In retrospect, the pandemic wasn’t all bad: Personal relationships got stronger under pressure. Communities rallied together for progress and change. And in business, many companies took a collaborative approach to tackling the Covid-19 crisis by turning to open innovation, a concept that allows ideas to flow openly through inviting customers, employers, and stakeholders to contribute and build upon your isolated resources.
Instead of keeping information within company confines, open innovation encourages sharing information. That’s why a serious benefit of open innovation for business leaders is the power to unlock hidden knowledge that allows them to uncover new growth opportunities and even shorten a product’s time to market. Open innovation allows businesses to solve complex problems with more viable solutions than they might find when relying on their own knowledge base alone.
The potential upsides for all sides of an open innovation collaboration are massive. If you’re considering the concept within your startup or business and aren’t sure how to get started, prioritize these four areas to build a solid foundation:
1. Focus on creating value
The first step in moving a company toward open innovation is evaluating opportunities internally that can benefit from engaging in open innovation. One often-overlooked opportunity is outlicensing intellectual property that is not being used. Putting aside IP concerns is tough, but the rewards are impossible to deny.
Business leaders often are hesitant to outlicense to protect their competitive advantages; however, they often fail to recognize that IP sitting on a shelf with zero use is a sunk cost. For example, in the biotechnology industry, consider the ethical question of what happens if the company outlicensed the IP and it gets combined with the buyer’s IP to create a groundbreaking medical therapy that could save lives. Think about the incredible power that brings the company within the marketplace.
Involving new voices into the decision-making process allows you to identify new angles for your business. You may have never seen your product or service the way a potential customer does, and those revelations can be revolutionary. Take, for example, Coca-Cola’s open innovation via co-creation with its customers with the advent of its Freestyle soda machine. With it, consumers continuously create new flavors and log their favorites in the app, which gives Coke insight into products it should be creating. By sharing ideas in an open innovation environment, everyone can play a role in innovation.
2. Embrace new partnerships and alliances
Open innovation can play to the strengths of multiple parties to solve unique problems, as was seen frequently during the Covid-19 pandemic. One example is the Open COVID-19 Community, a platform designed to bring together engineers, designers, manufacturers and medical experts to design, engineer, and build pandemic solutions quickly through their combined knowledge and skills.
“People who have never met before are all helping each other, providing their own ideas and expertise,” said the project’s leader, Nicolai Rutkevich, a master’s student at Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro. “I’ve connected with engineers from Bosch, Embraer, CEFET/RJ, universities in Sao Paulo, and more. I also have access to medics who can give us firsthand information about what they need, and to service engineers from hospitals who can explain the specifics of equipment. In normal circumstances, I’d never have access to these people.”
The biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical industry also offers multiple examples of successfully implementing open innovation for therapy development. The Pfizer and BioNTech partnership in creating a Covid-19 vaccine is a recent example. Pfizer leveraged the U.S. National Innovation policy and program Operation Warp Speed to gain funding of $1.95 billion and entered a strategic partnership with BioNTech to unlock hidden knowledge within their expertise areas to become first to market with a coronavirus vaccine. This was all made possible by companies embracing new partnerships for mutual gain.
3. Combat your team’s ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome
For companies to fully (and successfully) commit to open innovation, company leaders need to cultivate a corporate culture to facilitate and reward behaviors that encourage good open innovation practices. For startups, that can begin as early as hiring.
One known barrier to the success of open innovation initiatives is “not-invented-here syndrome,” or a negative attitude against external ideas that can create friction against advancing all sorts of initiatives. To combat the resistance against working on projects that one didn’t create, leaders need to align employee performance and internal strategic priorities around open innovation projects throughout the organization. The emphasis on tying employee incentives and performance measurements creates motivation to engage in behaviors and activities to promote a culture supporting open innovation.
4. Commit to new projects and opportunities
Dr. Bethany Valente, founder and managing partner of innovation strategy consulting firm Tempo7, is at the forefront of the open innovation movement. She recently created the Open Innovation Opportunity program to develop and design strategic initiatives and priorities, uncover growth opportunities, and assist with building capabilities for businesses in several industries.
The first step is to lay the foundation by evaluating the business in the context of the three generally accepted innovation categories and determining where the company is spending the most time. Next, the business’s current architecture, operating environment, and ecosystem are all assessed and high-level recommendations are made to engage in the program.
“We help in developing capabilities in international growth, partnerships, merger and acquisition strategies, and leveraging national innovation policies and cultures to execute the strategic plan founded in the program,” Dr. Valente says.
Companies that utilize open innovation processes and procedures may have to share some of the revenue in a coordinated effort, but that should be a minor concern. The real upshot? These forward-thinking companies get the benefit of increasing brand equity, sharing risk, uncovering cost savings, and entering new market spaces with access to knowledge from external sources.