Open Innovation’s innovations

Open Innovation’s innovations
Corporates are articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation; and using intermediaries to search for innovators with ideas, and to provide candidates with a period of intensive development.

Innovation has been the top priority for corporates and their CEOs for a year or two now, but it has proved tough to deliver. Searching the firmament for young stars that might support life while one’s colleagues get on with the existing business is a lonely task. So Scanning the periphery requires altogether different tools and the mindset of an enthusiastic poly-math. Revolutionising an established business is a rare feat.

For at least the last decade, the rapid evolution of enabling technologies has provided competition with a new source of opportunities. Now the nature of innovation has produced another stimulus to technological competition. ‘Disruptive’ innovations threaten not only to outdate single organisations (eg Kodak) but to reshape entire industries (eg publishing).

So organisations are now looking for their new products and services, processes and business models across the entire spectrum of technologies; and their research and developments functions are turning into search and deploy functions, whose task is to scout for new technologies that might serve the functions and customers of the business in entirely new and different ways – before their competitors do so for them.

The knack is of course not only to identify some new invention that might lead to marketable new products or services etc, but also to be able to develop it rapidly into a useable or commercialisable form and bring it to market or into use. These distinct aspects of the open innovation movement can be seen in the more systematic and extensive use of scouting for interesting ideas; and in the use of periods of intensive development for potential candidates.

Several organisations have adopted the approach of articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation, and inviting interest from entrepreneurial talent. A consortium of corporates in the Food and Drink Industry assembled a shopping list of areas in which innovative ideas were sought, and then ran a day with the Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing to which interested parties were invited for discussions. BAe has run a similar day under the auspices of the KTN; and Philips (with techUK) has just invited interest from people and organisations with potentially innovative products or ideas in the areas which they have identified as among their needs and opportunities for innovation.

FinTech Lab London was sponsored by a group of banks whose interest was in developing possible new products by participating in an Accelerator (with Accenture) – in which carefully selected small business were brought together for 13 weeks of intensive development and introduction to relevant people in the banks – a model that other clusters will undoubtedly follow. Startupbootcamp has recently run a similar Accelerator in London under the Fintech banner – for SMEs with IT products that might be of interest to financial institutions. Other examples include Traveltech, Wayra Lab (Telefonica) which runs a continuous programme of Accelerators – each of 16 weeks, John Lewis, and Barclays Bank. (As short periods of high intensity, Accelerators have an application process that is open to all, but is usually competitive; they provide pre-seed (subsistence) funding; they focus on small teams, not on individual founders; they provide fulsome support, with intensive mentoring; and work with cohorts or classes rather than single businesses; all in exchange for equity.)

BioCity’s latest initiative in Nottingham combines a search process with a development programme, and we will probably see other clusters, and perhaps other organisations following this route in the near future, and looking to established intermediaries, perhaps local organisations working in partnership with local incubators (franchised by Techstars or Startupbootcamp?), to help them organise their searches.

John Whatmore
January 2015

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