Strategy & Innovation

The complete guide to Open Innovation

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This comprehensive guide explores the fundamentals of open innovation, its benefits and challenges, and strategies for implementing it effectively.

What is open innovation?


In 2003, Henry Chesbrough, Director of the Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley, called for a move away from the paradigm of closed innovation and industrial secrecy in corporate R&D management. He introduced a newopen innovation process to promote a new approach to innovation based on collaboration between multiple players: startups and major corporations, local authorities, researchers, future users, etc.

Open innovation thus refers to a broad ecosystem of partners that transcends the boundaries of companies and organizations, in order to invent innovative solutions that benefit everyone. The open innovation model therefore combines a company's internal innovation activity with external resources: external R&D sources, infrastructures, human and material resources, networks of customers, suppliers or investors, corporate culture, etc.

Open innovation helps link two major types of player: startups as drivers of innovation, and major corporations as financial investment powerhouses.

Open innovation also refers to distributed innovation processes between public and private organizations, such as universities and business schools, and innovative companies.

What are the principles of open innovation?

Open innovation is based on several key principles that redefine the way companies conceive and implement innovation. These principles or objectives help maximize opportunities while proactively addressing the challenges of modern R&D.

1. Permeability of organizational boundaries: One of the fundamental principles of open innovation is the fluidity with which ideas and resources circulate between a company and its external environment. This means that the traditional barriers that confined innovation within the company, or even to the R&D department alone, are deliberately reduced, enabling dynamic interaction between internal and external knowledge.

2. Use of external and internal knowledge flows: This principle underlines the importance of effective knowledge utilization. In an open innovation process, companies aim to actively seek out new and potential ideas outside their traditional boundaries, while also sharing their own discoveries and innovations that are not used within their core business. This accelerates internal innovation and expands markets for the external use of innovation.

3. Structured collaboration: Open innovation is not simply an ad hoc collection of external ideas; it requires a defined structure and processes to manage and optimize collaborations. This includes selecting partners, defining collaboration terms, and setting up project management systems to ensure effective integration of external inputs.

4. Balancing protection and sharing: While knowledge sharing is essential to open innovation, companies must also protect their own commercial interests and intellectual property. This means striking a balance between protecting key innovations and sharing them where this maximizes overall value.

5. Cultural change: Adopting open innovation often requires a significant cultural change within the company and its teams. This means encouraging a mindset open to external collaboration, experimentation and continuous learning, and rewarding not only successes, but also instructive failures. Partnership models will also have to evolve, moving away from the traditional innovation project, to explore other forms such as spin-offs, joint ventures, etc.

6. Ongoing evaluation and adaptation: As with any business strategy, the effectiveness of open innovation needs to be constantly evaluated. Companies need to measure the impact of external collaborations on their innovation, and adjust their practices accordingly. This means being agile and receptive to market changes and new technological opportunities.

By integrating these principles, companies and their teams can effectively navigate the complex, interconnected landscape of modern innovation, taking advantage of opportunities while minimizing the risks associated with open innovation.

Crowdsourcing, open innovation or collaborative innovation?

Although the terms crowdsourcing, open innovation and collaborative innovation are often used interchangeably, they each have distinct implications and applications in the business world. Exploring these concepts through concrete examples can help to better understand their respective nuances and usefulness.

1. What is crowdsourcing?

  • Definition: Crowdsourcing involves calling on a large number of people, usually via the Internet, for ideas, solutions or contributions to specific tasks (e.g. Hackathons...).
  • Example: A famous example of crowdsourcing is the way LEGO uses its LEGO Ideas platform to engage fans. Users can submit their own LEGO kit designs, and the community votes for its favorites. Designs that receive enough support are then evaluated by LEGO for possible production. This allows LEGO to directly capture the innovation and creativity of its most passionate consumers, enriching its product catalog while strengthening community engagement.

2. What is open innovation?

  • Definition: Open innovation is a corporate strategy that encourages companies to use external and internal knowledge flows to accelerate innovation. Large corporations often use open innovation challenges or competitions to select startups or companies.
  • Example: Procter & Gamble (P&G) with its "Connect + Develop" initiative. P&G collaborates with external innovators to co-develop new products. This strategy has enabled P&G to bring innovative products to market, such as Swiffer, which was developed in partnership with a Japanese company bringing a unique cleaning technology to the table. This approach has not only accelerated the development of new products, but has also considerably broadened the horizons of innovation at P&G.

