Nigel Spencer (British Library) kicked off this event last week with a couple of quotes, summing up what is and why do open innovation (OI):
“OI is about bridging internal and external resources and acting on those opportunities” (Stefan Lingaard, 15inno.com)
“…because not all the smart people work for you” (Bill Joy, Sun Microsytems)
Brian McCaul (NetWorthNet) later picked up this theme in his presentation about the Innovation Commons. This online community has in part arisen out of Jisc BCE funding for open innovation. The methodolology has recently been proven at Liverpool John Moores and Liverpool Universities, through their OpenLivIn project. This institutional platform has enabled entrepreneur consultants to be matched with ideas and innovation emerging from university research teams. The consultants provide ‘crowd wisdom’ – identifying ideas and IP that will work as business realities and can be converted into practical solutions in the market. An element of ‘crowdsourcing’ is also involved to match consultants with commercial opportunities. Finally the crowd can also be a source of financial resource, developing businesses for the next generation. Getting the crowd’s input on what is likely to fly is a very important development. Open LivIn builds on the KT2.0 Infokit, a free Jisc funded resource, which sets out a more effective model of Knowledge Transfer for the 21st century.
One of the main messages during the meeting was a movement towards lean start-up. This is in part driven by necessity and lack of funding, but also a growing awareness of meeting needs. Early engagement with the user community is key to this. Universities therefore have to learn to be more innovative in the way they innovate. Stefan Lingaard commented that an institution “needs to work with external input to the innovation process as naturally as it does with internal input“. However, universities tend not to try to be the partner of choice, there is complacency about their expertise being sought. Rethinking their potential and the skills and mindset required to achieve innovation will entail researchers becoming better communicators, or the use of intermediaries.
Daniel Hulme (Satalia and UCL) had already touched on this idea in describing his and his company’s role as an intermediary between academics developing algorithms to solve industry problems, and industry itself. He mentioned that this model works for two reasons, first, industry benefits from access to algoritms and academics gain access to more data, and second, that the academics do not have to actually talk to their industry partners, as the relationship is brokered! Sourcing relevant people, internally or externally, to work on projects is a further benefit realised from optimising the service offered, returning to the theme of not all the smart people working for you.
Student entrepreneurship was a further theme discussed by the speakers, and later in the open session. In particular Els Delaere (Voka East Flanders – a network of Flemish companies) described the flexible approach that Gent University has taken. Students are able to reschedule their timetable if they want to start their own business and take part as a “Gentrepreneur”. They also benefit from targetted enterprise education, with access to a series of events, seminars, bootcamps, and an Open Innovation Learning Network, involving around 200 start-ups.
Open innovation should enable us to get ideas out of universities into industry, rather than them languishing on the shelf. Universities need to become less protectionist about their intellectual property (IP) and to put their trust in services and strategic partnerships with people who can link the IP to resources to see it realised. Showing that this can work is key to getting more people to take part; Daniel Hulme has been collecting case studies to prove the efficacy of the intermediary role; Brian McCaul has been involved in rolling out further institutional platforms to deliver the Innovation Commons to more institutions, and they are developing a national Innovation Commons platform. Brian hopes that more universities will move to a model whereby early validation of ideas, and people interested in incubating them will lead to more worthwhile projects and products.
Trust was raised as one of the main fears and concerns faced by institutions considering open collaboration in technology transfer. All the speakers were keen to stress that OI is not anti-IP or anti realising a value from it! To date stopping disclosure has been an easy route to take, and most Universities believe that if they protect IP they will get a return. However, the realisation that they need to collaborate with externals to get real exploitation has been emerging. Creation of IP is a by-product of the core university business of research and teaching. We should remember that staff are good at doing research and connecting with people – this is open innovation.