Open Innovation, Open Labs and Open Source.

Published by Adam Jorlen May 17, 2016

Last month, a group of us in the enkel collective went to Edith Cowan University for a presentation on Open Labs and Open Innovation by Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schildhauer. He spoke about his research at Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin; primarily about platforms where corporations and start-ups can connect and exchange value. Online open innovation initiatives, such as the “crowdstorming” business Jovoto is one type, and physical open innovation labs or creative spaces another type of platform. First we will take a look at the physical hubs, as we in the enkel collective currently focus on these.

We can all imagine the benefits for both start-ups and large organisations in working together. Corporates get a dose of creative and innovative spirit, and ideas for how to change their culture to a more entrepreneurial one. Start-ups get access to capital, advice, support and a large network of expertise and potential funding.

Prof. Schildhauer mentioned five ways for corporations to do this in practice:

  1. Venturing (seed capital provided to early-stage, emerging growth companies).
  2. Company building (give access to space, advice, money and more)
  3. Incubation (coworking space, expertise etc from very early stage)
  4. Acceleration (a short term injection of capital and resources in return for equity in the start-up. For more established start-ups)
  5. Set up a creative space, for synergies

In other words; smartly executed programs and projects can create a win-win situation through collaboration strategies.

However, to actually do this properly is difficult and not for all organisations. Lack of objectives, no clear KPIs and different cultures can make collaborations very shallow rather than the deep ones needed to get real value out of open lab innovation.

As Jim Andrew, Chief Innovation Officer at Philips, puts it;

“Boosting collaboration with start-ups is about systematically identifying win-win situations for both sides.”

Benefits with creative spaces AKA open innovation hubs

With a few exceptions, corporations in Perth are in general not experimenting with these new collaborations and open innovation initiatives. Some barriers for this mentioned by the audience during the night were;

  • Intellectual Property challenges. Who owns the ideas which come out of these collaborations? What if they steal our idea!
  • Lack of risk-taking organisations / people
  • It’s hard to communicate to the start-up / inventor communities that our organisation is actually open to these concepts and want their input.
  • Plus the usual things… Old culture, wrong structure, people in companies are wrong.

Some corporates at the session were more interested in collaborations between research institutions and corporates. This is probably due to the new focus of the Australian federal government (sold as the ideas boom) where such researcher / corporate partnerships are encouraged. But the collaborations Prof. Schildhauer spoke about are not about this — they’re between corporates and start-ups, which is very different and need another approach.

We in the enkel collective have a very open approach to our innovation. Most our ideation workshops are open to public, and ideas are shared from very early stages (even from dream stage in our dream lab). The purpose of our current home — the Vic Park MiniLab — is to be a space of experimentation, where any organisation from any sector is welcome. Ideas generated here can be used by anyone.

And our new project — The Naval Store in Fremantle — will be an open innovation hub designed for start-up / corporate / university / government collaborations. Both the physical space and the event programming, workshops and activities will be specifically designed for this.

The Factory in Berlin

Prof. Schildhauer mentioned a huge such space in Berlin — The Factory — sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs, Lufthansa and other big companies. According to their website, “The Factory brings best-in-class technology businesses together with early stage startups and talents, by providing an outstanding work environment, quality events and a curated community of founders.”

The coming enkel innovation hub in Fremantle will obviously be much smaller and more modest, but we need such a space here. Spacecubed — the pioneering coworking space here in Perth — has paved the way, and we imagine many of these collaboration spaces in many suburbs in the coming decade.

We hope that our approach and space will be welcomed by institutions and start-ups, and that these understand the benefits of cross-organisational coworking arrangements. Prof- Schildhauer certainly helped with his presentation last month.

We hope that there will be excitement around, and support from industry and government leaders for our ideas. It is after all more fun to spend time in a coworking space / open hub than in a traditional office.

The Old Fremantle Naval Store — New enkel home in 2017

So to sum up, we in enkel collective are positive to open innovation hubs, where both parties in a collaboration benefit.

But what about open innovation? What about the crowdsourced solutions to problems sought by corporates and other large organisations among the public?

Open innovation is currently a buzzword. But is it a fair practice?

Is it right that the ideas and creative thinking efforts by the public should benefit organisations?

Sure, the winners or solvers of the problems are often rewarded somehow, but they don’t own the solutions. Hence, there are dubious moral implications here. Wouldn’t a model, where the innovations dreamt up in an open innovation process are owned by the public, be better?

We in enkel believe that communities today have the opportunity to bring the innovation process completely out of organisations and back into communities for everyone’s benefit.

Open-source principles are facilitating this shift. An approach where innovators give their ideas and intellectual property freely to everyone.

And why is this so important?

Well, we don’t believe that open innovation and open innovation hubs are enough to begin tackling the problems we face today and tomorrow. We believe that we need much more innovation on all levels in society: Innovation that is accessible for all people. So we must look at open source, a logical next step of innovation.

enkel works mainly with open source principles, i.e. transparency, participation, and collaboration - for example in our maker courses and living labs.

Our challenge is however that we need to “meet the system where it’s at”, i.e. adapt our ideas of innovation, our workshops and consulting services to our clients. We can unfortunately not go into large companies, government or universities here in WA and talk about the benefits of open source yet.

They are not ready.

Sure, we have met many individuals in these institutions who are ready. But as mentioned above, the barriers are many to get organisations on board.

Perhaps we need to help them understand and practice open innovation and open labs first? Perhaps it’s impossible to skip one of these stages and move towards collaborative open source models immediately?

We in the enkel collective must however continue to explore concepts at the edges of innovation. We must be ready and prepared to explain and act when we, our clients and members are ready. We must introduce the new, the next by exploring theories and acting on them.

The graph here shows how organisational innovation has developed over time.

Development of organisational innovation ( from 2012 research proposal by Adam Jorlen: “How to organise creativity”)

As we see, organisations have gradually involved more and more people in their creative efforts. But now — with open innovation. i.e. when the ideas of billions of people with Internet access can be used for their purposes — where can organisations go next to find inspiration?

Perhaps there will be another dimension added to the graph above. A third axis with degree of social impact. The graph above illustrates innovative efforts, which primarily benefits an organisation. Sure, they will eventually impact on the general public, like Edison’s light bulb, but they were not initially created by consulting the public, by finding out their real needs; by using human centred design.

In a future scenario, where many people are involved in the innovation process and also own the ideas, innovation will be everywhere. Innovation by communities for communities.

So what will then be the role of organisations? To facilitate such all-embracing innovation?

And consequently, a question worth pondering in the long-term; will we still need organisations?


To find out more about the enkel innovation services, please contact our Innovation Director Elaine Olsen.



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enkel collective

Collective in Perth, Western Australia with the mission to create a new generation of changemakers.