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Products and their manufacturing processes are only becoming more complicated. Hence, collaboration has become more important for sharing risks, costs and specialty skills. Now as more governments smell the long-term gains to be made in innovation, they are investing in evermore hubs for startups and corporates to work together. But is really a fair trade-off? Read all about it!

Imagine: you’ve come up with a sensor that scavenges its own power, or a solar panel that generates electricity at night. Such paradigm-shifting products can change the world. But it’s also very possible that the dream gets smashed – like Google Glass.

So, what do you do? You bring in collaborators to share in the pleasure and/or pain.

Healthcare is already one sector where innovations are achieved by the coming together of a whole rainbow of disparate players – academia, big pharma, startups, care facilities, government bodies, etcetera. This only makes sense. A single medicine can take 10 years and a couple of billion dollars before it actually starts helping people. And now such trajectories are becoming more common across many industries.

Go For It: Save The World

For instance, one chemicals company took a decade to go from being an academic spin-off to manufacturing and first sales, according to ‘We Commercialized A Methane Capture Technology In Ten Years — Here’s How’.

“That sounds like a long time, but it’s actually fast. In our field of industrial chemistry, it often takes up to 20 years to get a product out of the lab and on to the market,” says one of the founders. “Most prototypes fail at the first hurdle – getting industry backing. Patents last for only 20 years, making it a race against time.”

And yes: “Beyond an exciting product, it needs time, money, business management and collaboration across many sectors.” And if your innovation has international potential, you should try to pull in international partners. “These open up funding channels, areas of expertise and markets. Conferences and exhibitions are good places to connect.”

“Finally, find collaborators wherever conditions are most favourable. For example, we benefited from working with partners in Australia for IP generation, a German manufacturer who supplied specialized raw materials, and gas companies in China for processing and commercial demonstration.”

They have one final piece of advice: Just go for it! Especially if you foresee making positive real-world impact. In this case: “Methane accounts for 16-20% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and is more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.”

See The Light. Share The Vision

“Faster, lighter, more durable, and, at the end of the day, also much cheaper: the benefits of photonic circuits are considerable, for a wide range of applications. And the Netherlands plays an important role, globally, in the development and application of this key technology,” according to ‘Shared Innovation Is An Essential Condition In The World Of Photonics’.

“The development of new technologies is so complex and expensive that companies cannot do it alone. What’s more, the necessary knowledge is often spread across research institutes and companies. It is part of the strength of the Netherlands to collectively enable developments which we would not get done individually.”

And startups are often a smart choice as collaborator. They’re also easily dispensible: “If something doesn’t work, we pull the plug.”

Corporates And Startups: Is It Really A Match Made In Heaven?

Today “co-innovation” hubs are popping up like so many pimples on an adolescent boy. Governments are indeed stepping up to make long-term investments for the greater good down the road (and the potentially dizzying ROI).

It’s certainly working for Singapore: ‘How Co-Innovation Is Driving Industrial Transformation in Singapore’s Manufacturing Sector’. (And yes, this article is an advertorial but a rather informative one.)

“The success of the partnership speaks to the power of open innovation, with a large corporate combining its own industry expertise and scale with the skills and innovation that a start-up partner can bring to the table. […] “It is an ecosystem that promises to benefit both sides hugely, enabling start-ups to grow at pace through tackling real-world issues at scale, and multinationals to tap into an incredible and ever-growing pool of cutting-edge innovation and talent.”

But the process is not all sunshine. “Both parties need to understand the tedious process of having multiple iterations to reach consensus on the right functionality.”

Step Up. Or Lose Opportunity

Almost three-quarters of manufacturing leaders in the UK say collaborating with startups is part of their long-term strategy to stimulate innovation. However, many are not making it a priority over the next year, according to ‘How Manufacturers Are Turbo Charging Innovation Through Start-Ups’.

Many see this as a risk-adverse – and short-sighted – response to COVID-19. And in actual fact, “manufacturers can insulate themselves from it by managing projects closely and working in collaboration with suppliers to help define scope and detailing project milestones. The risk/reward is heavily in favour of using start-ups who normally revolve around a committed team who work hard and are keen to succeed.”

After all: “Nobody excels by doing the same as everyone else.”


Read: ‘Manufacturing – The News: The Rise Of Radical Modularity’.