Innovation: not just about ideas in a lab, it’s now open and collaborative

Innovation: not just about ideas in a lab, it’s now open and collaborative


by Nitin Dahad

The term ‘innovation’ has become so common in daily language that it is easy for policymakers to forget what it actually means as it covers so many different aspects of the economic growth agenda.  In the past innovation might have been about ground-breaking new research, technology, or processes developed in a lab where engineers or scientists sat in a well-partitioned division that focused on ‘blue-sky’ thinking.

But now innovation is different. Companies don’t invest in such departments, but instead might acquire innovative ideas or companies. Today we have ‘open innovation’, and it is often more collaborative. The latter was demonstrated well in an experiment last week conducted at the Long Term Care Revolution Live event in London, hosted by a bank in the city of London and organized by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, in conjunction with the Digital Health & Care Institute.

The task set by Roland Harwood of Open 100%Open was to assemble in groups of people who have never met before to create an innovative business idea to solve the long term health needs of a population. Members of each group which had only just assembled and asked to come up with a business idea that could potentially exploit the skills and knowledge of the members of the group – within just under 15 minutes of being introduced to each other.

The challenge was to see if it was possible to implement successful open innovation, based on connecting new people and generating fresh ideas and opportunities in a live group environment. It was of course successful, and a number of excellent business ideas were presented.

This was all part of a UK£4 million government funded disruptive innovation national challenge aimed at radically revolutionizing the current institutional model of long term care in the UK. Such action is needed because it is thought that by 2030 there will be 2 million adults in the UK without adult children to look after them; and with significant government cuts planned to health services, together with pressures on the system, there will be no formal or informal support for them to call upon.

Such challenges and competitions are now commonplace around the world, set by both government agencies and large corporates. In Wales for example, the ‘CoInnovate’ conference taking place next month (June) will do just this. Organized by IQE PLC, General Dynamics UK, Airbus Group, GE Healthcare, the ESTnet (the technology network for Wales) and Welsh Government, it will focus on providing business opportunities across the digital, healthcare and defence and security sectors.

A number of ‘challenges’ will be set by the anchor technology companies, offering innovative ideas presented at the event with the opportunity to be supported or funded to be converted to real opportunities and work with the larger companies.

The technology sector in Wales contributes in excess of UK£7 billion to the economy, has a GVA (gross value added) of UK£92,000 per job and employs around 24,000 people. Economy minister Edwina Hart said, “I am delighted the Welsh Government is supporting this event which encourages open innovation and collaboration which can benefit businesses of all sizes – and ultimately the Welsh economy. The involvement of some of our anchor companies opens up exciting opportunities for smaller enterprises to get actively involved, understand the benefits of collaboration and potentially win new business.”

Chris Meadows, head of open innovation at IQE plc, added, “Innovation and collaboration are at the forefront of IQE’s business. We continually seek to work with new and existing partner organizations to develop and enhance our supply chain and to help develop new technologies and capabilities.”

The Long Term Health Care and Colnnovate events are typical of the initiatives being taken globally to create innovative ideas and generate growth. As Professor Eugene A. Fitzgerald said in an article this week, “ innovation is the alternative that allows big businesses to work with each other, start-up companies, and academia to create truly fundamental innovations to the challenges they face. Open innovation ecosystems allow these parties to pool their strengths, budgets and practices together to invent new solutions to the challenge of creating ground-breaking, inspirational technology.”

He also says, “That’s why you routinely hear of multinational companies buying smaller developers just to get hold of the innovations. Buying proven innovations just makes better business sense than funding the developments of many potential dead ends.”

And this is the key to today’s innovation: it’s about open innovation, collaboration, and creating ecosystems that allow ideas and funders of those ideas to come together.

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