engagements at Shipyard Technology

Championing Change: Emma Heaton-Esposito’s Transformative Journey to Digital Innovation Excellence

Businesses today grapple with the challenge of meeting dynamic market demands and evolving consumer needs. It’s a scenario where companies stand at a crucial crossroads, yearning to find innovative solutions that align with the pulse of the modern market.

Amidst this intricate web of challenges and opportunities, Emma Heaton-Esposito shines as a guiding light, illuminating the path with her blend of creativity, strategic acumen, and design thinking. She is a transformative force navigating the complexities of venturing into uncharted territories.

Within the dynamic world of startup innovation Emma possesses a unique blend of skills that breathe life into new solution ideas. As the Director of Marketing & Innovation Engagements at Shipyard Technology Ventures, she takes on a revolutionary approach to researching, ideating, prototyping, marketing and launching digital products. Shipyard doesn’t just create digital solutions—they co-create and launch technology ventures that redefine entire industries.

Emma’s expertise and visionary leadership extend beyond consultancy diving deep into the core of companies’ needs, transforming abstract ideas into tangible, market-ready innovations. Her role is not just about strategizing but also about crafting a narrative that aligns with Shipyard’s mission—to pioneer a new era in corporate innovation.

Let’s explore how Emma’s shaping the future of technology and innovation!

Leading with Grit

In Emma’s career as a marketing and digital product leader, she has embraced diverse responsibilities, which paved the way for her current dual role as the Marketing Director and Director of Innovation Engagements at Shipyard Technology Ventures. Here, she manages “strategies, customer validation, and go-to-market initiatives” for SYT, its affiliates and clients hailing from Fortune 500 companies.

Emma’s journey wasn’t a direct route to SYT—her prior gig was as the Head of Creative Operations at Core, Ireland’s top communications agency. She considered this as an opportunity to partner with teams across data, research, strategy, media, and creativity. ‘Partnership’ was the keyword there as she integrated the amalgamation of numerous businesses, implementing efficient project management practices, renegotiating price contracts, and hunting down fresh collaboration opportunities. The result? A substantial turnaround, flipping “consecutive creative net losses into a €1m profit.”

Before her Irish adventure, Emma led the charge as the Lead Product Manager at Method, New York. Her focus was on driving customer-centric design strategies; her most notable accomplishment was overseeing the product strategy, global qualitative and quantitative customer research, UX/UI and implementation rollout of McDonald’s self-ordering kiosks. She fondly recalls that time, saying, “Even today, if I see a McDonald’s kiosk, I remember all the incredible work my team did to bring that to life and love to see version 5.0 expanding!

While Emma’s career before these showcases globe-trotting stints at esteemed agencies like Ogilvy, M&C Saatchi, and TMW in London, she acknowledges that it hasn’t been a cakewalk. One of the towering challenges she’s surmounted is staying ahead of the curve in the ever-evolving world of marketing and technology. She’s a firm believer in ‘learning by doing’ and expanding knowledge through practical experience, as is evident from her academic qualifications. She holds a master’s in design from Central Saint Martins and she’s stacked up professional certifications in project management, agile development and innovation, along with Leadership & Entrepreneurship from UCD in Ireland. This has honed her skills in human-centered design thinking, marketing strategy, creative production, and digital product delivery operations

The other challenge that Emma has mastered is the art of managing cross-functional teams. Aligning conflicting business objectives was no easy feat, but she prevailed by skillfully resolving conflicts and fostering collaboration across global teams. This played a pivotal role in ensuring the timely delivery of projects and cemented her success.

For Emma, it’s all about combining hands-on experience with theoretical knowledge, fostering partnerships, embracing challenges, and steering through the ever-changing tides of technology.

Anchored Ambitions

In a world driven by digitalization and constant change, organizations need experts who can navigate the complex landscape of technology and innovation. As an industry leader in digital product and venture building, Shipyard Technology Ventures has established a reputation for excellence in helping organizations embrace disruption. Shipyard Technology Ventures’ mission is to empower organizations to thrive in the digital age by providing strategic guidance and execution expertise in digital product development and venture building.

