A successful tech ecosystem has the ability to bring innovation to market and engage key stakeholders. This article explores how open innovation can be a driver for a thriving ecosystem. Moreover, the Open Innovation Program is presented which helps startups to fine-tune their business model and to be more successful in the market.

Every thriving private sector is required to develop a successful startup ecosystem. Ultimately, this becomes the cornerstone for the sustainable economic development of the country. In an ecosystem, where information asymmetry, plummeting efficiency and meagre collaboration are key barriers to nurturing innovative ideas, open innovations bring new paradigms related to the culture, skills and productivity. As a result, this surges the startups’ resilience and escalates their odds to success.

	Open Innovation Program as a Driver for ecosystems

Open Innovation in a nutshell

Open Innovations are not novel neither in Rwanda nor in the Pan African ecosystem. In fact, understanding of the concept has been subjective for decades. Nevertheless, simply defined, the term means a situation whereby a startup doesn’t just rely on its internal knowledge, sources and resources for innovation. Instead, it embraces multiple external sources (such as clients, partners, experts, etc.) to drive innovation.

Open Innovation as a concept brings startups together and fosters collaboration between different levels of support to move the selected innovations to the next level. Innovative ideas, products or services are the results of successful intellectual endeavors. Skills creation, development, improvement and transfer are key to the successful innovation process. Principles embraced by Open Innovation are significantly different from closed innovation principles.

Open Innovation as a Driver for Ecosystems

Every startup embracing open innovation believes it doesn’t have all the smartest people. Hence, it must tap into the knowledge and expertise of other bright people outside the organization. This goes along with one of the key open innovation hallmarks which is the culture of collaboration.

The key basis of an “ecosystem” relies upon the strong interdependence and connection of various players to achieve specific goals. Startup Commons describes the ecosystem as “formed by people, startups in their various stages and various types of organisations in a location (physical and/or virtual), interacting as a system to create new startup companies”. In order to ensure the successful forming of an ecosystem, collaboration is a must to smoothen the information flow, reduce asymmetries and duplications. Therefore, it surges both the efficiency and effectiveness of the ecosystem stakeholders.

Supporting Startups through the Open Innovation Program

Multiple open innovation activities have been conducted by the DigiCenter. One case in point is the Open Innovation Programme (OIP) that supports innovators to successfully gain market traction. The aim is to develop successful business models and product-market fit with the support of their peer innovators as well as mentors, coaches and the ecosystem partners. This creates an upgraded collaborative culture and efficiency which makes the innovators more likely to be successful. In total, around 10 startups participated in the OIP to access mentorship, coaching, marketing and networking opportunities. That ensures that their products get a product-market fit which successfully sustains their business models.

A case in point is “My Way” a tech product supporting visually impaired people to move freely and affordably using cutting-edge digital technology walking sticks. Being part of the OIP and by leveraging on external expertise and multiple feedback loops, not only from potential customers but also pundits and mentors, they refined the product which, now, fits various needs of visually impaired people at an affordable cost. This is just a fraction of the potential that open collaboration and skills transfer can produce.

Bringing Startups to the next Level

Open Innovation is not a new concept in the ecosystem but its potential remains underestimated. In a global economic system, startups ecosystems need to be more integrated than ever. The open innovation concept brings a new mindset of a paradigm shift towards more collaboration, more productivity and enhanced strong culture in the ecosystem. This scales up the quality of innovations and sustainably brings the ecosystem to the next level.

The Open Innovation Program is just one of the activities we support at the DigiCenter. If you would like to get to know more about our work, have a look at our solutions and events, and follow us on social media.

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