An Australian entrepreneur starts a venture from home. He has no staff and limited funds, but big ambitions to create, collaborate and innovate offshore. From a makeshift office, he connects with some of the world’s biggest companies and like-minded small international firms.
The tiny startup participates in global innovation platforms via the web and hires a small team of PhD students in Vietnam, at low cost, to help develop innovations. The entrepreneur taps into government grants and industry tours, and quickly builds a global network of collaborators and support staff.
Welcome to the world of open innovation, where the potential for startup ventures to be ‘born global’ has never been greater.
Two powerful forces are driving this trend. The first is that true diversity – different people, cultures, skills and ways of doing things – boosts innovation.
The second is a recognition by companies that they don’t have all the answers, that much innovation can be sourced externally, and that being more open with collaborators and even existing or potential competitors, in certain parts of the business, can help develop and commercialise ideas.
Any venture can build a global team of collaborators. The trick is knowing how such a network can help your venture, or how you can help it. Here are five places to start.
Corporate open innovation platforms
Hundreds of multinational companies have dedicated open innovation, crowdsourcing or co-development sites to provide external input to their innovation process and, in some cases, collaborate on projects with the firm or other suppliers.
Check whether the leader in your industry has an open innovation platform that encourages contributions from other firms. It can be a great way to connect with companies offshore and share ideas.
Consider joining industry, innovation or entrepreneurship associations and leveraging their global connections.
Industry or functional open-innovation platforms
Want to connect with offshore firms in research and development, marketing and design, collective intelligence, human resources, social enterprise, software or life sciences? There are dozens of open innovation platforms in each category, some much better than others.
Innovation consultancies, such as Board of Innovation, list key open innovation networks by industry function or specialty and are a good place to find more information and tap into hundreds of potential collaborators.
Instead of trying to source and rely on free collaborators, consider contracting and building your offshore innovation team through human resource and micro-job platforms, such as Freelancer.com. Use university-trained specialists in developing markets, at much lower cost, to develop your website, mobile application, provide designs or a range of other services.
If they are good, stick with them and build a low-cost global network of helpers, collaborators and innovators who can power your venture from behind the scenes. Better still, find overseas collaborators in different time zones, to develop ideas and build your venture while you sleep.
Instead of trying to source and rely on free collaborators, consider contracting and building your offshore innovation team through human resource and micro-job platforms.
Become part of Australia’s innovation ecosystem
Consider joining industry, innovation or entrepreneurship associations and leveraging their global connections. Start Up Australia is a fast-growing online community for entrepreneurs, and the invitation-only Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which has chapters in dozens of countries, suits larger, highly successful ventures.
Federal or state government-supported innovation festivals are another way to immerse your business in Australia’s innovation ecosystem and build local and international contacts.
Many startup entrepreneurs dream of getting a fat government grant or contract, or being invited on a study tour to Paris or Rome. Sadly, government grants are never that easy. But it’s still possible to get help and background material on open innovation from the federal and most state governments, to participate in overseas industry tours if funds permit, or to source government advice from industry and trade departments, to help build global connections.
Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor of BRW and Shares magazines.