Emma shares, “Our vision is to facilitate digital innovation and partner with large organizations for their reach and balance sheet, resulting in transformative solutions that drive growth and success.” It offers distinct services—a trio of groundbreaking services designed to transform businesses in the digital era. Here’s a glimpse into their offerings:

  • Innovation Consulting: Shipyard Technology Ventures collaborates closely with clients to design and construct digital solutions that fuel business transformation. They offer a ‘Build for you service,’ taking complete project ownership and executing on behalf of clients. Alternatively, there’s the ‘Build with you’ approach, a collaborative solution where Shipyard works alongside client teams. Emma explains, “We leverage our strategic thinking, design experts, digital product development capacity and entrepreneurial mindset to guide and mentor clients throughout an innovation lifecycle.”
  • Technology Partners: This service entails a curated selection of technology companies, providing specialized products and services tailored to specific industries. By partnering with Shipyard Technology Ventures, organizations tap into a ready-made ecosystem of expertise and resources. Emma emphasizes, “Clients benefit from a strategic partnership, gaining access to cutting-edge technologies for innovation. We offer technology implementation, scalability guidance, operational support, and industry networking.”
  • Venture Building: Shipyard Technology Ventures’ global reach and excellence in venture building are exemplified by its track record of success across different continents and regions. Notable ventures include a retail technology startup in APAC that revolutionized the online shopping experience through interactive displays using advanced analytics and a sustainable energy venture in EMEA that optimized energy production and consumption through IoT and data analytics.

Shipyard Technology Ventures is more than a consultancy—it is a strategic partner for organizations aspiring to thrive in the digital age.

Leaving a Mark

McDonald’s faced significant challenges with long queues, low sales and declining customer loyalty. When Emma worked at Method in New York, an innovation design consultancy, she tackled McDonald’s challenges head-on, crafting a transformative solution by partnering with McDonald’s global HQ to design and develop the self-ordering kiosk system you may see in restaurants today. Combining our knowledge of customer behaviours, design and technology, the direction created user-friendly kiosks that transformed the ordering process.

The impact of the kiosks was significant, leading to a substantial increase in customer satisfaction and basket spending. According to statistics, there was a 20% increase in average basket spend among customers who ordered through the kiosks compared to those who used traditional tills. This increase was due to several factors, including upselling, personalized recommendations and ease of wayfinding. Emma explains, “I led the team to provide strategic guidance and execution expertise with go-to-market strategies and digital product design, enabling McDonald’s to stay ahead of competitors and enhance their customer experience game.”

To remain competitive in a saturated automotive industry, Mini (BMW) aimed to gain global attention and engage with customers beyond traditional advertising methods. At M&C Saatchi, Emma and her team developed an omnichannel campaign that leveraged social media, experiential marketing and traditional advertising.

The London Olympics 2012 served as the perfect platform for Mini to launch this global campaign. With a focus on engaging with customers worldwide, the team created valuable and compelling content that conveyed key messaging and amplified the brand’s personality. The impact of the campaign was significant. It led to a considerable increase in brand awareness, customer engagement, and sales. According to statistics, the campaign reached over 214 million viewers worldwide and Mini out-performed the competition in sales with a 13% increase in revenue compared to the previous year.

Blackrock finance advisor tool revolutionized the way advisors ensured that portfolios are designed to perform as intended and simplified the process of sharing essential information with clients. By undertaking deep customer testing of advisors and their clients, Emma developed a user-friendly and effective tool that streamlined portfolio management and enhanced communication between advisors and clients. This innovation not only improved efficiency in the industry but also strengthened the relationships between advisors and their clients, ultimately driving better financial outcomes.

At TMW, Emma oversaw some Unilever accounts and delivered significant awareness and new customer acquisition—and for example—SlimFast. Emma reflects, “We delivered huge social media campaigns, a complete website refresh, targeted banners, OOO and partnered with a platform provider to create a personalized digital lifestyle magazine, improving search engine visibility, site engagement and visitor retention.”

