INNOspace Masters Inbound Story - Fostering Technology Transfer

Great Potential with Open Innovation

To secure economic success and strengthen their market position, companies make a significant effort to incorporate new technologies and techniques. But the demands on innovation management have changed in recent years. In the classic understanding, in-house R&D departments are the main source of innovation. An opening to the outside to solve challenges or better meet the increased demands has changed this traditional understanding.

Open innovation gives businesses and organisations the ability to access new ideas for new products and services while reducing the risks, costs and time to market that usually come along with entering novel business paths. With open innovation management, companies still manage and assess their innovation process but ideas can come from external as well as internal sources and can enter the innovation process at any stage. This approach ensures the company is as receptive to ideas as possible, at all stages of the innovation process, without losing the possibility of assessing them properly and managing their development. However, the exchange of knowledge and the networking of expertise from open innovation usually do not mean free access to a company’s knowledge and technology. Nevertheless, it can lead to new ideas and approaches for innovative solutions. In 2013, NASA, for example, launched an open call for a complex algorithm for power optimisation for the solar panels on the International Space Station (ISS). Awards such as the NASA ISS-Longeron Challenge have the potential to serve as a huge and very cost-efficient source of solutions for explicit challenges, such as the improved operation of solar arrays.

Open innovation aims to benefit both partners. Small companies, start-ups, universities and entrepreneurs share their knowledge for several reasons: The co-operation, especially with large and well-established companies, considerably increases chances to realise ideas, it facilitates access to new market sectors, and it provides access to potential customers. Visionaries who seek to work with other companies or institutions on fully exploiting the potential of their innovation meet with a number of options. The following formats are commonly used to support the open innovation process:

Common Open Innovation Models

  • Innovation Competitions: Innovation competitions such as the INNOspace Masters or InnoCentive offer the opportunity to solve a company’s specific problem that is already well-identified. Winning solutions are then further developed with the respective company. The INNOspace Masters features challenges by big players such as the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Airbus, OHB and DB Netz AG.
  • Startup – corporate partnerships: Partnerships between startups and corporate businesses are another way to work together to find a solution to an identified problem, especially when an established business identifies emerging markets but doesn’t have the resources, time, or proven capability to take up this opportunity.
  • Startup incubator or accelerator: A startup incubator or accelerator is similar to a partnership, but also involves investing equity in the startup. The INNOspace Masters partners ESA BIC Bavaria and ESA BIC Hesse & Baden-Württemberg offer such an incubation programme.
  • Hackathons: Hackathons are similar to certain innovation challenges, but also go far deeper into the project details and are mostly related to software innovations.
  • Co-creation labs and lead user method: Co-creation labs are places dedicated to innovation, with the resources, mentoring, and knowledge innovators needed to explore challenging questions. This also includes the involvement of the lead users of a company´s product. They often have a strong relationship to the brand or a certain product and are a great source of innovative ideas from outside.

In practice, open innovation can take the form of technology development projects such as the DLR working with SKITH – the 2016 INNOspace Masters overall winner – on a wireless satellite infrastructure, through to innovation competitions such as the INNOspace Masters, or crowdsourcing portals e.g. the space crowdinvesting platform SpaceStarters.

Additionally, open innovation incorporates another great source of potential: technology transfer as an intersectoral transfer of expertise. In general, technology transfer not only covers the technology transfer from academia to industry, but also includes know-how exchange between different industry sectors.

The INNOspace Masters is a means to exploit this cross-industry potential in the context of technology and knowledge transfer from academia, research, students, startups, SMEs, and science. The innovation competition seeks basic research or new business ideas for commercialisation. Such ideas can stem from both sides, either as “spin-ins” (from non-space into a space sector) or “spin-offs” (from space sectors into non-space). They are then further developed with the respective partner DLR, Airbus, OHB or DB Netz AG.

Almost every INNOspace Masters partner provides its own technology transfer platform:

  • OHB Venture Capital by OHB SE supports promising companies and startups that cover the field of space systems, technologies, applications and services with good market opportunities. In addition to the actual venture capital, OHB also supports investments primarily through a targeted know-how transfer and actively helps startups and companies in the area of management and finance.
  • The Airbus BizLab is a global aerospace accelerator where startups and Airbus entrepreneurs speed up the transformation of innovative ideas into valuable businesses. It offers early-stage projects wide-ranging support in the form of a six-month acceleration programme. Startups have access to a large number of Airbus coaches, experts in various domains, and support staff, free hosting, and a Demo Day with Airbus decision makers, venture capitalists, Airbus customers and partners.
  • The DB Mindbox with its DB Startup Express and DB Open Data offers more than just money: it provides in-depth insights and can open markets across its network. Additionally, it opens its data for insights, data-driven services or business models.

In fact, open innovation is not only a substitute for closed innovation, but complementary. The innovation activities of external sources such as universities or other companies should be seen as an add-on to a company’s own innovation processes and also as a great opportunity for innovators. The INNOspace Masters competition is the perfect platform to boost your innovation project by gaining some extra publicity and the chance to cooperate with well-established companies.

Apply now and submit your idea to the INNOspace Masters challenges! Find out more here.

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