Innovation starts with creativity, new ideas, or new combinations of ideas. Discovering something new or creating a new idea on your own to improve an existing product is quite possible, but smart innovation normally requires that you don't work alone. Often the opinion or help of others is decisive. For example, if Steve Jobs did not have Steve Wozniak as a friend, the Mac and iPhone would probably never have existed.
Different sets of eyes are involved in the entire innovation process (testing, research, ...). Together, you acquire more knowledge, share development costs, and reduce business risks.
Working together is key. But with whom? And who can help?
Innovating together with other companies
Find Partners via local networks
Networking meetings are excellent opportunities to find potential partners. Enquire with the professional associations that are active in your area, take part in specific seminars, and look on the internet for online communities that share projects, knowledge, and experiences with each other.
- In Brussels, some promising sectors are given "extra advantages": they are joined in so-called "clusters" that try to promote the growth, innovation, and internationalization of its members. To this end, they launch many actions (group booths at fairs, seminars, ...)
- Often, you can go to universities, collective research centers, and other knowledge institutions. Each university has a separate service (so-called "interfaces") that aims to boost cooperation with businesses. If you want to develop a specific new technique, this service puts you in touch with specific researchers or students who can help you with their knowledge and skills.
Through cooperation with foreign companies, you can gain access to new knowledge, ideas, and technologies that are not readily available in your native country. Through cooperation with foreign companies, insight can also be gained into how markets function in a foreign country, for example, as well as which needs consumers have and what product requirements apply there. This can also lead to an impetus for product enhancements and innovations to serve new markets. Moreover, the door is already open for exporting, seeing that you have obtained access to foreign networks.
The following international networks can help you with this:
Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs: this European network offers young or prospective entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn from an experienced entrepreneur in another EU country on how to start a business and run it successfully. Afterward, this exchange very often leads to permanent cooperation. In Brussels, impulse.brussels is the national focal point for this program.
Enterprise Europe Network: this network helps companies find technological, strategic, or commercial business partners in 63 countries part of the Enterprise Europe Network. The network consists of an extensive database of business proposals from entrepreneurs who are looking for a partner, and it also organizes numerous B2B contact days abroad. Through this network, you remain perfectly aware of new technological developments or you can promote your own technology internationally.
Innovate through crowdsourcing and co-creation
The inspiration for new ideas or product innovation does not necessarily have to come from peers or other companies. Increasingly, organizations rely on the "crowd", or the public, to bring innovation faster, better, and cheaper. Through online communities and digital platforms, companies present problems to a large group of people (customers, suppliers, the general public, ...). The answers allow them to develop new products and services, to add product improvements, or to find working solutions.
And all of this comes at a fraction of the traditional R&D costs. But the greatest value of crowdsourcing is not necessarily on the cost side. Problems are viewed by a wide variety of people, and this leads to the release of unexpected creativity.