About 15 years have passed since the publication of Henry Chesbrough's first essays on the theme of Open Innovation, in which he foresaw a growing strategic importance of collaborative innovation, based on access to ideas, skills and know-how outside the perimeter of the company. Recent history has confirmed the centrality of open innovation, as a tool to respond to the processes of transformation of technologies and business models. Collaboration with innovative startups is emerging with increasing strength and importance, especially in the perspective of large enterprises.
The success of open innovation projects, especially if aimed at startups, requires the direct involvement of the company's top management, the possibility of operating independently and across several corporate functions, the structuring of processes for the scouting, validation and integration of new technologies. In addition, speed is fundamental: in the Anglo-Saxon world, the distinctive element in the successful application of open innovation strategies can be traced precisely to the reactivity to the opportunities offered by new startups.
In Italy, too, this awareness is growing. Numerous initiatives have been launched by public and private entities to support the creation of links for the co-development of innovative products and services between established companies and innovative startups. According to the Open Innovation and Corporate Venture Capital Observatory, the number of direct shareholdings of corporate partners in innovative startups has seen an increase of +62.3% in the last two years.
In this context, the role of incubators such as I3P, the Incubator of the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, is fundamental. I3P has always dedicated resources to building connections between startups and the industrial world through a network of agreements with companies, trade associations, and specialized investors. Since there cannot be a strong ecosystem for innovative entrepreneurship without a significant demand for innovation, I3P has promoted a series of open innovation actions that aim precisely to bring out the demand for innovation and offer the answer, with the structuring and validation of startup projects.
In 2020, an open innovation program was launched, both to bring innovative technology exploration projects to large companies that are leaders in their sectors, and to support the innovative capacity and digital transformation of SMEs. Technology scouting paths have been launched with the Italgas group, which through the call for startups Ideas 4 Italgas is identifying technological solutions on issues such as energy efficiency, and with FCA Bank, which is looking for new solutions in the Fintech and Insurtech fields through the exploratory call Digital Factory.
For SMEs, one main obstacle is the cost of open innovation projects. Public policies to support open innovation through co-funding of proof-of-concept or proof-of-value projects jointly developed by startups and medium-sized companies can be an important lever to activate connections, increase opportunities for technological growth and accelerate market access for innovative startups.
Like all strategic paradigm shifts, open innovation clashes with organizational and managerial rigidities and constraints that may preclude its effective application. For this reason, looking ahead to 2021, I3P intends to intensify its open innovation activities with the collaboration of its network of industrial and institutional partners, pursuing a shared objective of supporting the growth of the innovative capacity and competitiveness of local companies.
Giuseppe Scellato, President of I3P
*This article was published on the local Turin edition of the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera" on December 14, 2020.