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Denise Powell,PhD – Open Innovation Manager, IQE plc

Open innovation is certainly a hot topic in industry right now. Initially seen as a method of creating a competitive advantage by leveraging external talent, ideas and technologies in bringing products to market faster, it is slowly becoming a necessity to survive in today’s competitive world, where product lifetimes, especially in electronics are decreasing at an alarming rate.

If implemented correctly, it can be a match made in heaven between the technology providers (typically the smaller, focused start-ups and SMEs) and those larger organisations that have capacity, resources and infrastructure to further develop a technology and take it to market. The relationship is based on leveraging IP, rather than acquisition, where both parties invest resources to reap the rewards by means of a partnership agreement.

However, it is not always a smooth journey; developing technologies, implementing them into products and services whilst ensuring high yield and reproducibility at the low cost and short times to market that are required in our sector is a tough ask in itself. The process can be more difficult when two or more partners come together with different organisational cultures, systems, methodologies and structures.  

The ‘not invented here syndrome’ can be a common roadblock for open innovation, perhaps more so for larger organisations, who have been successfully innovating for decades. Being asked to look externally for a solution can be seen as an insult for bright researchers, leaving them feeling side-lined and unappreciated.

Implementing open innovation without stifling motivation within the host organisation can be a challenge. Instead of focusing on how to successfully implement open innovation in an organisation by leveraging external resources, IP, talent and technologies, we should perhaps be focusing on how to get our people to think about the fastest and most efficient ways to implement new ideas into the marketplace and give them the freedom to evaluate whether the best option comes from an internal or external source.

The shift of focus towards the implementation phase rather than the source of innovation could force innovators to seek out best possible options of internal and external technologies and ideas. What does all this mean for universities and how will it impact our next generation of talent that will come to develop future technologies and products?

Most undergraduate and postgraduate courses teach us to think for ourselves, develop new models, experiments and technologies through individual and group projects. What we are perhaps not so prepared for is focusing on the end goal and implementing new or existing technologies into the marketplace to extract value. Neither are we adept at seeking alternative and multi-disciplinary options for achieving our end goal. Facilitated workshops involving students from various disciplines, including engineering, arts and sciences could be extremely powerful in teaching basic principles of open innovation; that great ideas and solutions could come from unobvious sources.

With more and more organisations looking to embed open innovation within their culture, our next generation of innovators need to graduate with an entrepreneurial mind-set and at the ability to consider perhaps unobvious sources for innovation. Having an appreciation and knowledge of technology in one pocket and an understanding of how to extract value from it in the other pocket could create a powerful skills-force of the future.

It is precisely this type of culture that the CoInnovate (www.coinnovate.co.uk) Partners are pushing for. On the 23rd and 24th of June in Cardiff, we will be challenging the status quo of innovation with inspirational speakers including Prof Eugene Fitzgerald from MIT and bringing together like-minded innovators, academics and business-leaders to explore real business-led challenges presented by multinationals through hands-on workshops.