3 Tips to Innovating with a Co-Innovation Partner

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Co-innovation is a common term used in the innovation space. It describes two organizations of any kind that come together to innovate in an area of common interest. I am not only talking about collaboration. Co-innovation seeks to deliver a result such as a product or service. There is a 50-50 contribution with this model, whether that’s money, people, labs, etc.

Co-Innovation Partner

Co-Innovation Partner: Corning

During my tenure at HP, co-innovation played a vital role in the company. The amount of money it took to accelerate acted as a barrier to innovation. Corning was the co-innovation partner in this case.

The project we did with Corning was around gorilla glass, which we improved and expanded for more uses. Next, we worked on bending glass displays to limit eye strain. We built a frame and figured out how far we could bend the glass before it would break. This project led to the curved displays, which are now commonly used. With the constant acceleration of time and costs, finding partners with the knowledge you don’t readily have is key to fueling innovation.

Innovating with a Co-Innovation Partner

The first tip is to choose a partner with strong cultural alignment. During this time, you will be working very closely with your co-innovation partner. By alignment, I mean how they manage, oversee, and support their teams and what they expect from them.

It is also essential that both organizations grant similar autonomy to their teams. If one organization gives a lot of independence and the other micromanages, there will be unneeded friction.

Beyond people, you need to look at how the potential partner treats their customers and sells them. At HP, there is a very relaxed selling approach, but not all organizations are like that. You need to think about these things and figure out if you are willing to align with a company that approaches customers differently.

Next, it’s crucial to discover what the mission objective of the organization is. If one organization is all about numbers and the other is about improving lives, there is no alignment. If you don’t have a strong culture alignment with your co-innovation partner, your chance of success is slim to none.

Second Tip

The second tip is to define the area of focus carefully. There needs to be a substantial overlap of focus. Think of this as a Venn diagram, where your business has an area you want to focus on to achieve success. Your partner also has an area of focus where they want to achieve success. The area where these two spheres overlap is the general area of focus for this co-innovation effort.

Both organizations must have a committed interest in the common area and aware of each essential contribution. Co-innovation partners need to bring value and combine them to create a breakthrough.

The third part of tip two, which I can’t stress enough, is the need for mutual dependency. It would be best to find an area of focus where you need each other to solve problems. If one can do it on their own, then it is not a co-innovation effort.

My Final Tip

Tip number three is to secure proper sponsorship and support. The key here is to create a true partnership built on trust. In the HP and Corning co-innovation effort, I was the executive sponsor and Wendell Weeks, the Chairman and CEO at Corning, was their sponsor. I can tell you that Wendell and I talk regularly and are good friends even to this day. This level of trust and relationship was built from this project and led to better innovation.

Another thing to think about is that patent creation happens during a co-innovation. Intellectual property issues constantly come up when dealing with co-innovation. Keep these legal issues simple. Tackle this with things such as a split license approach or patent sharing.

I’ve done about a dozen successful co-innovation projects to this day. The results of which are products that you are most likely using today. Co-innovation is not a quick and easy process and takes at least a year to get a project up and running. Be patient and keep your eyes open because you never know when a co-innovation opportunity may arise.

To know more about working with a co-innovation partner: 3 Tips to Innovating with a Co-Innovation Partner

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