Friday, June 19, 2009

Innocentive paints a bright future

I had a chance recently to talk with Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of Innocentive, about the growth of Innocentive over the last few years and its strategic goals. I've had the chance to interact with people from Innocentive over the years and have followed it as another example of innovation creating a solution to a thorny problem - how can we get smart minds from across the world to present us with solutions to clearly defined problems.

Innocentive has grown and changed as a firm since I had the opportunity to interact with them, and Spradlin paints a very clear future and some specific goals. In fact, we talked about four changes that he and his team have implemented, and that bear watching over time. The first is that Innocentive, which originated in the pharmaceutical space, is really branching out - targeting "challenges" in many different industries and many different scientific categories. From its original roots it initially focused on very difficult scientific challenges, but is gradually opening up to other industries and other types of challenges. Second, the kinds of challenges and types of "solutions" Innocentive can capture have expanded. The bread and butter work for Innocentive remains the scientific challenge and solution, usually a very specific, well scoped problem that has a scientific solution, but increasingly Innocentive is offering brainstorming challenges (on the more general level) and electronic RFPs (on the more specific level) which allows Innocentive to offer a full range of idea generation and solution identifying services.

Third, and one I found interesting, is Innocentive is offering solutions to firms outside the commercial sector. Spradlin and I discussed a very successful relationship Innocentive has with the Rockefeller Foundation, where non-profits can seek funding and Innocentive sponsors challenges on their behalf. Spradlin and his team believe that non-profits, NGOs and other organizations should benefit from the power of organized innovation. Finally, Spradlin and I talked about "customer driven innovation" - the cultural shifts in most organizations that happen when firms realize there are more good ideas, and more perspectives, and more insights, outside the organization than inside the organization. Putting the customer first, clearly understanding their needs, and building products and services that meet their needs is the ultimate goal - customer driven innovation.

We spent some time, as you might imagine, talking about crowdsourcing and the role Innocentive plays in the crowdsourcing arena. There are a number of easily recognizable players in the space, including solutions like Dell's IdeaStorm or IBM's Idea Jams. Innocentive participates in this market and supports the concept of open innovation and crowd sourcing, but departs from the crowdsourcing mentality when it comes to evaluation of the ideas. Rather than a "thumbs up" or ranking/voting mechanism, the solutions presented to Innocentive are not judged by the crowds (Wisdom of Crowds) but by a select team within the organization that sponsored the challenge. Given the nature of the challenges and the specific requirements of the problem, as well as the sensitive nature of the solution and its intellectual property, this is probably the best solution.

Finally we talked about the growth of innovation software and idea management. As the market matures, it's not unusual that a firm may have one, two or even three different applications - one for pure ideation, one for idea management and one for crowdsourcing or other activities. Spradlin is interested in working with other idea management firms to create open APIs or markup language so that firms that have more than one idea management application could exchange information more freely. There's an acknowledgement of history in this discussion. Both the ERP and CRM behemoths like SAP grew by aggregating various capabilities into one monolithic umbrella - perhaps there's the option to keep smaller, more nimble firms and integrate and exchange information rather than create a fully integrated idea management solution for the enterprise. Time will tell.

I came away very impressed with Spradlin's vision for crowdsourcing and for Innocentive. One has to believe that the existing economy will force firms to find the best ideas, as always, but using methods and mechanisms that control costs and speed identification of the best solutions. I think Innocentive is well positioned to capitalize on the need for innovation and the growth of acceptance of open innovation and crowdsourcing.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:00 AM

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