An Open Innovation platform is a type of channel to connect with the world, carry out innovation projects or challenges and deliver business results.
Selecting the right Open Innovation platform is key to get good results
After a quick Google search, you will see the decision is not straightforward, provided the high number of companies in this market and the variable power of their communities of solvers.
In order to get it right, the first thing you need to do is to be very clear on what you are looking for. Some of the questions that you might consider:
- What do you want to achieve?
- Are you thinking of internal (cross-functional, cross-national) and/or external Open Innovation?
- Is your organization ready for Open Innovation? Are people in your company willing to spend time on this?
- What type of Open Innovation are you considering? Is it just an annual program with your suppliers, a call for start-ups and/or a crowdsourcing initiative?
- How open is your business? Do you need to manage levels of visibility/confidentiality with the outsiders?
- How much are you willing to invest in open innovation? What kind of compensation approach are you considering?
- How do you need to manage IP?
If we take away all the general or niche consulting companies that can obviously help to set up the right innovation management, in order to carry out the initiative you would need an existing open innovation platform unless you decide to build and maintain yours.
According to the general innovation lifecycle, we can find platforms that are more likely to help with idea generation, others to design and prototype solutions and finally, the ones that are more focused on commercialization.
Open Innovation platforms for Ideas and Technologies
When the objective is to find the “big” ideas or “next generation” technologies, it is vital to be able to reach out to the largest possible number of creative thinkers.
There are platforms that “own” a pool or community of creative thinkers while others build communities ad-hoc, depending on the kind of challenge.
Let’s look at this example: A national retailer wants to develop new fashion sports shoes. They would need to reach certain target customers, e.g. teenagers in the region that like and practice sports. This company would have the choice to perform an ideation contest with their internal team or to look for external help with an open innovation platform.
Some platforms manage their own community of thinkers – for general purposes – and others bring the tools to reach a segmented community very quickly (e.g. for the retailers target customers).
Now, if you want to look for technologies, then you need to head to platforms with tech communities that can understand your real needs, and bring you the right technological solutions. One good example is the tech scouting that we did for road asphalting under heavy rain. In this challenge we found experimental technologies from tech centers, universities and individuals as well as new approaches.
Open Innovation platforms for Solutions (problem-solving)
When the oil spill accident in the Deepwater platform occurred, BP launched an open call to submit ideas for sealing off the well and cleaning up the tons of oil that had leaked into the water. 123,000 people responded from more than 100 countries, but outside a small number of ideas, the huge proposals did not deliver great results.
In fact, when solving a problem, our experience tells us that you should:
- Break the big problem down into smaller challenges.
- Performa good challenge specification and include constraints.
- Source solutions from community of solvers with the right skills.
It is not so much the number but the quality of the solvers, since problems that are open for solutions are in general quite complex and requires specific skills.
Good solvers usually apply theory but bring practical experience and in general they master more than one discipline or in other cases work in teams. If people have the experience to implement things they will provide solutions with a totally different approach that others that do not have experience. And in that moment,the challenge’s chances of succeeding will drastically increase.
According to the nature of your open innovation challenge, you might need to go to a different solver community, e.g. developing a new algorithm would need mathematics, designing a new APP requires software coding or developing a crushable rock bolt for underground mining can only be done through mechanical and materials engineering.
Open Innovation platforms for Commercialization
Sometimes the challenge of innovation is not to find ideas or solve problems, but rather how to monetize inventions or patents. As a matter of fact, during research and development projects it is very common to come up with new technologies that might be applicable to different industries. Since this situation is more of “push” approach, the question is where the opportunity for a given available technology lies.
A good example is the development of a new graphene-copper alloy by a group of Japanese scientists. The new material exists and has a specification (including properties such as conductivity, strength, …) but the business value is still uncertain until straightforward market applications are found.
The right open innovation platform for technology transfer or commercialization would be a marketplace but other approaches might also work since finding a match is sometimes not so easy. Technology marketplaces, universities and tech centers typically share their offer and wait for a match. And we all know that a watched pot never boils.
They work as e-commerce platforms, where products and services’ characteristics are displayedand seekers can find whateverthey are looking for. Just like a retailer, depending on what you want to sell, you might select one platform or another.
A recent trend is the startup boom, whichis gaining a lot of traction in most of the large corporations. The reason for this traction is that many companies are slow to innovate, and prefer to invest in “technology watch” to identify and early acquire / co-invest in some businesses or technologies with the potential todisrupt the market.
In addition to the type of platform, considering industry focus, type of solver community, specialization, etc. there are other factors to be considered:
- The process they use
- How intuitive the platform is
Pricing always depends on the service (tech scouting, grand challenge,etc.).
- For a single challenge, the most common will be to pay a posting (fixed) fee to describe your need or call and another success fee (variable) depending on the results.
- For packages, there are annual subscription fees or annual programs (group of challenges) fees.
In summary, to select a platform you need to define what is the Open Innovation model in your company and create a short list of potential candidates. The next step should be to try different platforms, paying close attention to the ROI.