A Major Resource for Open Innovation
by Stefan Lindegaard
As open innovation becomes more widespread, the need increases for innovation marketplaces that can serve as intermediaries to which companies can quickly connect.
Some of these intermediaries will serve niche markets, whereas others will be more general. Some will be set up by companies to meet their specific needs, and others will be set up by third parties that want to position themselves as an interface between companies seeking solutions and the smart people—or companies—with solutions.
Such intermediaries have a role to play with small companies as well as with large. One of the challenges small companies need to tackle when they consider engaging in open innovation is getting employees up to speed on the skills that are required to be part of an open innovation team. Intermediaries can help meet this need.
The skills required include collaboration, team building and communication. Depending on how a small company operates, people are often asked to tackle problem solving on their own rather than engaging in team efforts. So opportunities may be far and few between for building the skills that will make people effective as part of an open innovation team. One solution to this problem could be to ask your people to try working as experts or solution providers on teams at open innovation intermediaries such as IdeaConnection and to some extent by InnoCentive.
IdeaConnection goes through a big process in creating its teams, partly by crowdsourcing, by software, by profile, by self-selection, by member and facilitator input and by IdeaConnection personal. These teams are also facilitated by IdeaConnection moderators. You can also form teams at InnoCentive, but here you are asked to form and run them yourself.
This gives people who are used to working in isolation the opportunity to join with others to solve innovation challenges posed by companies who are willing to offer rewards to have experts from around the world tackle really hard problems.
Time is, of course, a key concern, but perhaps we can think of this as learning by doing and as an alternative to participating in a conference or a training program. Joining with peers around the world who are tackling a challenge means you’re learning not just about open innovation but also about dealing with issues of diversity.
Small companies can also use the open innovation intermediaries to pose their own challenges and have teams of experts from around the globe work to solve a tough R&D or business problem that may be blocking their success. Several of the open innovation intermediaries work with small companies as well as large. IdeaConnection, for example, has solved challenges for companies as small as one person. Similarly, Innocentive’s works with small companies and nonprofits, as well as with major corporations. In contrast, NineSigma, another well-known intermediary, primarily focuses on Fortune 500 corporations.
When you offer up a challenge to one of the intermediaries, you quickly get a world-class team of experts working together to solve your problem or challenge. For example, IdeaConnection has thousands of pre-screened experts, many with PhDs, and many with patents to their name. They are professionals in a large variety of fields. Innocentive’s Global Solver network includes people from more than 200 countries. With so many of today’s business problems requiring a global perspective to achieve a solution, bringing to bear the brain power of a global community to help you solve a problem has huge potential. In addition, your employees can also participate on the team, allowing them to gain knowledge from these experts and build relationships that may well prove beneficial long after the challenge is solved.
Because the open innovation intermediaries already have all of the systems in place to tackle a challenge, there is no ramp-up time needed. Instead of waiting until you’ve built your own infrastructure to support open innovation you can take immediate advantage of the open innovation platform the intermediary has already built.
Before you assume you can’t afford to use one of the intermediaries, you should know awards for a theoretical solution at IdeaConnection are usually between $20,000 and $100,000. At Innocentive, awards have started as low as $5,000 as gone up to $1 million for the most complex challenges. If you have a problem that has stymied your employees and is posing a major barrier to your company’s success, using one of the open innovation intermediaries might make financial sense. This is particularly true if it speeds your time to market or helps you beat out a competitor.
Being able to deal with diversity is a key skill that small company employees need to build before venturing in the world of open innovation but often it’s not something they have much of a chance to tackle in their daily work lives. In addition, the exposure to different styles of thinking can also be something that such engagement offers that isn’t always readily available within a small organization.
There’s another potential important benefit here as well. If a small company employee happens to have success with a challenge they work on through one of the intermediaries, this would generate enthusiasm for adopting open innovation within your organization. So consider introducing these intermediaries to your employees. Then support their engagement with challenges, knowing that they are learning valuable skills that will, in the long run, support your company’s open innovation efforts.
Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation