Blog post

How to find your open innovation broker

Innovation brokers are able to recognize opportunities that link technologies, ideas and people through a process of networking, interactive learning and negotiation among different actors.

Within the world of open innovation, they now play a central role as mediators in facilitating and coordinating innovation by building bridges and closing gaps between key stakeholders.

If you want to find your open innovation broker, you should remember that they are individually considered as an organization, acting as a member of a network of stakeholders, not only mediating one-to-one relationships but many different alliances. Their first priority is equipping companies to innovate and they operate in business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), consumer-to-consumer (C2C) and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) markets.

Roles and skills

Overall, innovation brokers are able to scan the market for emerging technologies and help companies to review alternatives and interpret the value of technology and services. It is important to have a sustainable competitive advantage and innovation brokers can help you to differentiate yourself from other companies with the same objective.

Here is a list of important tasks they perform:

  • Provide information about potential collaborators
  • Coordination and matchmaking between stakeholders
  • Delegate knowledge & exchange information
  • Reduce the complexity of transactions between stakeholders
  • Establish and develop feasible ideas to aid innovation
  • Promote a trans-disciplinary approach/multi-actor method
  • Prompt end user driven research
  • Enable institutional change
  • Promote crucial learning dynamics for new technologies, funding and support
  • Reinforce the company’s position in the supply chain
  • Testing
  • Standardization
  • Project valuation and portfolio management

Their main function is not to spread information or give technical advice, but to stimulate the evolution and facilitation of innovation partnerships. They are also able to help you with licensing, start-ups, co-development and in contract-research contexts. In order to perform these tasks, they work with a wide-range of tools to predict, corroborate and demonstrate the potential value of products/services.

If you are trying to build and nurture a culture of innovation in your company with the function of information arbitrage, the combination of all of these resources may be the best option for you. They can help you break down barriers to innovation, particularly silos, which threaten innovation, and generate links between information groups, fostering cross-functional conversation and exchange.

More specifically, they are known for these three functions:

  • Articulating innovation needs and visions by corresponding technology, knowledge, funding and policy needs through the use of planning exercises and detecting problems
  • Network composition through the facilitation of links between stakeholders (scanning, scoping, filtering and finding suitable partners for cooperation)
  • Management of the innovation process by improving the alignment of heterogeneous networks, which required continuous interface management, boundary work and facilitation tasks to guarantee sustainable and productive networks.

A particularly important tasks for these brokers is to make the risks and benefits transparent, which reduces uncertainty at the beginning of the innovation process. As ‘translators’ they mediate between different cultural worlds and are able to keep each party focused and motivated. They realize a catalyst role (promoting change and encouraging cooperation), a liaison role (e.g., to inform policy) and also an innovation capacity building role, generating multi-sided markets, from an economic perspective, which gives value to several stakeholders within a market.

3 ways to find your open innovation broker

There are online services and platforms that play the role of innovation intermediary, including technology matchmaking services, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing services, meet-up sites, etc. However, it’s important to remember that innovation brokers differ in their approach, depending on why and how they are selected. These are three tools used by innovation brokers to find innovators:

  • Open call: calling individuals for a specific task
  • Open search: searching for individuals or relevant information for a specific task
  • Selective open call: calling individuals within a predefined set of prospective participants

These options also offer you a structured service in order to give you the information you requested. Open call is the most popular resource, which is done through co-creation contest (design or ideation contests) for market information and crowdsourcing tournaments (broadcast search) (problem solving platforms) for technological information. Open search uses online or offline workshops with a pre-selected target group, online co-design panels and workshops with pre-selected experts (lead user workshops). Lastly, open search deals with advanced market research methods (Netnography, social media analysis) and a technology search (online marketplaces).

Questions to consider

When you’re looking for an innovation broker, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • How big is your expert/innovator network and community?
  • What is their track record and experience in your specific technology area?
  • What is the expected outcome?
  • What software platform do you use to support the open innovation program?
  • What is your cost model?
  • Which other characteristics are necessary for your innovation broker?

It’s important to answer these questions because not every broker is the same or suitable for every innovation challenge. You should consider the task at hand and the nature of your problem when choosing your innovation broker. In addition, open innovation means widespread collaboration, therefore, it is critical that you continuously monitor the interaction between the many stakeholders.

Software also plays a hug role in open innovation. Most brokers offer a specific software with their services, therefore, choosing a broker means choosing the software, too.

Finally, when looking for your innovation broker, look at all of the tools they can offer and tasks they can perform. In order to have success, it needs to be a good match.

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