3. What is collaborative innovation?

  • Definition: Collaborative innovation refers to targeted partnerships between various entities (companies, universities, governments) to co-create value. This can take the form of joint research projects, shared technological developments, or co-creation with customers and users.
  • Example: Philips and several European hospitals have collaborated on the development of advanced medical imaging solutions. By working directly with the healthcare professionals who use their products on a daily basis, Philips has been able to obtain accurate feedback and develop technologies that better meet the real needs of patients and medical staff. This example shows how collaborative innovation can result in highly specialized products optimized for end-users.

Looking at these examples, it becomes clear that while these strategies share a philosophy of collaboration and openness, crowdsourcing is often more oriented towards the quantity and diversity of contributions,open innovation is focused on building innovation capacity through strategic collaborations, andcollaborative innovation focuses on the joint creation of value with specific partners. Each approach offers unique advantages and can be chosen according to the company's specific objectives and innovation context.

What is an innovation ecosystem?

An innovation ecosystem is a dynamic, interactive network of diverse players such as companies, startups, academic institutions, investors and government agencies, all interconnected and collaborating to foster the creation, development and dissemination of innovations. These ecosystems are often centered around technology poles or industrial clusters, and function thanks to the synergy between the various participants. They can manifest themselves on a variety of scales - local, regional, national or international - and are highly important for accelerating the innovation process within sectors and regions.

Key components of an innovation ecosystem :

1. Companies: From startups to multinationals, companies are often the driving force behind innovation projects, developing new technologies and solutions to meet market needs.

2. Academic and research institutions: Universities and research centers contribute to innovation ecosystems through their fundamental and applied research, training the next generation of innovators and providing technological and scientific breakthroughs.

3. Investors: Venture capitalists, angel investors and investment funds play a key role in providing the capital needed to develop and expand innovative companies and their teams.

4. Incubators and gas pedals: These organizations support startups in their early or growth phase by offering mentoring services, resources and access to essential networks.

5. Public power: Governments and local authorities can support ecosystems and their innovation projects through favorable policies, subsidies, tax incentives and the provision of adequate infrastructure.

6. Professional associations and networks: These facilitate information sharing, collaboration and networking between the various players in the ecosystem.

How an innovation ecosystem works :

An effective innovation ecosystem encourages interactions between its members to stimulate the co-creation of value and the sharing of knowledge. For example, a university can collaborate with a technology company to develop new applied research, while startups can take advantage of advice and funding from investors to bring their innovations to market.

Example: Silicon Valley

In the United States, California's Silicon Valley is one of the world's most iconic innovation ecosystems. It combines a dense concentration of leading universities (such as Stanford and UC Berkeley), major technology companies (such as Google, Apple and Facebook), innovative startups, venture capitalists and a government and legal infrastructure supporting entrepreneurship. This unique combination has made Silicon Valley a world leader in information technology and digital innovation.

The importance of innovation ecosystems :

Innovation ecosystems are essential for stimulating economic growth, creating jobs and maintaining competitiveness in the global marketplace. They enable the rapid dissemination of new technologies and ideas, reducing the time between invention and commercial application. What's more, these ecosystems strengthen collective capacities to adapt and respond to social, economic and environmental challenges.

In conclusion, a well-structured and dynamic innovation ecosystem is a fundamental pillar for any region aiming to become a leader in certain technological or industrial fields. It facilitates close collaboration between all stakeholders, generating innovations that can transform entire sectors.

What are the benefits for my company?

Adopting open innovation offers several advantages:

  • Cost reduction: Sharing R&D risks reduces the need for investment.
  • Access to new ideas: Integrating external perspectives can lead to more creative and innovative solutions.
  • Faster time-to-market: Partnerships with startups or research institutes can accelerate development and commercialization.
  • Flexibility and adaptation: Open innovation enables companies to adapt rapidly to changes in market or technology.

