In a recent post we heard from NCUB member Accenture about the increasing need to take an open approach to innovation.  This is typified by the rise in hackathons and similarly open approaches to innovation.

The Economist wrote this week about the increasing number of hackathons, both as a means of attracting new insights to the innovation process, but also as a means of recruiting the finest minds to an organisation.

They reveal how hackathons have replaced the traditional job fair as a means of attracting the best talent, with corporate sponsors keen to team up with universities to ensure the best talent pipeline.  Of course, with the BBC revealing the rising number of student entrepeneurs, there is also considerable potential for students to collaborate with a wider audience in other ways.

Open innovation for entrepreneurs

A nice example was provided by the recent Imperial College Business School pitch event, which was hosted last week.  The event allowed local startups to show off their ideas, with the audience full of a range of collaborators and supporters.

Each participant was given 60 seconds to pitch their idea, with the majority of pitches then ending with a call for help in various areas, whether in design and marketing or engineering and development.

The event is hosted by the Create Lab at Imperial, which is an innovation community designed to help students grow their startups.

Dr Marco Mongiello, Director of Student Experience at Imperial College Business School said: “The Business School champions entrepreneurship and innovation and the SW7 180 event was an ideal opportunity to showcase the wealth of business talent within Imperial and to connect students and entrepreneurs from the South Kensington community.”

The event featured presentations from startups such as Lunagen, a renewable energy venture that generates energy from flowing water.  The venture was started by MBA graduates at the school and they have recently secured £10,000 in funding from the Business School’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Start! Challenge competition.

The challenge remains fostering closer links between small startups and larger organisations.  As Accenture highlighted last week, there is often a cultural misalignment between the two, with many entrepreneurs believing the benefits are skewed in favour of big companies. They think collaborations are less successful than do their larger counterparts. Only a quarter of entrepreneurs currently working with larger companies believe those organizations are committed to supporting the start-ups’ growth.

Events like that hosted at Imperial could go some way to breaking down those cultural barriers, as could a well run hackathon.  As Accenture say, large companies should seek to participate in ecosystems rather than control them.

Running hackathons

If you want to improve your own relationships with SMEs and startups, McKinsey recently published some guidance to get you started.  They provide 5 clear tips for running a great weekend:

  1. Centered on the customer – a good hackathon focuses on a single process or journey, and through that has a clear target in mind.  In other words, you start at the front and work backwards.
  2. It operates across functions – good hackathons encourage participation from a wide range of subjects.  These aren’t just for the IT crowd.  What’s more, they should also have high level involvement to encourage support.
  3. Start from scratch – the best hackathons try to re-imagine processes, so ensure that you go into them with a blank sheet and no predispositions about what ‘good’ looks like.
  4. Focus on outputs – suffice to say, two days is not very long to achieve tangible results, but the weekend should nonetheless produce a prototype that can be tested and built upon.  It should also have the first inklings as to how that prototype will be developed after the event.
  5. An ongoing process – hackathons revolve around a continuous process of design > test > iterate, so the events should not be treated in isolation but rather as part of a wider process of experimentation and continuous improvement.  It’s amazing how quickly enthusiasm can wane if it’s not maintained, so work to build the ideaology into business as usual.

Hopefully these tips will help you to better engage with the startup community.

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