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Innovation Ecosystems vs Strategic Innovation Alliances: Sounds of Nature vs. Sounds of Symphony

CISCO led a multi-company, global innovation network for a number of years called the CISCO Hyperinnovation Living Labs (CHILL) using the concept and language of an incubator to describe it's organization of multi-company, multi-disciplinary teams to identify cross-industry problems and develop shared solutions. The term "innovation ecosystem" has been used, for example in a Harvard Business Review, to describe how CISCO managed the group as multi-party innovation.

Clarity of terminology leads to clarity of concepts. So, this blog offers a definition for "innovation ecosystem" that distinguishes the term from "strategic innovation alliances" and "multi-party innovation".

An ecosystem is a network of interdependent elements. Ecosystems in nature refer to the interdependent elements of land, water, air and bio-movements that create a collective outcome. Ecosystems in innovation refer to the interconnected network of humans, professional associations, scientific groups, technical conferences, journals, publications and knowledge exchange that exist within and across knowledge domains. In democratic political systems that use capitalism as a primary vehicle for value creation, governments pays for the majority of early stage innovation ecosystems costs which are composed of science and education, while the private sector pays for later stage technology development and commercialization. This means that most commercial "innovation ecosystems", such as Uber Elevate, Unisys conversion to vertical market groups, CISCO's CHILL or Collabnet, began with or draw from pre-existing innovation ecosystems composed of startups, universities, Federal labs and independent research organizations. For example, Unisys Corporation realigned an existing network of labs, suppliers, value added distributors (VADs) and value added resellers (VARs) in the mid-1980's to undertake joint R&D projects for the financial services industry. While the network of relationships existed in the natural course of business, Unisys realigned them into a coordinated multi-party alliance to achieve a strategic goal.

The basics of converting a pre-existing innovation ecosystem into a multi-party alliance to pursue a strategic objective goes through five fundamental phases:

1. Form Compatible Leadership Group- Start with a leadership group of compatible, non-competing organizations. The representatives need the knowledge and capabilities to design, launch and manage multi-party arrangements in two different ways:

a. Multi-party Organization and Facilitation

b. Shared Systems Research and Development Management

2. Develop “Stakeholders” Map- Develop a map of “stakeholders” of the organizations that have a direct interest in the innovation topic covered by the proposed multi-party arrangement. The stakeholder map is generally developed from attending industry or government sponsored working groups that identify necessary innovation.

3. Recruit Founders Group- Recruit a founders group of no less than three organizations from the stakeholder map. The founders are generally from those organizations that have contacted any of the leadership group members to express a need for multi-party innovation.

4. Develop a Draft Vision, Set of Objectives and R&D Topics- Develop a draft of the vision, objectives and R&D topics with the founders group. The list of R&D topics should include only the highest level of research categories

5. Develop a Draft Governance, Management and Operating Plan- Develop a business plan for the organizational startup and operation of the Innovation Alliance. The draft business plan includes vision, objectives, membership categories, rights/obligations, intellectual property outputs, and description of the alliance organization.


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