Let’s say you’ve lived in the same house for 30 years. Couches have come and gone. Armchairs and end tables have been rearranged in every thinkable way. The bathroom was blue, now it’s all earth tones. That ceiling fan was once a lopsided chandelier.

It’s time again for change, but you can’t quite figure out where to start. Sure, you could replace that giant painting of a tree with a medium-sized painting of a tree. You could even take a big risk and put an electric candle in every window.

What you really need is a fresh set of eyes. Someone to come in and say, Let’s knock down that wall and put a bar top in between the kitchen and living room.

That little stoop outside your back door? Let’s turn it into a three-tiered deck with a hot tub on the bottom, a barbecue station up top, and a fireplace in the middle.

The dingy basement? Now it’s a game room, tricked out with a pool table, jukebox, and big screen TV.

Replace the house in this scenario with a business that’s hit a creative slump, and that’s how open innovation works. Even change can become predictable, so sometimes we need to stand on the outside to better see the inside.

Not To Be Confused

First, let’s make the distinction between open innovation and crowdsourcing. Wazoku, an idea management software company, distinguishes the two as such:

Crowdsourcing – “when an organisation outsources projects to the public. An organisation decides to tap into the knowledge of a wider crowd and input is sourced from a large and undefined group of people.”

Examples of this include Crowdcontests, Macrotasking, Microtasking, and Crowdfunding.

Open innovation – “creating and innovating with external stakeholders: customers, suppliers, partners, and your wider community.”

Basically, you’re reaching out-of-house, but still within a very defined set of participants, even if the participant pool itself is very large.

Wazoku further defines this as “active collaboration between organisations and the sharing of intellectual property.”

Two Types of Open Innovation (according to IdeaConnection, a business solutions provider)

  • R&D Problem-Solving – “Taking internal R&D challenges outside the company to have individuals, crowds, companies solve and then transfer the intellectual property to the company”

Example: GE and Hyundai joint ventures led to both companies adopting macro-strategies from the other.

  • Technology Scouting – “Searching the world for a specific technology to purchase or licence”

Example: Procter & Gamble had trouble designing “Pringles Print,” then enlisted an Italian bakery to help.

Innovation Partnerships

Though it’s a subset of R&D problem-solving, an innovation partnership is a system wholly onto itself. Whereas other forms of open innovation may arise within very product-specific parameters (i.e., the Pringles Print design), extended collaboration is the heart of any innovation partnership. Oftentimes, the result is a business joining forces with a tech incubator to reinvent a particular market. Here are some excellent examples below.

JetBlue and GSVlabs

Just six months ago, JetBlue launched JetBlue Technology Ventures, “a wholly owned subsidiary that will invest in, incubate and partner with early stage startups at the intersection of technology, travel and hospitality” (Business Wire).

Operating out of the GSVlabs campus in Silicon Valley, the partnership will focus on innovations that:

  • “improve customer and crewmember experiences”
  • “increase the airline’s operational efficiency”
  • “expand the JetBlue brand to new markets”

(Business Wire)

Kaplan and Techstars

In February of 2013, the worldwide education provider Kaplan, Inc. partnered with Techstars to create the Kaplan Edtech Accelerator, an annual three-month program where Kaplan hosts ten companies focused on education technology and product innovation. Each time will receive:

  • “$20K in seed funding”
  • “introductions to angel investors and VCs”
  • “access to Kaplan’s extensive network of resources; schools, students, tools, and research”

(Introducing Kaplan Edtech Accelerator . . . )

Cedars-Sinai and Techstars

In another partnership, Techstars teamed with Cedars-Sinai to create a healthcare accelerator, located right next to Cedars-Sinai’s Los Angeles Medical Center. Participating companies receive:

  • “an investment of up to $120,000”
  • “access to Cedars-Sinai’s clinical expertise and information infrastructure including hardware, software and digital health technical resources”
  • “mentorship from Cedars-Sinai physicians, researchers, healthcare professionals and executives”
  • “access to Techstars’ network of over 7,000 successful entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and corporate partners”
  • “Demo Day, where each company will have the opportunity to pitch their company to healthcare leaders, investors, press, and other community members”
  • “access to over 400 perks valued at over $1 million. These perks come from Techstars sponsors, mentor companies, Techstars companies, and others across the Techstars network”

(Techstars HealthTech Accelerator)

University of Utah’s Innovation Ecosystem

When it comes to the Utes, forget single partnerships — they’ve got an entire innovation ecosystem built right into campus. Each of the different innovation centers and partnerships work collaboratively across all sectors of this ecosystem, immersing students and faculty in a microcosm of the tech world that awaits beyond the classroom:

  • Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute
    • “home base for student entrepreneur programs at the U. Programs include student business plan competitions, innovation courses, internships and commercialization opportunities”
  • Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars
    • “[this] program brings together innovative faculty at the U who share the common dedication to motivating and enriching the translational experience for faculty and student entrepreneurs”
  • Center for Medical Innovation
    • “Medical doctors and students interested in innovation have a one-stop-shop for resources at the Center for Medical Innovation. It serves as an information and gathering hub for faculty, students and industry in the health sciences”
  • Center for Engineering Innovation
    • “The College of Engineering, with the Utah Nanofabrication Laboratory, established the Center for Engineering Innovation. It bridges the gap between basic science and engineering innovation and commercial product development”
  • Corporate Concierge
    • “The new Corporate Concierge Program at the University of Utah is working to help community partners leverage the entire set of capabilities at the U. The program helps coordinate everything from scholarships and internships to sponsored research and entrepreneurship”
  • Vice President for Research
    • “oversees many aspects of research and related activities across campus, including commercialization, compliance and education. The office also manages many related institutes, centers and initiatives”
  • Office of Sponsored Projects
    • “Its mission is to enhance research by providing service and support to administration, faculty and staff in their efforts to secure and manage external funding for university activities”

Knock Out a Few Walls

The more often diverse sectors are able to interact, the more rapid and synergistic the innovation will be. An Edtech startup may know nothing about Medtech, yet Edtech experience may offer strategies and products that are communicable to problems in such areas as Electronic Health Records and Health Information Exchanges. This is just one example of what a fresh set of eyes can do.

Sometimes, if you stare at the same wall long enough, you forget it’s a wall. Here’s where innovation partnerships can help you make a breakthrough.

If you’re curious what an innovation partnership would look like for your institution or company, contact tekMountain today.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda SipesBill DiNome, and with lead writer Zach Cioffi

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