I have previously written about the broad nature and significant potential impact of innovation and industry, government, and academic institutions are increasingly recognising this. In response to this recognition there is increasing interest in understanding how to support and nurture innovation and innovation ecosystems as a means of addressing significant challenges, promoting jobs growth, and fundamentally changing the nature of national economies. At the same time however, entrepreneurs are trying to better understand how to develop themselves personally and professionally to give their ventures and organisations the best chance of success.
Against this backdrop there is the need to identify the components that create, support and grow high impact innovation ecosystems. In my experience there are three vital components that allow innovation ecosystems to flourish:
- Activities that create awareness of innovation (Awareness).
- Activities that provide education and learning about innovation and related skills (Learning).
- Activities that provide opportunities to participate in innovation (Opportunity).
A simple diagram showing the relationship between activities around awareness, learning and opportunity is shown in Figure 1 and a more detailed breakdown of these components is given below.
Figure 1 – The relationship between awareness, learning and opportunity in creating and growing a high impact innovation ecosystem.
Creating an innovation ecosystem requires people to participate and this means that Individuals and organisations need to be broadly aware of innovation and the potential benefits of their participation. In light of my earlier arguments about the broad nature of innovation building awareness is a crucial aspect of promoting and supporting a broad, holistic and welcoming ecosystem that not only supports ‘traditional’ technical innovation but also encourages participation from a plethora of domains including arts and the creative sectors, non-profits and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Existing participants in the innovation ecosystem are best placed to create awareness and talks, presentations, networking opportunities and media (both traditional and digital) are ideal mechanisms for sharing the innovation message broadly. That said, innovation is a journey and opportunities to directly engage with innovators and entrepreneurs who can help share the journey with new participants is vital to growing the innovation community.
Once an individual or organisation is aware of, and interested in participating in, innovation and the broader innovation ecosystem there needs to be activities that encourage learning about innovation and related skills. This should include the usual topics (finance, governance, etc…) but care needs to be taken to include plethora other skills and capabilities that are needed to successfully start and grow innovative organisations. When providing these learning opportunities it is important to balance theoretical and applied knowledge. Innovation is a contact sport and those with first-hand experience are vital to creating authentic learning experiences.
Having acquired (or being on the path to acquiring) the skills and expertise needed to pursue activities around innovation and entrepreneurship there needs to be the opportunity for individuals / organisation to actively participate. These opportunities should include opportunities to both work with existing entrepreneurs and innovative organisations but also to start new organisations pursuing visions both small and grand. This is perhaps the most vital component of creating a self-sustaining innovation ecosystem as those who actively participate in creating and growing innovative organisations are a vital resource for then building awareness and providing learning experiences for new members of the ecosystem.
It is worth noting that while these components are focussed on innovation as a whole they are equally applicable to the many individual skills and capabilities that are needed to support the growth and success of innovation and innovative organisations more broadly. Whether you are an entrepreneur or working to support entrepreneurial activities it is imperative to encourage continuous learning, particularly learning on demand to meet the ever changing needs of individuals within innovative organisations. In the diagram above, the arrow from opportunity to awareness is indicative of the fact that participation in innovation always exposes more domains of enquiry that require people to gain further awareness, learning and opportunity.
I hope this gives you a framework for contributing to and participating in your innovation ecosystem and I would love to hear your thoughts on what I have said here. Best of luck!