How do you manage open innovation?

Managing open innovation requires a structured and strategic approach to take full advantage of external and internal contributions, while aligning these efforts with overall corporate objectives. Here are some essential practices for effectively managing open innovation within an organization.

1. Establish a clear strategy

  • Defining objectives: Before committing to open innovation, it's essential to clearly define the objectives the company wishes to achieve (e.g., accelerate new product development, penetrate new markets, improve existing processes).
  • Strategic alignment: Make sure that the open innovation strategy is well aligned with the company's overall strategy. This means understanding how external inputs can be integrated with internal skills and resources.

2. Cultivate a culture of innovation

  • Management support: Top management commitment is essential. They must not only approve, but also actively promote the culture of open innovation within the organization.
  • Encourage collaboration: Create an environment where knowledge exchange is encouraged and teams are encouraged to collaborate both internally and with external partners.
  • Tolerance of failure: Encourage a culture that accepts failure as part of the innovation process and sees mistakes as learning opportunities.

3. Managing partnerships

  • Partner selection: Identify and select partners through competitions or calls for projects, so that they can bring added value in terms of technologies, skills, market prospects or specific needs. This can include universities, startups, suppliers, or even customers. Software such as Agorize and Yoomap are available to help companies manage innovation from concept to full-scale implementation, by connecting companies, start-ups and talent. (links to Agorize, Yoomap
  • Relationship management: Establish transparent and equitable relationships with partners to ensure mutual value sharing. This often involves agreements on intellectual property and profit-sharing.

4. Use appropriate tools and platforms

  • Collaboration platforms: Invest in technologies that facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing, such as project management platforms or corporate social networks (e.g. Agorize or Yoomap).
  • Innovation management systems: Specific tools can help to capture ideas, manage innovation projects and measure results.

5. Protecting intellectual property

  • Legal framework: Clearly define intellectual property rights in collaboration agreements to protect the company's innovations and know-how, while respecting those of its partners.
  • Data security: Ensure the security of exchanged and stored information, especially when collaboration involves sensitive or critical data.

6. Assessment and adaptation

  • Performance monitoring: Establish clear performance indicators to assess the effectiveness of open innovation initiatives. This may include the number of new ideas generated, time to market, or impact on revenues.
  • Iteration: Open innovation is an iterative process. Use feedback to continually adjust and improve strategies and practices.

Example: IBM introduced "Jam sessions", online events where employees at all levels are invited to collaborate on specific projects for a limited period. This approach has generated thousands of ideas and consolidate employee commitment.

In conclusion, successfully managing open innovation involves preparing and adapting the organization to a constant flow of external ideas and technologies, while cultivating an internal environment that fosters innovation and collaboration. This dynamic process requires a balance between openness and control.

The limits of open innovation

While open innovation offers many benefits, it also presents a number of challenges and limitations that can hamper its effectiveness. Here are some of the main constraints associated with open innovation, and strategies for mitigating them.

1. Difficulties in managing partnerships

  • Complex relationships: Managing partnerships between structures that don't speak the same language (large corporations vs. start-ups) and that don't have the same commercial objectives can become extremely complex and generate friction.
  • Solution: It's essential to define common objectives and expectations at the outset of the collaboration, and to progress step by step in the relationship, adapting constraints and budgets.

2. Intellectual property risks

  • Insufficient protection: Sharing ideas and innovations with external partners can expose companies to risks of theft or misuse of intellectual property.
  • Solution: Put in place robust legal agreements that clearly define who holds what information, how it can be used and the consequences of non-compliance.

3. Hidden costs

  • Unforeseen investments: Although open innovation can reduce certain costs, it can also lead to unforeseen expenses, such as those linked to coordination, communication or the resolution of specific problems.
  • Solution: Budget for additional overheads and conduct a rigorous assessment of costs and benefits before committing to partnerships.

4. Quality and integration of external contributions

  • Quality inconsistencies: Ideas or technologies from external sources may not always meet the company's quality standards.
  • Solution: Implement rigorous validation and quality control procedures for all external contributions prior to their integration.

