Could Open Innovation be used also by SMEs?

  • Posted on: 20 June 2018
  • By: jennifer

Baden-Württemberg is one of the most innovative regions in Europe. Numerous inventions from these region has truly transformed the world. These include outstandingly, the automobile, which was invented in 1886 in Stuttgart and the bicycle, which is nowadays shifting the way people move in countless European metropoles to overcome traffic jams. Even more, many other everyday items such ring binders, matches, photocopiers, dowels, the electrical drill and even the ski lift are inventions of this region.  

However, in order to maintain its leading edge position as an economic lighthouse of the future, it is imperative that Baden-Württemberg has the courage to adopt new directions and to drive social and environmental renewal.  With this in mind, the Ministry of Economic Affairs in this region organized the Open Innovation Congress 2018, under the Motto: “Mine. Yours. Our Innovation Success”. 

"Our ambition is to continue positioning Baden-Württemberg as a leading innovation and business location in the future. We want to stay on the winning side.  Although we are ahead with our ability to innovate, the world is not waiting for us. In particular, we must continue improving the innovation capacity of our hard-working small and medium enterprises in order to honor our claim", emphasized Mrs. Hoffmeister-Kraut, Minister of Economic Affairs in Baden-Württemberg. 

The rapidly transformation process triggered by digitization also raises the question whether previous ways of innovation are still up-to-date or whether new ways to innovate had to be sought, stated Hoffmeister-Kraut. Here, “Open Innovation” can be the key to common success. 

According to the definition of one the forerunners on Open Innovation,  Henry Chesbrough, "Open Innovation is the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively”. Thus, Open Innovation is a more distributed, more participatory, more decentralized approach to innovate. Its concept is based on the fact that useful knowledge is broadly distributed and no company, no matter how competent or strong, could innovate effectively on its own. 

Open Innovation can provide quite attractive benefits for companies since it is a more profitable way to innovate. Open Innovation can reduce costs, accelerate time to market, open up new markets and create new revenue streams for the company. Particularly, large enterprises are using Open Innovation nowadays to exchange and apply knowledge from customers, suppliers, research institutes, and other industrial collaborators. In this digital era, Small-and-Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) could also benefit from this new approach to innovate. The ‘Innovation Report 2017’ written by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) stated that almost a quarter of all surveyed companies are willing to use Open Innovation to increase their own innovation capacity. 

However, SMEs still have fears about the widely use of Open Innovation - for instance they worry about the unauthorized use of intellectual property or unfair sharing of costs and profits. Accordingly, the congress offered numerous expert panels and workshops to counteract those fears, for example the panel "Who owns what in Open Innovation - everything for everyone?" or workshops on the topics "Mine. Yours. Whose Property?" and "IT Security in Open Innovation Projects - Hacking Experience as Opportunity". Experts from theory and practice taught the congress participants basics, strategies, methods, good practices and success stories on agile methods, speed innovation, open social innovation as well as the role of new tools, such as makerspaces, gamification or pop-up laboratories. 

Gradually, the concept of Open Innovation will also be used by SMEs looking to expand their approaches to innovate. Exactly for this customer sector, the OI2Lab wants to provide opportunities to innovate in an open marketplace full of prospects. Follow our developments at

Short CV of the Author

Jennifer BilbaoDr. Jennifer Bilbao (f) obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Engineering in Quito, Ecuador. 2005 she moved to Stuttgart, Germany to study a Master Programme on Environmental Process Engineering. During her PhD at the University Hohenheim, Germany she developed an electrochemical technology to recover valuable products from wastewater. This technology has been patented and licensed to a US company. From 2011 until 2017, she led the research group 'Nutrients Management' at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) in Stuttgart, Germany. Dr. Bilbao has 12 years of experience developing innovative technologies. Her work focuses on process optimisation, scale-up and demonstration with the aim of market introduction. She has worked as project manager of more than 15 national and international funded projects and patented five technologies. Currently, she works at Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum as project manager on the areas of open innovation, key enabling technologies and circular economy. 

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