Most companies are continually looking for opportunities to grow their product portfolios, move into new markets and make a significant impact on business. Whether ‘transformative’ or expansionary, the key questions are: How do you focus your search? Where should you look?
First, opportunities are not limited to technologies. While new and/or disruptive technologies can give you competitive advantage, other reasons to go outside include market access (customer base, distribution, brand, etc.), competencies (technical, marketing, business) and funding –as well as ideas related to serviceability, sustainability, and other attributes. Increasingly companies are exploring open innovation partnerships in emerging markets such as China and India where growth opportunities are greater.
Regardless, the most important driver is customer need. Ideally you will match a new technology or idea to a large, unmet and compelling need. (Remember that invention is not the same as innovation.)
Expert Jay Paap (Management Roundtable conference chair and workshop leader), advises scouts to:
- Seek problems, not solutions – identify the gap(s), don’t presume the answers
- Think generically
- Look everywhere
- Manage internal experts
- Keep options open
The higher the potential value of an innovation, the further and deeper you may need to look. You must keep an open mind and be willing to look at unconventional sources. The search should be both internal and external, span different industries and geographies, and be multidisciplinary.
Screening – to be discussed in a future article – will narrow the field, but in the search phase, cast a wide net. Ideas truly can come from anywhere.
- Examples: Corning deploys both “opportunity scouts” and “tech scouts,” working with Opportunity Identification Teams that include marketing and technology experts, all connected with deep networks of external technology experts and business leaders.
- Monsanto’s Technology Prospecting team maximizes both internal and external networks to find the most promising innovations.
- Northrop Grumman, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Purdue created a dynamic university-industry collaboration to commercialize early stage technologies.
- HP Labs Innovation Research Program solicits proposals against a specific set of targeted research topics– Awards are offered, ranging from $50-$100K per year, up to 3 year projects. HP Labs also collaborates with customers and universities, using different frameworks for each.
- InnovateWithKraft.com (Kraft), GameChanger (Shell) and Connect + Develop (Procter & Gamble), are designed to stimulate and invite submissions from consumers, inventors and entrepreneurs through crowdsourcing and company-sponsored contests. P&G also has an entrepreneurial new-business generator, FutureWorks – part of its Connect + Develop program to attract “fledgling businesses currently serving new market businesses” and transform them “into businesses that can scale to serve the mass market.” P&G also has an academic/industry collaboration in Russia.
- GlaxoSmithKline and many other life sciences firms are exploring R&D partnerships in Taizhou, aka China Medical City (CMC) – a hub for accelerated innovation in pharmaceuticals, biotech and biochemicals.
- China is also where GE’s Ecomagination Challenge has just been launched with a $100 million contest to fund innovative gas-energy projects (similar to the company’s US-based programs.) Revenue from its global “ecomagination” program is expected to be around $21 billion this year.
This article published in conjunction with MRT’s workshop series:
Technology Scouting to Accelerate Innovation – Implementing an External Sourcing Program – check our website for the latest dates and locations of this popular seminar.
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Places to Look
The spectrum of potential partners and resources is vast, and the choices are numerous: brokers and intermediaries, industry supplier networks, universities, government labs, science parks, entrepreneurs, industry associations, conferences/trade shows, online databases and more. It is important to cultivate multiple networks and hunting grounds – your goals and corporate culture will fit better with some more than others.
Below is a partial listing of global resources culled from speakers and participants at recent Management Roundtable events. Please note – this listing does not imply endorsement, and information can change.
- Commercial and non-commercial databases, such as PatBase, Factiva, MINTEL gnpd (consumer goods), Aureka gold, etc.
- Goldfire (Invention Machine) https://gfi.goldfire.com/
- Illumin8 – http://www.illumin8.com
- Venture Source (Dowjones) https://www.venturesource.com/
- Internet sites— i.e. Google, Wikipedia, as well as industrypublications and blogs
Brokers, intermediaries, advisers
- Gen3 Partners http://www.gen3partners.com/
- Innovaro http://www.innovaro.com/
- InnoCentive ™ www.innocentive.com leverages networks of resources to link challenges with viable solutions, typically offering financial incentives as a reward
- Nine Sigma www.ninesigma.com uses outbound email “RFPs,” requires problem statement from client
- Inno360 http://www.inno-360.com/
- IXC Australia Limited www.ixc.com.au
- IXC UK – http://www.ixc-uk.com
- Oakland http://www.oakland.co.uk/
- Ocean Tomo Auctions, LLC http://www.oceantomo.com/auctions.html
- Yet2.com http://www.yet2.com
- YourEncore ™ www.YourEncore.com (expertise from industry veterans)
- IdeaConnection – http://www.ideaconnection.com/
- New Venture Partners, LLC (spinoffs) http://www.newventurepartners.com/
- Synchrony Venture Management http://www.synchronyvm.com/index.shtml
- Advanced Technology Ventures http://www.atvcapital.com/
- Intermediaries and consultants that also offer funding, i.e. InnoSight http://www.innosightventures.com/
- Companies with corporate venture arms such as: Intel VC as well as its Invest in America Alliance http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Intel-VC-firms-to-invest-35B-apf-1050090688.html?x=0&.v=2, Pfizer Venture Investments http://www.pfizer.com/research/partnering/venture_investments.jsp, Merck Global Health Innovation http://www.merck.com/ghi/ Unilever Ventureshttp://www.unileverventures.com/
- Intellectual Ventures http://www.intellectualventures.com
- New Venture Partners http://www.nvpllc.com/
Universities and Research Laboratories
- Association University Technology Managers (AUTM) www.autm.net
- Flintbox www.flintbox.com http://www.vivoweb.org/
- iBridge http://www.ibridgenetwork.org/
- Los Alamos National Laboratories http://www.lanl.gov/opportunities/
- NASA Tech Briefs – http://www.techbriefs.com
- Sandia National Lab http://www.sandia.gov/bus-ops/partnerships/tech-access/index.html
- UTEK http://www.utekcorp.com/ (now part of Innovaro, see above)
Search Tools and Databases
- Accelovation(Netbase) http://www.accelovation.com
- Community of Science (COS) http://www.cos.com
- Fuld and Company http://www.fuld.com/ (competitive intelligence)
- InnovationTools http://www.innovationtools.com
- Inventables http://www.inventables.com
- SciTech Strategies http://www.mapofscience.com
- Delphion/Thomson http://www.delphion.com/
- Global Prior Art, Inc. http://www.globalpriorart.com
- Innography (http://www.innography.com)
- ipCapital Group http://www.ipcg.com/
- IPVALUE Management http://www.ipvalue.com/
- MicroPatent http://www.micropat.com/static/index.htm
- Rembrandt IP Management (absorbed Patent Café) http://www.rembrandtfund.com
- Thomson Innovation http://www.thomsoninnovation.com/
- ThinkFire (patents) http://www.thinkfire.com/
Innovation and Invention Service Providers
- Battelle http://www.battelle.org/
- Inovo http://www.inovotech.com/
- InventHelp (inventors, entrepreneurs) https://www.inventhelp.com/
- Invent Resources http://www.weinvent.com/content/view/19/46/
- Perception Partners http://www.perceptionpartners.com/
- Sagentia (formerly Generics Group) http://www.sagentia.com
- Sarnoff http://www.sarnoff.com
- TIAX http://www.tiaxllc.com/