Today’s business climate is fraught with a justified sense of existential dread. Its source is not new – competition and disruption have existed since the beginning of commerce. But today that anxiety is aggravated by bigger stakes, readily available funding, rapid information flow, and an unprecedented speed of technological advance.
Taken together, those factors and others are depriving startup founders and Fortune 500 CEOs alike the respite of a good night’s sleep.
But apart from causing anxiety, the present business climate is also forcing companies to operate differently. Large companies seeking to protect their core business are active in the M&A market, snatching up companies that have competing technologies or even just patents for competing technologies. At the same time, startups trying to capture market share are forced into 100-plus hour work weeks, stealth launches, and tight codes of secrecy about technology under development.
Gary P. Pisano writing for Harvard Business Review explains that “an organization’s capacity for innovation stems from an innovation system: a coherent set of interdependent processes and structures that dictates how the company searches for novel problems and solutions, synthesizes ideas into a business concept and product designs, and selects which projects get funded.”
This view of innovation – that it is dependent on finely tuned internal processes – has recently been called into question. In a meta twist to this narrative, a new realm of businesses are beginning to offer products and services specifically designed to help companies innovate faster. In other words, innovation sourced from the outside as a service.
“The pace of innovation is driving companies to look outside of their internal R&D teams, which are inherently constrained,” asserts Clifford Gross, founder and CEO of Tekcapital, a University IP company. “There is only so much creative production that can be demanded from a finite number of people. In the end, companies will find that the vast majority of innovation taking place in their industry is occurring outside of their own four walls, however advanced their innovation system.”
The expression ‘You can’t rush art’ equally applies to innovation. Much like lightning, it strikes unpredictably. Companies realizing this dynamic are increasingly looking to crowdsourced solutions for solving their innovation challenges. Research and development teams within companies are still highly valued, but their value-add in development is becoming more important.
One of the ways companies are crowdsourcing their innovation is through technology transfer, which has existed for decades. This is a means of finding IP coming out of research labs, government institutions, and academic organizations for the purpose of commercializing it. However until recently, technology transfer was limited to large companies with the budgets to expend in seeking out such technologies and acquiring them. Now, that process is being automated.
“Universities are incubators of some of mankind’s greatest scientific discoveries,” says Gross. “Their robust research departments, long-term focus, infusion of youthful ingenuity, and network of leading academics empower them to tackle difficult challenges and create breakthrough solutions. And by leveraging a global network of these universities, volumes of that IP can be automatically disseminated to anyone who wants to find it – instead of remaining hidden at the tech transfer office.”
Today, innovation can be as simple as using an application on your phone or using one of the many online marketplaces that index available IP. Young entrepreneurs and seasoned veterans alike have more access to innovation at their fingertips than ever before.
Innovation as a service is a growing field. Competition is forcing companies to look beyond their internal R&D and M&A strategies. Even young startups are looking over their shoulders for what may be coming up behind and are including innovation research into their launch plans. Of course, if everyone has access to innovation services, the playing field is leveled again, giving no one a unique advantage. But companies that fail to upgrade their innovation strategies will likely fall behind as a result.