Collaborative Innovation opens the door for small businesses

4 min reading
18 December 2013
Collaborative Innovation opens the door for small businesses


Every good entrepreneur worth his salt must be aware that when starting a new business he must learn to develop a sixth sense, one that will allow him to combine both internal and external knowledge. It is necessary to get out of the limited four walls of an office and take advantage of a more global world of opportunities. Internet has facilitated this process and now there are many opportunities for successful entrepreneurship.

Sharing ideas is one of the main secrets. Now it is possible to work with different professionals in the same field (or even from different disciplines), companies, innovation centres or universities, which may contribute to the innovation process of a business, improving it in content and form.

For some time now this has been called "Open Innovation" or "Collaborative Innovation". In this type of innovation processes the R&D+i department of a company extends to external professionals, opening its range of possibilities in the market and to costs much more affordable now (too) for small entrepreneurs.

For an entrepreneur or a small business this approach may result in a collaborative communication with other entrepreneurs or professionals, all of them with the common goal of obtaining new information, develop proposals and solutions with different points of view.

In addition, as mentioned in a report carried out by Optinet for the European Union's Euris programme (European Collaborative and Open Regional Innovation Strategies), it helps to develop ideas that otherwise would remain untapped. This way, distributed resources can be used more efficiently and the ability to access the resources and the expertise of large companies improves – something that otherwise would be unfeasible for small businesses.

This report describes some of the basic premises of traditional innovation and open innovation, so we can see the differences more clearly:

Traditional Innovation basic premises

– To benefit from R&D+i, one has to discover it, develop it and apply it.

– If we discover something on our own we have to be the first to launch it to the market.

– The first company that sells an innovation is the winner.

– We will win if we generate as many of the best possible quality ideas.

– We must control our intellectual property so that our competitors can't take advantage of our ideas.

Open Innovation basic premises

– Not all of the most talented individuals in our field of activity are our employees, so we need to work with talented people inside and outside the company.

– External innovation can generate a lot of value in combination with internal innovation, which is needed to claim some portion of that value.

– We don't have to generate research to benefit from it.

– Building a better business model is better than being the first one to reach the market.

– We will win if we get the best out of internal and external ideas.

– We must take advantage of the use others make of our intellectual property, so we should acquire the intellectual property rights of others when it benefits our business model.

A challenge: to be global

In collaborative innovation processes it is important "to understand that the R&D+i department itself can be the whole world", as mentioned in the Euris report.

But this type of external and global collaboration implies challenges that every entrepreneur should take into account. Elena Bou Alameda, associate professor of the Operations Management and Innovation Department at ESADE, believes that "innovation capacity, on the one hand, increases" but she stresses that achieving "an effective collaboration is a challenge, and we are often faced with groups that, despite speaking the same language, fail to understand each other or work together."

In this sense, in a survey to more than 60 innovation networks ESADE identified the figure of the middleman in the most successful collaborations. "They are hybrid profiles capable of speaking different 'languages​​' and with the legitimacy of the members of the group. These middlemen are able to connect different areas of expertise and integrate different skills", says Bou. "These 'translators', which usually appear organically, help to create a common vocabulary, shared meanings in the group and a common area of understanding that allows members of different companies and with different expertise to work together."

Tools for collaborative innovation

However, there are already platforms for both entrepreneurs and small businesses that can serve as intermediaries to facilitate Open or Collaborative Innovation. Here are three that we find interesting:

BBVAbetatesters is a beta testing tool that the BBVA Innovation Center has created in order to respond to the needs of the development departments of the bank. Any developer (only employees of BBVA) can get feedback from the beta version of his app from multiple users quickly and easily. Beta Testers, following the centre's philosophy of Open Innovation, can be both bank employees or customers or people totally unrelated to BBVA. This brings great advantages, such as ensuring the smooth operation of new apps and creating a final product as close as possible to the taste of the client.

ideas4all is a social network where ideas are shared, evaluated and seek to be made a reality. It targets innovators, entrepreneurs, artists or anyone with an idea, simple or sophisticated, or anyone who just wants to read, vote, comment and be inspired with ideas that other people share.

Enovia allows you to maximize the benefits of collaboration. Through this solution the company Dassault Systèmes offers products that allow users of all types of organisations, from small businesses to multinationals, to participate and be part of collaborative innovation.

TeDesafía is an online platform created by Polisofía to propose, share, vote and discuss ideas. It is customisable to your business’ style and it aims to use the ideas of everyone in a company to find solutions to various challenges. It is also possible to invite clients or other agents to create new products, services and processes that make a business grow.

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