The innovation process dismantled (part 2)

Connecting and finding innovation partnerships

With the right knowledge about the challenges and needs your are addressing you need to engage and participate with the right actors in the forthcoming steps, including the ideation phase.

Reasons to collaborate

Finding the right innovation partnerships is not easy. It requires access to the right networks and a dash of proper matchmaking. Firms that operate in solitude are never as successful as those who find a grand competence pool to tap into. Creating innovation is all about connecting diverse capabilities, abilities and competences and each organization has its own set of skills, experiences and views on how to approach a challenge and need. This heterogeneousness is what brings newness and freshness to new ideas. Like Joseph Schumpeter stated in his book Theory of Economic Development; “economic development occurs through the carrying out of new combinations”. And to find new and unexpected combinations we need new perspectives and new approaches, thus fresh blood in the creative phase is absolutely crucial for success. Consequently any ambitious innovator will need to have access to a variety of channels to find the perfect mix of partners, collaborators, entrepreneurs, technical experts, researchers, etc. but also to find other important actors, such as capitalists and business advisors to support them through the innovation process. All of these become available through collaborative networks.

Another important reason to collaborate is to complement your firm’s capacity with that of partners’. And I don’t mean just for ideation, the same goes manifold for conceptualizing the idea, building it, commercializing it, and for supporting it. Your own firm will not be able to, and shouldn’t do everything. You need to surround yourself with the most suitable partners obtainable and ensure that everybody is happy and engaged.

Creating connections through networks

And there is an abundance of such networks for innovators to join when they see fit. There are incubators, co-working spaces, industry networks, clusters, science parks, and so on. There are also loads of national and international online platforms for connecting business people. And many of them regularly run networking events with the sole purpose of creating connections that may lead to innovation partnerships. As an innovator it is always wise to be part of as many of the qualified networks as possible and to participate in most of the appropriate networking events. You will only be able to utilize the connections that you have, not the ones you never made.

Structuring the innovation partnering process

According to ISO 56003:2019 (Tools and methods for innovation partnership) there are certain steps a firm is recommended to acknowledge when considering to enter an innovation partnership.

  1. Decide whether or not to enter an innovation partnership. If there is a competence gap between what you wish to accomplish and the skills available to achieve it, a partnership may be a required option.
  2. Identify and select partners. Utilize your network to scan for plausible candidates that match the competence criteria you seek and where both see a win-win situation in a partnership.
  3. Align partners and agree on a common understanding. Clarify and formalize partnership values and contributions.
  4. Assign roles, responsibilities and govern the interaction. Formalize the configuration of the innovation partnership.

Note that collaboration never really start or ends, it is continuous and ongoing. As explained earlier there are very solid reasons for initiating certain partnerships before the ideation phase begins. But once the idea has started to crystallize itself there may be very good reasons to start looking for further partners. Because as with partnering, ideation never ends either. When you have figured out what the innovation will do, you will also need perspectives and new skillsets on how to produce and provide it.

Forms of innovation partnerships

One of the determining factors at the end of the day will be intellectual property rights – who adds what and who gains what. If no IP is added from either party and no IP is expected as a result from the partnership then collaborating will be easy. But if either are exclusive and valuable, the situation will be prominently different.

The two key elements to consider when establishing an innovation partnership are resource intensity and the innovation cycle. That is, how much resources will we need to put in, are they limited to a certain part of the effort, and are the resources just project-based. And for how much of the innovation process will we need to collaborate, just partially or substantially and throughout? Depending on whether these two factors are high or low they form quadrants in a two-by-two matrix as below.

The various forms of innovation partnerships are then characterized by how much of these inputs that are required. Smart procurement is characterized by incremental improvements of an existing innovation, collaborative innovation projects are characterized by a long-term undertaking limited to a certain need, smart direct investments are mutually focusing on developing innovative solutions that can easily scale, and strategic innovation partnerships are joint ventures where two or more parties collaborate throughout the innovation cycle and invest heavily to create market change.

So once you have manage to gather the best partners and the sharpest minds you are ready to start to ideate!

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Davis, N., Planjyan, L. & Pozza, S. (2015). Collaborative Innovation – Transforming Business, Driving Growth. World Economic Forum, Regional Agenda. REF 200515.