Open Innovation from the Inside Out

by Stephanie Baron

Open Innovation from the Inside OutYesterday, the City Winery in Manhattan was closed to the general public as it opened a space for innovation specialists who convened to figure out how we can better commercialize innovation.

For three full days EPIC 2010 brings together entrepreneurs and global leaders in R&D, innovation, engineering, strategy, marketing, business development, legal, IP and finance. The conference kicked off on a high note as speakers presented as many facets of open innovation as there are colors in a rainbow.

Molly O’Donovan Dix, of RTI International reminded us that innovation requires commercialization otherwise it’s “just” an invention. A point driven home by Terrence McElwee, Director of Technology Transfer and Innovation at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). KAUST is a brand new university, built from scratch in Saudi Arabia. It is the perfect example of what higher education can achieve once a government is committed to fueling innovation. It is also the perfect example of several of the problems Middle Eastern and Northern African (MENA) countries are facing. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is having a hard time diversifying and transforming its economy into a knowledge economy and, on that journey, they find themselves with no model to follow.

Crowdsourcing: lessons from MENA

The KAUST initial approach is to build networks through marketing, training and technical assistance to create an innovation ecosystem. One of their secret weapons is crowdsourcing. Tapping into a young population (half of Saudis are under 15yrs old), they created a portal, aptly called MENA400, where 400 individuals are invited to exchange for six months on issues linked to economic development such as water, agriculture, solar power, etc.

KAUST is not the only one to use crowdsourcing. Richard Connell, VP Pfizer, explained in details how a big pharmas attempts to reproduce the serendipity inherent to the Viagra success through crowdsourcing.

Their success will not be measured in number of patents but on the contribution to the economic development of the region and the growth of MENA companies.

Open innovation from the inside

Open innovation is not circumscribed to getting external ideas in the organization. Michele Egge rand Jack Anderson of Chevron IT Corp. combined forces with David Wootton and Mike Hatrick from Bombardier Aerospace in exploring how we can harness entrepreneurial spirit in the organization. Chevron IT Corp. builds creative spaces where people can experiment. They can go there to fail, which is the cornerstone of an innovation culture. Bombardier engages people who bring new ideas by asking them if they want to be involved in the development. 90% say yes.

Another way to get employees to fully engage is recognition. At Chevron IT Corp. public recognition is more important than financial reward. A word of warning from Bombardier: You can’t let all ideas go through otherwise you create false expectations. The problem is not anymore to get people to jump on the band wagon but to figure out how to decide which projects to let go of (Fast Company has been exploring the subject recently).

A lot of people can have ideas, few can implement them, even fewer will monetize. The name of the game is not to have more ideas than your competitors but, rather, to market them faster and better. Pareto’s law applies here. 20% of your new ideas will probably generate 80% of your revenue. The vast unanswered question is “How do you know which 20% to tap into?” As the conference continues on we may see avenues for solving this.

To be continued tomorrow at EPIC NY with sessions on creative business models and novel sources of funding.

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Stephanie BaronStephanie Baron is a business PhD in the making, and a strategy mercenary with a generalist approach. After traveling the world, she has settled down in Montreal, where she learns, teaches, consults, writes, speaks and edits a new eMagazine.