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How open innovation test beds are changing the game
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Models of innovation

Individuals, companies and organizations around the world create value through innovation, a process of developing new ideas, products and services. However, innovation includes more than simply creating something entirely new. It also involves the combination of existing ideas and tools in unique ways, addressing an existing problem or meeting a need.

The traditional model of innovation adopts a closed approach. This means that the company or organization relies on its own resources and keeps the research and development activities in-house to create new products and services. The traditional closed model of innovation consists of the idea generation, the development, testing and commercialization. The company creates and owns all intellectual property and makes profits exclusively from it. However, this closed approach has some particular weak points compared to the open innovation approach, such that, in the case of small and medium enterprises, poses significant limitations that could affect business growth and sustainability. One aspect of those limitations is the limited resources and expertise, as well as the high investment cost that the traditional innovation model requires in order to build an in-house R&D department, invest in facilities and personnel. The other major aspect has to do with the innovation process itself. The entire process from the idea generation to commercialization can be slow and time-consuming, which may result in missed business opportunities. From a business planning perspective, both aspects can be translated into business risk factors, the management of which can greatly benefit the growth and sustainability prospects of an SME innovating and developing new ideas.

The open innovation model offers the means to pursue just that. This lack of agility and flexibility required to keep up with the rapidly changing business environment is targeted by open innovation. This model of innovation is more collaborative and involves working with external partners such as customers, suppliers, other organizations to create new products and services. Open innovation involves sharing ideas and knowledge across organizational boundaries and engaging in co-creation and co-innovation with external partners. Innovation is not limited in-house, and collaboration can lead to better and faster solutions. In this model, a company is more focused on creating value than on owning all the intellectual property associated with the innovation. Under this scope, the European Commission has created the Open Innovation Test Beds (OITBs), visioning them as collaborative platforms where companies, researchers and other stakeholders come together to test and validate new products, services, and business models.

Open Innovation Test Beds

There are several benefits of Open Innovation Test Beds. The following figure presents the most important ones. Namely, OITBs foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders, which can lead to the development of more innovative products or services. In addition, the OITBs provide access to resources that may not be available to small or medium size companies (SMEs). The resources could be facilities and expertise, as well as guidance and funding opportunities. As a result, the innovation process is accelerated and new products and services are scaled more quickly through the access provided by the OITB to new markets and customers. Moreover, both SMEs and large enterprises can test their products and services in a real-world environment, upgraded pilot lines and benefit from experts’ guidance and feedback, before investing in large-scale production or commercialization, reducing significant the risk of failure and minimizing the cost of development. All in all, the OITB creates an innovation ecosystem to promote entrepreneurship and contribute to economic growth.

Benefits of Open Innovation Test Beds
Figure 1: Benefits of Open Innovation Test Beds

In order for all the above to be achieved by an OITB, its members rely on its well-organized establishment and its optimally coordinated operation. There are a number of aspects that are important for this to be achieved. The most crucial challenges to be addressed for the sustainability of the OITB itself are the following: Access, Rules, Funding, and Collaboration.

Access: As an Open Innovation community and -at the same time- as a collaborative platform among enterprises and organizations, an OITB requires its operation to be well structured. Access for stakeholders needs to be channeled via a Single-Entry Point (SEP), which needs to be operating within a well-specified framework of rules and following a clear and transparent procedure.

Rules: Given that the open innovation model is based on sharing knowledge and expertise, setting the rules to govern this “sharing” is understandably one of the most important challenges to address. It is also one of the main aspects potential clients want clarified, contributing a lot to the attractiveness of the OITB. These rules include everything, from the contractual documentation templates taking into account and managing all necessary and possible issues, to the IPR management strategy and how it is applied in the OITB framework.

Funding: For an OITB to be established, complex collaborations need to be set up. Testing, upgrading and intergrading are required. All of this requires funding. EU-funded projects establishing OITBs are benefiting from an amazing head-start. But funding will also be required from several potential clients, which could be one of the main limiting factors for their innovation process. The ability of an OITB to provide the guidance and services associated with helping those clients get access to funding can be highly advantageous in the long term.

Collaboration: Open Innovation is based on collaboration. For an OITB to operate successfully trust and cultural understanding among stakeholders is required. A well-coordinated consortium of innovators needs to be based on an adaptable management structure, following flexible collaborative schemes and building on state-of-the-art technology and expertise.

The European Union has long recognized the importance of innovation in driving economic growth and competitiveness. Through the €80 billion funding of the Horizon 2020 program, the European Commission promoted research and innovation, giving attention to the establishment of OITBs, bringing together stakeholders to collaborate, develop and test new products and technologies.

The BIOMAC Project

Within this frame, the BIOMAC project was funded by the European Commission aiming to establish an Open Innovation Test Bed Ecosystem capable of upscaling technologies and solutions utilizing nano-enabled bio-based materials and preparing them for market applications. During the first phase of a 4-year project, the 17 pilot lines were upgraded and along with the complementary services were validated though 5 initial internal test cases in the fields of automotive, agricultural, food packaging, construction and printed electronics, and internal procedures were set in place to establish the OITB.

The second phase of the funded project involves an open call for expression of interest from stakeholders. The OITB will select 5 additional test cases, offering access to its facilities of 17 pilot lines and complementary services, free of charge. Therefore, it is a great opportunity for companies and stakeholders to test their ideas on biobased nanomaterials. The open call is a final test drive of the operation of the OITB to ensure that it can be successful and sustainable post project. Following the funding period, BIOMAC will continue to operate as a one-stop-shop through a single entry point, represented by the project partner IBB Netzwerk, offering OITB facilities and services at fair conditions and at a reasonable cost.

In conclusion, open innovation test beds are revolutionizing the way we innovate, by providing a collaborative ecosystem that enables organizations to have access to state-of-the-art facilities, collaborate with companies and researchers with great expertise, reduce the risk and accelerate innovation. BIOMAC brings together 34 partners with 17 pilot lines that cover the whole value chain, from biomass fractionation and intermediate chemicals to final nano-enabled bio-based materials.