How to build a viable innovation ecosystem?

As the world is getting more complex and the rate of change is accelerating, the nature of business activities is also changing in a more networked direction.

In fact, networking and long-term strategic management have become a lifeline for any organisation striving for growth. However, this requires a totally new kind of understanding of the operating models that extensively bring together various sectors and organisations, and the processes enabling their operations. So far, there have been surprisingly few practical examples available of how networks or innovation ecosystems, that build future know-how, are created.

Value creation in innovation ecosystems

In our article, published in Technology and Innovation Management Review in February, we describe together with Katri Valkokari of VTT the observations we have made in two novel innovation ecosystems. Our observations are based on material that was collected through individual and group interviews in both research targets in 2017−2018. The first of our research targets was the Cleantech Garden project in Espoo (described as ‘case A’ in the article) and the second one was the Campus Arena operating on the Hervanta campus of the University of Tampere (described as ‘case B’ in the article).

Both innovation ecosystems have been built upon the need to create a place for comprehensive exchange of competences, ideas and experiences that supports innovation, and represents both the private and public sectors. In Cleanteach Garden, the focus is on developing a more extensive city region, with VTT’s Bioruukki serving as the centre. In Campus Arena the encounters and formation of a joint agenda is more closely tied to a common physical space. Respectively, in Cleantech Garden the cooperation has evolved dynamically through a changing leadership, whereas in Campus Arena, the aim has been to create a relational space that encourages for self-direction.

Building on continuous dialogue and interaction

Our research was based on a systems’ view according to which innovation ecosystems are formed as a four-phased interactive process. Even though, in practice, innovation ecosystems tend to evolve in a quite iterative manner, through trial and repetition, we could clearly discern four separate phases in the development of both Cleanteach Garden and Campus Arena (Figure 1). On the other hand, when talking about platforms, we refer to the built operating environments that enable the development of an ecosystem.

Figure 1. The four phases of the development of an innovation ecosystem

In the following, we have summarised a few noteworthy points that should be taken into account in the different phases when building an innovation ecosystem. More detailed description of our research can be found in our article, which can be downloaded here.

Phase 1: Build Attractiveness

  • Seek for shared values and concrete actions
  • Search for though-provoking visionaries and substance experts
  • Be bold, but do no ignore the impacts of value destruction

Phase 2: Create Shared Value

  • Clarify the vision and communicate it in understandable ways
  • Avoid controlling the value co-creation process
  • Demonstrate the potential for co-creation

Phase 3: Analyze Impacts

  • Commit to vision and structures, but stay open for new people and ideas
  • Support the emergence of diversity and agility by matching people and ideas
  • Share your enthusiasm and attract others

Phase 4: Support Diversity

  • Strengthen the vision by active communication
  • Look for disruptive business models and for novel ways of collaboration
  • Conduct a critical analysis of the acquired results and raise the ambition level

The article is written by Sanna Ketonen-Oksi, Senior Advisor at Talent Vectia and Katri Valkokari, Research Manager at VTT.