How to design an Innovation Contest for companies?

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The Horizon 2020 INNOSUP funded project INNOCHALLENGE, has succeeded in tackling the challenges and barriers faced by Small and Medium Enterprises when trying to pursue open innovation. Thanks to its Visual Guide, the project is now helping Innovation Agencies that wish to activate open innovation support programmes for SMEs. 

The INNOCHALLENGE project, coordinated by Hub Innovazione Trentino in partnership with Business Oulu and TalTech, aims at improving the capacity of Innovation Agencies to design and implement open innovation initiatives such as hackathons, prizes, and innovation challenges for the benefit of SMEs.

It’s well known that SMEs experience a number of barriers in pursuing open innovation, while engaging with other companies in the value chain (suppliers or clients) or research and academic institutions. Barriers could take the form of limited R&D structure, lack of needed competences, cultural barriers, language barriers, shorter project time frames.

In order to support innovation in SMEs, several Innovation Agencies throughout Europe have started a variety of innovation programmes especially at regional level. However, many of these remain quite focused on traditional schemes and fail to tackle the challenges posed by open innovation: networking and partner outreach, mastering trust creation, negotiating within a cooperative framework, handling uncertainty.

Innovation Prizes can be a game-changing instrument to supporting open innovation. They are used to source viable solutions to large scale innovation problems. Prizes are still utilized nowadays to advance the state of the art or scientific research and engineering. Governments as well as large research institutions or no-profit foundations commonly launch challenges focussed on hi-tech and applied research problems with societal impact; on the other side, research teams or even start-ups compete to develop new solutions, normally to win a monetary award and to gain worldwide recognition.

Similarly, corporates and large companies use prizes to crowdsource viable solutions to industrial problems, both at a technical and business level or as a service, which means organizing local contests to engage employees or young talents in hackathons and similar events.

The INNOCHALLENGE project investigated existing initiatives based on the prize principles (e.g. innovation contests) piloted at European level to support open innovation in SMEs. These contests normally leverage on the involvement of local innovators (university students, freelance professionals, or researchers) to solve engineering problems or business challenges posed by local SMEs.

The project resulted in the development of a Visual Guide to support innovation agencies in running innovation contests for SMEs. The Guide comes with a canvas for designing new innovation contests. The INNOCHALLENGE canvas features twelve “building blocks” that need to be defined to create a new innovation contest: what kind of companies do you wish to support? What problems do you want to solve? What kind of solutions do expect to deliver? Who will be the solvers? (students, freelancers, other companies?) And: how will you incentivize and regulate the participation of all parties?

The Guide also presents a one page description of a number of selected innovation contests (already activated by project partners), to make it easier for innovation agencies to replicate them, or to get inspired by them in designing new contests tailored to local contexts. Finally, the Guide also provides full guidelines and tips on how to run a contest: that normally requires service design and innovation management know-how, as well as crucial operations from skilled professionals with legal, marketing, communication, and R&D and innovation background.

The Visual Guide can be downloaded for free.  

Do you want to learn more about the Horizon 2020 INNOSUP funded projects? Visit our Data Hub




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