The exponential speed, complexity, and market upheavals caused by today’s digital revolution mean that no single enterprise can “do it all” alone anymore. When it comes to innovating game-changers, the new paradigm is: Collaborate or collapse! — no matter the size, sector, and success of your organization.
This means all types of businesses, especially technology providers, must build and collaborate more closely and openly with a diverse ecosystem of innovators, such as entrepreneurs, startups, developers, accelerators, academia, govermment, and others. Increasingly, the world’s most impactful digital breakthroughs and opportunities are emerging from dynamic environments that bring partners and customers together to co-innovate new products, solutions, and services.
I call these environments, Co-Innovation Centers, but they’re also known as innovation hubs, labs, or communities. Whatever they’re named, their emphasis should be on the “co-“ — co-innovate with customers and partners. And their goal is generally the same: Collectively identify, develop, and deliver extraordinary outcomes that solve a specific business problem locally that can be scaled globally.
These hives of co-creativity present boundless opportunities for the entire ecosystem – customers, providers, and myriad entrepreneurial specialists alike. You might think of them as high-tech, match-making locations that connect and nurture a wide variety of partners with the same interests. Since digital solutions in particular require complex combinations of architectures and technologies, it takes a diverse team of horizontal, vertical, and regional specialists working together for a common purpose. Examples already abound of centers not only igniting innovation for specific customers but also stimulating a wider culture of innovation and entrepreneurism in the surrounding community.
In Durham, North Carolina, for example, the American Underground start-up hub has brought more than $50 million in venture capital to the area, created 1,100 jobs and driven $1.4 million in spending towards local businesses. Similarly, Ohio University’s Innovation Center supported 269 jobs that led to an $9.9 million in employee compensation in Athens County in 2017. And, the IDEALondon Co-innovation Center has engaged nearly 60 local startups, helped them raise £60 million in seed funding and created 500 new jobs.
It’s best to locate a co-innovation center in major cities where the local government supports innovation and there there is a vibrant community of entrepreneurs to build your ecosystem. For instance, a Verizon Innovation Center in Waltham, Massachusetts (near Boston’s dynamic tech scene), is developing smart city solutions alongside various municipalities and local business partners. One of these solutions is an intelligent lighting unit that promises to reduce energy usage by up to 70 percent.
I’m personally thrilled to see so many of these centers attract diverse ecosystems focusing on solutions benefiting society at large, such as New York City’s Center for Social Innovation, the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, and the EU’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation — the latter helped eliminate 27,000 tons of greenhouse gases and save 46,000 tons of water. At Innovation Central Sydney, an ecosystem of public and private partners incubated the, “Farm Tough Decision Platform,” combining a low-power wireless network with AI and data analytics to monitor soil and weather conditions, which has improved crop yields, operational efficiency, and profitability, while significantly decreased production costs.
At Cisco, I launched one of our first Co-Innovation Centers several years ago and have since then grown an inter-connected network of 14 such centers in metropolitan areas worldwide. At any time, we are co-innovating projects with dozens of customers and numerous specialized partners in hubs fully equipped with the latest hardware and software technologies.
These working environments, where local solutions can be scaled globally across multiple industries, can serve multiple purposes. In additionn to innovating breakthroughs, they can also serve as showcases for digital solutions that inspire the imagination of what’s possible; magnets for researchers and innovators in government and academia; hands-on training grounds for students and entrepreneurs; and, investment vehicles in local startups and university programs. Further, at Cisco, our Co-Innovation Centers have contributed tremendously to capturing and accelerating local innovation opportunities and translating them into revenue for our company and ecosystem, leading to greater value for customers.
Providing state-of-the-art environments not only helps to inspire partners, but when working together toward a common goal, and using the same co-development methodologies, they can also help to build trust and open communications – key ingredients for valuable innovation and strong ecosystems. My experience has shown that when working together in Co-Innovation Centers mutual confidence grows as everyone discovers each other’s expertise and contribution to the project. In the end, the enteprise usually appreciates the fresh perspectives of its partners while partners appreciate the enterprise’s big-picture capabilities to scale the solution.
Most any industry, from manufacturing and financial services to aerospace and healthcare, can take advantage of co-innovation enters by getting involved in the right ecosystems. By co-innovating collaboratively, partners can ignite innovation, thrive and prosper together. In today’s digital economy, where it’s imperative to innovate constantly, co-innovation centers are increasingly critical for all partners to succeed now and in the ever-changing tomorrow.