Collaborating with our innovation ecosystem of leading entrepreneurs, thinkers, practitioners, innovators, and investors we assist our followers and members to make sense of the changing world. Across all facets of innovation, we research, curate and develop thought-leadership for our community of interest.  Our collective intent is to look beyond the veneer to offer real world insights and case studies to help you tackle the ever-evolving innovation challenge.

Part of looking beyond the veneer involves casting your net wide across the world, with your eyes open for interesting new real physical examples and insight that can help organisations to build an appreciation of the way in which true customer and market insights can drive change and innovation. A recent trip to Montréal threw up some splendid examples of the innovation ecosystem in practice.

Collaboration comes as part of the dna for Next Generation Organisations

Next Generation Organisations, those which have set out to master strategic innovation to deliver new business models and differentiated experiences, understand that Intelligence Collaboration and Adaptability sit at the heart of a culture of innovation.

When unpacking the importance of collaboration, the recent white paper Design Thinking and EveryDay Innovation Report encapsulates it very well, saying next generation organisations see collaboration as building the expertise and capability to be able to increase your focus on internal and external strategic communities to build powerful connections that drive the co-creation of new business models, solutions and experiences.

Real collaboration is defined as building a connected organisation that is not afraid to engage any party in the quest for the right solution to a challenge. This means breaking down internal barriers and working cross-functionally, as well as embracing your full external network of partners, vendors, customers and potentially even competitors, to find the answers. Partners can range from co-creation communities, research centres, universities, accelerators, incubators, germinators, co-working spaces or thought leaders. Encapsulating and describing all these stakeholders has become commonplace to be referred to as your Innovation Ecosystem. The ecosystem is defined as a network of interdependent organisations, typically motivated to work with each other for commercial; academic or altruistic gains.

The innovation ecosystem is a substantive, critical topic for organisations looking to build a sustainable innovation culture and is increasingly becoming an area of strategic advantage as people look to collaborate find answers to their challenges.

Innovation from those terribly friendly people in the world’s second-biggest nation

Some regular followers and members will know that I used to be the Innovation and Emerging Technology Director for CGI UK. CGI is a global business technology services company headquartered in Montréal and I recently took a trip to meet friends and former colleagues.

Montréal has long considered itself the leader among Canada’s nascent start-up hubs and new figures show that its pride is well placed. More venture capital was spent here during the first nine months of 2016 than in any other Canadian city according to Reuters’ Venture Capital Review. The review ranks the amount of VC funding spent in North America’s cities each year. Montréal leapt five places to the 11th spot, surpassing Toronto in the process. Montréal’s city leaders and its rich entrepreneurial base should be buoyed by the findings; technology could and should become one of the city’s central economic pillars and might offer a template for other cities on how to let new business ideas thrive in a shifting economic environment.

As part of this trip I had the opportunity to meet the team at the Quartier de l’Innovation (QI). The Quarter is in the heart of Montréal and is an innovation ecosystem that aims to increase the city’s creative potential. Over four years old with representation of almost all the major universities the QI is designed to showcase Montréal-based innovation by capitalising on the complementary relationships between research, training, innovation, and entrepreneurship, as well as on the regional and international networks associated with the project’s partners.

The QI describes itself as a unique model with its approach to integrating what it sees as four pillars of business, education, urban and social vital to the success of innovative societies. The QI model is one interpretation of how best to develop and implement a translational infrastructure that bridges the gap between innovation and industrialisation.

Global drive to develop translational infrastructure to support innovation ecosystems

To compete successfully in today’s global knowledge economy, innovation is vital and across the world different governments and regions are all applying similar competing strategies. Here in the UK, in 2011 I worked with the then Technology Strategy Board, now Innovate to create the UK’s solution of a network of world-leading technology and innovation centres.

The network of centres, now known as Catapults, were pitched as a transformational long-term strategic investment by the UK Government to help generate economic growth by filling a critical gap in the UK’s national innovation landscape.  The core aim was to accelerate business innovation by building a bridge between the UK’s world-leading research base and the companies, large and small, which were ambitious for growth in technology-enabled markets. Focusing on a small number of areas, where the UK believed it had strength the vision was to build capacity and generate the critical mass needed to compete effectively in global value chains and high growth markets.

Six years on, the number of catapults has grown from six to eleven whilst only a part of the Innovate UK strategy, since 2007 the amount committed to innovation was over £1.8 billion, matched by a similar amount in partner and business funding, which has generated more than £11.5 billion to the UK economy and created 55,000 extra new jobs.

Other countries benefit greatly from a translational infrastructure that bridge the innovation to industrialisation gap – for example, the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Germany, ITRI in Taiwan, ETRI in South Korea, and TNO in the Netherlands.

How best to close this gap and how to organise your translational infrastructure is something I have researched and studied for clients in various parts of the world. It is fair to say that a substantial amount of thinking has gone into the QI model and approach. The success of which has led to many significant initiatives being delivered.  One area that makes the QI team standout is their belief in the power of presence. The need to be present to bear witness and that there is no replacement for face to face engagement. The ability to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the innovations coming out of their ecosystem is invaluable.

Innovation needs to be experienced, not just talked about.

A very neat concept that the QI offer is something called the Neoshop. It is a network of stores dedicated to innovative products. Imagine a physical incarnation of Kickstarter or Indiegogo for completed prototypes. Neoshop’s mission is to provide a place where consumers can see, touch, buy, and give feedback on innovative products. The network also aims to promote start-up companies in the first stages of product marketing.

The awesome parts of the pop-up store offering is the ability to provide start-ups with retail space in a consumer Mall’s where the footfall and hence ground rents is high and practically unaffordable for most.

The Neoshop taps into the shopping experience of being able to browse, forage or discover something physical by serendipity as opposed to most retail start-ups typically offering their innovations online only.  This dedicated physical space for innovation echoes the insight in my fellow Future Shapers recent thought piece – A Space for Innovation

Collaboration across your innovation ecosystems is a core component of becoming a Next Generation Organisation.  Those which have set out to master strategic innovation to deliver new business models and differentiated experiences also know that innovation needs to be experienced, not just talked about.  For those travelling through Montréal I would thoroughly recommend dropping in and seeing the QI team and their Neoshop concept.

Many thanks to Christine Desmarais and Hugo Paquin for taking the time to introduce me to the Neoshop.