Connect and Compete Through Open Innovation

Medtech manufacturers can achieve a host of benefits—from speeding development to forming new partnerships—by looking outside their existing networks for technology solutions.

Bronwyn Monroe

Open innovation has become a mainstream practice for most technology-driven companies looking to accelerate time to market and stay ahead of the competition. The open innovation concept is based on the premise that a technology solution may exist in a more mature form outside of your own network and that connecting to an external solution provider will speed up development of new or existing products.

These external solution providers could be inventors, entrepreneurs, research labs, academics, or even Fortune 500 companies working on their own innovation for a particular application. Through open innovation, companies seeking solutions are able to expand their options and cut their development time while solution providers are able to identify new ways to utilize and monetize their solutions. If you are a medical technology manufacturer considering open innovation as a strategy within your innovation program, here are three advantages to consider.

Learn how companies including Integer Holdings and Smiths Medical are using cross-pollination to drive medtech innovation at the MD&M Minneapolis Conference on November 8, 2017.

Access to a New Network of Potential Partners

Expanding their network is one of the top reasons organizations use open innovation to address their technology needs. Medtech manufacturers, like GSK and Pfizer, use open innovation to make their needs known to solution providers through—among other approaches—online galleries. For example, GSK recently posted a need on an online open innovation marketplace where they were looking for rapid analytical tests for gene therapy products that can go from sample to result in one week. The company asked solution providers that have these tests to submit a proposal describing the solution and how the success criteria will be met with the proposed solution. Pfizer utilizes a similar approach to broadcast its needs ranging from neuro-inflammation to monoclonal antibodies for cancer treatment to partnering with an organization that has a specific type of clinical genomic database for the purpose of better understanding diseases and their correlation to certain ethnic groups.

Companies benefit from the initial connections to solution providers, but they also build a lasting network through this process and identify partners they may want to collaborate with in the future. A good open innovation intermediary can connect a healthcare company to a range of potential partners, including those well outside their own industry. In the case of the rapid analytical tests GSK was seeking, potential technologies under consideration were biosensors being used in applications including aerospace, electronic components, manufacturing, and fabrication. 

New Options to Solve Your Problem

Solution searches can be ongoing, as in the case of the open innovation galleries, or can be finite project “events” that have a specific timeline and communications plan to support the project milestones. When Essilor, the global giant in ophthalmic optics, wanted to find low-cost, easy-to-use, and scalable solutions that could be employed by vision care workers to accurately measure eye refractive errors within underserved populations, the company launched a grand challenge, a very public form of open innovation that combines technology outreach with marketing amplification.

Essilor’s See Change Challenge offered monetary prizes of 25,000 Euros to up to five winning solution providers. Solution providers in 15 countries submitted proposals that included apps that run on smartphones, separate devices that work in conjunction with smartphones, and devices that do not require computing power. The innovators who submitted solutions had varied backgrounds in fields such as optical engineering, software development, public health, and design. Finalists in the See Change Challenge are currently building out their solutions to provide Essilor with a proof of concept or prototype in Phase 2 of the challenge.

Grand challenges are a way for organizations to create awareness while accessing new technology approaches. For Essilor, the grand challenge helped raise awareness for poor vision, a major global issue affecting over 2.5 billion individuals. The grand challenge was also a key component in supporting Essilor’s corporate mission of improving access to healthy vision for underserved communities worldwide.

Reduced Development Time

Open innovation can increase your options for solutions faster than more traditional R&D approaches, thus decreasing total development time. Take GE’s Industrial Solutions Challenge. This open innovation challenge focused on design to create a new ergonomic rotary handle to be incorporated into a soon-to-be-released portfolio of molded-case circuit breakers. By using a crowd-sourced approach to the design process, GE was able to leverage and invest in solutions from engineers, designers, and architects with extensive experience and diverse industry backgrounds. The company announced five winners of its design challenge and indicated that factors from the five winning ergonomic designs would be incorporated into the molded-case circuit breakers. As a result of using this approach, GE stated that it would be able to introduce the state-of-the-art circuit breaker platform in half the time of its previous product launches.

Open innovation is a versatile strategy for manufacturers looking to accelerate their innovation programs by leveraging external connections. Our rapid-paced global economy demands that companies do more with less and get to market before the competition. Open innovation provides multiple paths to finding new solutions, whether it be for a discrete technology or component or an entirely new way of utilizing technology to address a major global issue. Open innovation is a win-win proposition for solution seekers and solution providers alike and is an important element in any successful innovation program.     

Bronwyn Monroe is vice president at NineSigma Inc., a global innovation services firm headquartered in Cleveland, OH. Reach her at monroe@ninesigma.com.

[image courtesy of COLIN00B/PIXABAY.COM]

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