Collaborative innovation and the quest for talent

4 minute read

3 February 2022

By Matt Cooling

Co-Innovation Specialist, Upstart

Matt Cooling, Upstart’s Co-Innovation Specialist shares insights from working on collaborative transformation projects with global tech giants and early-stage start-ups


Innovation comes in many forms. At one end of the spectrum there’s the popular image of the single-minded genius turning an entire industry on its head.  But look more widely and it becomes clear that innovation is just as likely to be fuelled by collaboration.

I like to give the example of a 5G mobile testbed project that I managed recently. 

Here there were more than 30 partners including large corporates, academia, public sector and small businesses. They all shared the common goal of demonstrating the business case for the deployment of 5G in rural areas, but with differing outcomes in terms of how this would support their individual business objectives.

The project was sponsored by the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), led by a global technology organisation and principal university partner. It resulted in the design and delivery of an end-to-end 5G network where the project’s partners could showcase a variety of technical and business use cases. These use cases created value for local residents, tourists, businesses and local councils, across areas such as broadcasting, community, agritech and industrial IoT. 

These co-innovation projects are great examples of how bringing together diverse groups can create new and innovative ways to achieve positive change. 

So what?

As businesses and individuals we often cluster around entities who share our own outlook. But the most interesting innovation is often achieved when you invite people and organisations to challenge your way of thinking. This collision of thought processes and knowledge allows new ideas to be created and exciting opportunities exposed.

So part of my role to drive project success of these projects was to manage differing business goals and individual ways of thinking. I also had to smooth over the inevitable conflicts, and  help individuals, teams, and partners to embrace the disruptive environment. 

The other challenge with innovation projects is to put in place a plan for long-term transformation when the original project concludes. If the strategic goal is to further connectivity in rural areas, and innovation is the testbed that supports this aim, then the third piece is the transformation. If you don’t have that piece then all your innovation investment goes to waste.  

The risk here is that different organisations fail to align their own transformation objectives with the co-innovation project itself. And whilst participation in the project creates value in the form of incremental improvements, branding and employee engagement, this won’t deliver long-term benefits alone. The successful partners were those who planned their transformation during the innovation project itself, rather than leaving it to the end.

So now what?

My own experience is that collaboration is a powerful driver of innovation with one caveat: it requires a delicate balance of resources and personalities along with a large measure of commitment. Preparing your business and people, along with thinking about the longer-term journey, is essential to driving success.

There are a number of steps that businesses should ask to make sure they set off on the right track. 

The first thing you need to do is to become aware of the environment in which you’re planning to innovate. It can be quite scary to ‘open your doors’ but you need to understand what’s going on around your business and your target audience - what are the current trends, where is innovation already happening, and where is value being created? 

The challenge here is to filter out the noise so that you can concentrate on opportunities for innovation that are genuinely relevant to revenues and growth.

Then you need to focus on organisations that are potential collaborators. How do you cut through the hype that surrounds many start-ups and tech bubbles, and concentrate on building an effective innovation ecosystem?

Get these two things right and you are in a position to invest time and resources in projects that bring innovation to life. This spark will also attract additional players who want to join your journey, giving the project additional momentum.

Finally, speed is everything. With innovation partnerships forming and breaking on a daily basis, it pays to engage with an organisation that specialises in bringing together different talents and resources fast. This reduces the risk of missed opportunities and poorly allocated investments, and ensures the maximum return from the resources you invest in the project. 

To find out more about how Upstart can bring the benefits of collaborative innovation to your organisation, get in touch TODAY.  

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