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There’s an opportunity for an ‘open innovation’ platform in New Zealand, and it could just be the way for companies to cost-effectively solve some of their R&D challenges.

The concept’s taken off in some overseas countries, though VicLink (Victoria University’s unit to help turn research into sellable products) GM commercialisation Sophie Howard reckons the internet-based concept would need modifying for a kiwi context.

Open innovation is a term that can have a thousand meanings, but essentially it is using external knowledge (in its many forms) for a company to solve particular problems. This might for example, an engineer or scientist suggesting a solution to an internet-posted problem, with the best solution earning some kind of fee or reward. Various overseas models attempt to connect and manage the relationships between ‘seekers’ and ‘solvers’, and in some way act as a broker.

Howard’s given some thought to the idea, especially as she observes that many companies waste money and miss opportunities because they don’t understand how technology can help them be more efficient.

‘Companies don’t know what they don’t know,’ she says. ‘They also waste money by solving problems from scratch, when they have already been solved elsewhere.’ Another factor is that ‘small, medium enterprises often don’t have the staff to know how they can pick up new technologies that would complement their business,’ she says.

Companies realising opportunities to grow and improve often:
• Don’t know the problems they’re wanting to solve already have been
• A problem can be translated from another industry
• There’s expertise available in niche areas such as engineering

The idea needs better evaluation; especially for such a small place as New Zealand.

Often there might be only one particular expert in a particular area, and at least initially, it would be important to preserve anonymity she says.

However, these challenges aren’t unsolvable, and it’s an idea whose time has come Howard says.