Mats Dunmar tells us how playing the the role of open innovation guide offers win-win opportunities for everyone in the chain
We, as a semi-public innovation environment, have a new role to play. Imagine this! The phone rings. On one end is CEO Håkan Jeppsson of Inwido – the market leader for windows and doors in Scandinavia. On the other end is Scandinavia’s leading Science Park and EU|BIC, Ideon.
“We need help,” says Håkan.
“What can we offer?” responds Ideon.
Two years later, Ideon Open is involved in an open innovation project with a large industry on an ongoing basis.
It all started with a question from industry. An existing challenge. That has been the driving force since then: Only do things the industry asks for and what it really needs. Only do things the industry finds so important that they are willing to pay for it. Only work when top management are involved. Not involve ourselves in ‘nice to haves’. The real pain needs to already exist in the large company. And thus undertake only open innovation, not any innovation.
To be honest, it was not Ideon’s ambition to become a major player in open innovation. But this is how it worked out. We have learned that a Science Park or Incubator has a new role to play - a role which assists established large companies with disruptive innovation. A role many innovation environments could take, and should take.
Public is good
The context is important. Ideon is like many other innovation environments, semi-public. To be a semipublic/ private entity helps in the dialogue with industry. If we were 100 percent private, we would not have the same role. Parts of the Ideon Science Park, like the renting of office space, is 100 percent private. Incubators on the site have public funding. Some all public, some 60-40. But always more public than private. Ideon also has a branch that is Limited, but owned by a foundation. The Limited generates no profit and everything stays in the business. The board consists of representatives from university, municipality and the science park’s property owner. This privately run, but publicly controlled body is the face of open innovation. All work with industry is placed in the non-profit segment. From day one it has been clear that we would not compete with private open innovation consultancy firms. So instead we invite them to join hands with us.
Why are public innovation environments, like Ideon, becoming more increasingly popular for private industry to use across global platforms? The answer lies in their neutrality, the network they have and the entrepreneurial drive they represent.
As Inwido did two years ago, or as Tetra Pak does today, in using a public innovation organisation they were able to trust that there was no agenda to sell as many consultancy hours as possible. Nor do we try to sell any ready-made products. We listen purely to the needs of industry, we inspire by sharing good examples of open innovation - how other companies are doing it, for example. We define what the actual challenge they have is really all about and then we guide them, based on this trust they have invested in us. We guide industry in how to act in the field of open innovation. We can do this with the public funding we have, available for free to large companies.
Based on our common understanding of the companies challenge we can put forward ideas/thoughts on where to find different open innovation solution providers. Providers that already exist out there. If industry wants us to participate in the actual open innovation project, to be a provider/supplier as well, we gladly accept this, but we always do it together with a private consultancy firm. No tax payer’s money is used when we do participate in an open innovation project. Here the industry pays for your time and material, as it would any consultant.
When the incubator invites participants for an open innovation project the response is very different from when a consultancy firm or large enterprise does the same because of the trust capital it has. When the company invites you, you quickly sit down to a commercial discussion that includes formalities around NDA and IPR - exactly the same were they dealing with a private sector open innovation consultant.
When a public or semi-public organisation invites, the issues around patent rights, for example, need to be handled as well, but the final agreement on them can be postponed. A more open climate for creating together, collaboration, can be achieved before the commercial aspects and lawyers take over. We get more time to, in a collaborative mode, bake the right cake before all energy is spent on what it is worth and how to divide it. That said, it is vital that both the commercial aspect and legal experts are in from day one; but by using a neutral intermediary we can keep the climate open for longer than if the large company did this by themselves, or only used a private consultancy firm. In other words, when the conversations are based on trust it leads to enhanced disruptive innovation work.
The participants in an open innovation project organised by an incubator/science park also differ. An established innovation environment will have an extensive regional and international network that is different from the large industry’s own. An asset worth some money. It is different in so many ways. Often more tailored towards micro and small size companies than larger ones and therefore all the more entrepreneurial, with all that comes with it. More risk willingness, stronger drive and higher energy are just some of the benefits. Even if our network were not sufficient for an open innovation project with industry, we still know how to expand, and do so quite rapidly.
The entrepreneurial drive
The large company has its advantages. It has established sales channels, returning customers, well-developed production facilities, economies of scale etc. It also needs processes, routines and controls to handle all of these. However, it also means it slows down its capability to be disruptive. Control and processes are needed, but seldom foster disruptive innovations in a large organisation. The micro or small company, the university student, the bright PhD do not have or even understand these factors. They dare to question more, have a faster pace, quicker reactions and a shorter planning horizon which quickly launches and closes new ideas. More disruptive ideas flow by the coffee machine amongst entrepreneurs in a science park than amongst the managers at a large company’s canteen. The semi-public innovation environment, be it a science park or incubator, with a high proportion of entrepreneurs has an inherent innovative drive that the big guys can perhaps only dream about. A drive they want back into their system. When you combine the established company’s advantages with the entrepreneurial drive of our innovation environments, you have a winning solution for both parties.
How can you do this? By collaboration. Think about three things: Big industry + Science Park/Incubator + Private consultancy firm.
By hooking up with established innovation consultants the innovation environment lose independence, lose some visibility towards industry and lose some of the cash.
But by doing so we gain so much more. We are no longer the sole seller, the consultancy firm sells for us. Our capacity to deliver projects goes up. The competence and skill level quickly reaches international best practice. Our network expands. And we live and breathe open innovation. We do not try to do everything ourselves in our own internal organisation. We not just say we believe in the strength of open innovation, we actually run our own business accordingly.
Henry Chesborough’s famous funnel (see diagram on the previous page) is about how much theory is required by industry and how much it needs to understand. When they do, they automatically comprehend that guiding their own challenges through this, now open, funnel is not as easy as it seems. Even if they have the capacity, they lack the ability and they inevitably need a guide to get to where they need to be. Here's where we come in... The public innovation environment is in the position to take that role of guide or navigator.
It is important to ask yourself: What ‘trust capital’ do we have that we can capitalise on? Which ‘networks’ do we already have that we can offer to industry? Which ‘consultancy firms’ can we partner with?
Ideon is, of course, just one example of an incubator/science park that has taken on the guiding role. Many others do it too and it will soon become a standard offer amongst many larger incubators and science parks. The role of an open innovation intermediary is to become an open innovation guide.
If you have not yet accepted your new role we expect you will be amazed when you take this natural step. Amazed at how appreciated your role as a neutral semi-public open innovation expert is. When you guide established large companies through a process of open innovation you create a win-win situation for everyone - and facilitate a truly rewarding experience for all parties involved.
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