The results? Impressive with 55,000 registrants within three months and a 90% conversion rate upon sign-up. And, the eCRM achieved a remarkable 32% click-through rate, surpassing the industry average of 23%.

These milestones demonstrate Emma ability to drive tangible outcomes and make a lasting impact through strategic marketing expertise and a deep understanding of digital innovation.

Beneath the Surface

At Shipyard Technology Ventures, the primary areas of work revolve around rapid ideation, solution validation, solution prototyping, and product development. These activities are at the core of its approach, facilitating outcome delivery that helps clients make confident and credible innovation investments. By combining strategic thinking, design, marketing, and technical expertise, the company is empowering clients to navigate through the complexities of the digital landscape and drive successful outcomes.

A passion for innovation drives team members at Shipyard Technology Ventures. They possess the ability to transform strategic ideas into investment propositions that can create a significant impact. Emma emphasizes, “We value human-centered design and naturally have attracted systematic thinkers with a knack for approaching complex challenges with a structured and holistic mindset.”

She also adds, “We value honesty, authenticity and a positive can-do attitude. We believe in fostering an environment where individuals can be genuine and true to themselves, enabling open and honest collaboration with our clients.”

Collaboration is essential in its work culture. They value individuals who can work effectively with colleagues across the Shipyard group, leveraging diverse perspectives and expertise to drive innovation. Being a remote-first organization, flexibility is key. Team members embrace the opportunities and challenges that come with working in a flexible setting, adapting to various situations with ease.

Shipyard Technology Ventures operates in a fast-paced environment where multiple client engagements may occur simultaneously. Team members demonstrate the ability to effectively multitask and context switch, ensuring each client’s needs are met with excellence.

Waves of Innovation

Technology has revolutionized various sectors, reshaping industries and redefining how businesses operate. In this digital age, harnessing technological advancements is crucial for companies to stay competitive and achieve sustainable growth. Shipyard Technology Ventures is at the forefront of this digital transformation, committed to leveraging the power of technology to provide resourceful and innovative solutions for clients and customers.

By embracing cutting-edge technology, Shipyard Technology Ventures enables clients to swiftly implement and test new ideas, efficiently scale products and do so cost-effectively. Utilizing a curated network of technology partners and a robust reference architecture across all Shipyard Companies, Shipyard offers tailored solutions addressing unique challenges and market opportunities. Clients partnering with Shipyard gain access to a vast pool of expertise and resources, driving innovation and business progress.

One such example is the partnership with Exante Parametric & Predictive Parametric InsurTech Platform, providing advanced data analytics for optimized risk management and streamlined underwriting processes. Shipyard’s focus on cloud-native, cloud-agnostic and automation-focused offerings ensures cutting-edge technology integration. Their approach emphasizes speed, enabling agile development and swift solution deployment.

Leveraging data analytics, Shipyard provides valuable insights, fostering informed decision-making. Through an API-first strategy, seamless integration with existing systems and collaboration with external partners are simplified. Embracing open-source solutions, Shipyard fosters innovation and flexibility, embodying the future of technology-driven business solutions.

Innovate or Stagnate

In the fast-paced world of digital innovation, securing funding remains a persistent challenge. Traditional funding avenues, like departmental budgets, venture capital, crowdfunding, and government grants, often prioritize short-term gains and shy away from risks. Yet, to truly bring about transformative change, a shift toward encouraging risk-taking, allocating funds for ‘explorative’ innovation, and embracing extended time frames is necessary.

Typical funding channels face limitations when it comes to supporting high-risk, long-term projects. Corporate budgets primarily focus on day-to-day operations, leaving little space for innovative ventures. Venture capitalists seek rapid returns and favour opportunities with clear market demand and swift profitability. Crowdfunding platforms cater to tangible projects, often overlooking more abstract or prolonged innovations. Government grants, though supportive, come with strict guidelines and complex application procedures, hindering ambitious, groundbreaking ideas.