5. Dependence on external partners

  • Dependency risks: Over-reliance on external ideas and resources can diminish a company's internal capacity for innovation.
  • Solution: Maintain a balance between internal and external innovation, and invest in internal skills development.

6. Strategic alignment difficulties

  • Divergent objectives: Partners in an open innovation project may have objectives that are not perfectly aligned, which can lead to conflict and reduced effectiveness of collaborative efforts.
  • Solution: Work to harmonize visions and strategic objectives from the earliest stages of collaboration.

7. Information overload and saturation

  • Information management: The massive influx of ideas and data can sometimes overwhelm a company's information processing systems, making it difficult to select the most promising innovations.
  • Solution: Use advanced information management and analytics technologies to efficiently filter and prioritize information.

Example: In the pharmaceutical industry, where intellectual property is very important, several companies have had to re-evaluate their open innovation strategies after encountering problems protecting sensitive data. In response, they have strengthened their contracts and developed secure platforms for collaboration.

In short, although open innovation can positively transform a company's innovation practices, it requires careful, proactive management to overcome its limitations and maximize its potential.

Open innovation training

Setting up a training program for your teams is necessary for companies seeking to adopt and effectively integrate this model into their innovation strategies.

These training programs aim to raise awareness and empower employees and managers to understand the principles of open innovation, associated working methods, identify opportunities for external collaboration, and manage associated challenges such as intellectual property and the integration of external innovations.

Typically, these courses cover topics such as inter-company collaboration methods, partnership management, and techniques for protecting innovative ideas and products. They can also include in-depth case studies, simulations, and interactive workshops to consolidate the practical skills needed to navigate the complex ecosystem of open innovation.

By investing in training, companies can increase their ability to innovate collaboratively, while strengthening their competitiveness in the marketplace.

Open innovation support program concept

Our open innovation coaching program is designed to help companies, especially SMEs and startups, navigate and exploit the opportunities offered by open innovation.

This type of program offers tailored support that includes mentoring by innovation experts, access to an extensive network of potential partners in industry, universities and research institutions, and specific resources and tools to facilitate the development and implementation of open innovation projects.

Participants also benefit from training sessions and practical workshops to develop effective value propositions, understand the legal and contractual aspects of collaboration, and master innovative project management techniques suited to this model of innovation.

In addition, the program can include support for prototype design, advice on intellectual property and assistance in finding financing. Some projects may also require the creation of spin-offs to avoid disrupting the current core activities of companies (ETIs and major groups). The expertise of our resolutely entrepreneurial teams enables us to provide companies with the best possible support in the creation and development of these spin-offs.

The aim is to create an environment conducive to open innovation, where companies can collaborate effectively to develop innovative, competitive solutions.

Example: the CleanTech Vallée case

CleanTech Vallée is an eloquent example of a region historically focused on the nuclear industry (Tricastin nuclear power plant, ORANO's Melox waste enrichment plant, CEA Marcoule) and other cleantech-related companies (Sanofi, BRL, SAUR) that has decided to create an innovation ecosystem dedicated to clean technologies, througha start-up and SME acceleration program: the Cleantech Booster program.

Open innovation challenge or call for projects?

Each season, around ten innovative start-ups and SMEs are selected via a call for projects (other gas pedals prefer to use open innovation competitions or challenges). The important thing is to find innovations that meet the needs of companies in the ecosystem.

Bringing together companies (ETIs or major groups), startups, academic institutions and public players (community of communes, etc.), this initiative aims to develop sustainable solutions to energy and environmental challenges.

By encouraging collaboration, CleanTech Vallée is a perfect example of how open innovation can be applied in practice to generate innovative, sustainable solutions.

Open to innovation

As you will have gathered, open innovation is not just about being "open to innovation", but represents a revolution in the way companies approach the development and marketing of new technologies and services. By adopting this approach, companies don't just innovate; they radically transform their operations.


Senior consultant in innovation strategies - Projects, Programs, Industry, Nuclear, Cleantech - Lyon, France

Matthieu specializes in a wide range of sectors including industry, nuclear and clean technologies. He currently focuses on the development and implementation of complex projects, bringing to each initiative his diverse skills in innovation strategy, entrepreneurship, design thinking and lean startup.

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