This cautious funding approach dissuades start-ups and innovators from pursuing transformative initiatives. The most innovative ideas, initially lacking clear commercial viability, are the explorative innovations capable of triggering significant market disruptions. However, they often lack the necessary financial backing. In contrast, historical examples like the Medici Family’s patronage of Renaissance Italian art allowed for creativity to flourish without the pressure of profitability.

A modern illustration of patient funding lies in The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, initiated in 2011. By 2022, after 11 years of innovation, research, testing, and iteration, they partnered with Samsung to introduce a toilet that converts waste into ashes. This extended time frame enabled thorough experimentation and refinement, leading to a successful and impactful solution.

With the given opportunity, Emma would champion a transformative change—to create a pot of funds (pre-seed funding) dedicated to explorative innovation with long-term potential, not just near-term profits.

She exclaims, “Who knows!” It could create ideas that can revolutionize industries and reshape the business landscape, but it would definitely nurture cultures of creativity and encourage individuals and teams to think beyond conventional boundaries or milestones. That for her is true investment in innovation, allowing the creativity of innovation to flourish, without the constraints associated with fast proof points that exist in today’s innovation market.

Beyond Conventions

Artificial Intelligence is not just the next major industry disruptor; it is already permeating various industries and becoming ingrained in our everyday lives. The potential of AI extends far beyond consumer applications. In industries such as healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and transportation,

As an innovative venture capital firm, Shipyard Technology Ventures is gearing up for the AI revolution. They are proactively identifying and investing in tech companies disrupting traditional industries with AI. Strategic investments in AI-powered startups across various sectors will empower them to scale their innovations.

Emma shares, “By aligning funding with large corporates, we enable early products to thrive, benefitting both our clients and partners.” Shipyard’s commitment to forefront AI innovation ensures our pivotal role in industry disruption. Preparing for the AI wave, it is ready to seize opportunities, navigate challenges and shape global industries, leaving a lasting mark on the business landscape.

Aspirations in Innovation

Emma’s vision is crystal clear; she aims to launch groundbreaking digital products that redefine traditional markets and challenge the realms of possibility. With an eye on the next year, she declares, “These offerings will be driven by cutting-edge technologies, disruptive business models and a deep understanding of market needs and trends.” Her approach is holistic, merging experience, her network and knowledge to create an environment where innovative ideas flourish into scalable solutions with real market impact.

To realize this vision, Emma leads an exceptional team, ready to tackle complex challenges and transform ideas into competitive advantages. But Emma’s aspirations don’t end there—she dreams of giving back to budding entrepreneurs, providing them with essential financial backing, industry insights and mentorship. Her enthusiasm echoes, “I would love companies to champion a dedicated portion of resources to funding explorative innovation, the mentoring is useful but most of the time you have to pay resources for certain facets of innovation to get to market.”

Emma believes collaboration is key. She actively seeks partnerships with educational institutions, research centers and innovation hubs, aiming to identify emerging talent and nurture entrepreneurship. Emma aims to establish programs fostering entrepreneurship, supporting early-stage ventures and enabling them to thrive and contribute to disruptive solutions.

Fortune Favors the Bold

Emma shares valuable insights, encouraging women to embrace their potential and drive their success forward:

  • Believe in yourself: “Trust your capabilities and unique perspective”, Emma advises, “you may not have all the answers but partner with people who can fill those gaps and nourish a curiosity to learn more.”
  • Embrace ambition: Dream big and set goals, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey or the side paths. Goals can change but setting the intention of a target keeps you driven!
  • Cherish your personal brand: Identify your strengths, values, and passions and embody these in everything that you do.  If you recognise that you cannot align these to something you’re doing, you need a change, as it will start to affect your ability to show up and be consistent!
  • Lead with empathy: To get the best out of people you are responsible for in the office, ensure you’re helping them nurture their needs out of the office. Women can have a huge advantage here, with incredible perception- and sharp emotional intelligence.

Emma’s advice resonates with the pathway to one’s success.