Collaboration is the new innovation: ecosystem-building for high-tech startups

October 31, 2019

Competitive strategies on high-tech markets are changing rapidly. Only a few years ago, the primary point of pride for c-suite executives was their company’s innovation track record. However, increasing complexity and the cross-discipline approach that accompany digitalization and globalization have made other assets measures of success. Being number 1 when it comes to direct competition no longer automatically means that your company will be successful. What matters in today’s markets is being effectively positioned and having the best ecosystem, the best platform and the smartest partnerships.

Until just a few years ago, companies treated the development of future-oriented models and products as a kind of internal ivory tower that was given a lot of freedom – with the exception of sharing IP and involving partners in the company’s innovation process. Just the term “open innovation” alone is indicative of the fact that many innovation departments were kept closed-off for many years and have only recently been gradually made accessible. Open innovation is an effective way to integrate external partners including clients, researchers, start-ups and supply chain partners in innovation projects. Many start-ups particularly benefit from open innovation in their early stages. However, they are also often confronted with a variety of challenges on many different fronts. These challenges may include finding development partners and pilot customers, being able to rapidly develop technological skills, gaining access to technical infrastructure and finding experts to help them develop deep-tech applications, e.g. for urban e-mobility in smart cities.


Collaboration pilots: labs and accelerators

A number of companies have set up their own labs and accelerators in recent years, intentionally integrating external start-ups, market players and resources that are not directly involved in the core business or even launching their own venture capital endeavors. More recently, companies have also been showing interest in targeted, start-up-oriented collaboration models like the BMW Startup Garage, for example. The initial objective behind this type of corporate start-up collaboration is typically to involve start-ups in strategic customer offer development as agile development partners, suppliers or value-added partners. These very different partnerships between new and established companies bring with them tremendous potential as well as a number of challenges when it comes to content and culture. To effectively tap this potential, companies need to develop a greater variety of systematic approaches to give them a 360-degree perspective in terms of strategic collaboration with start-up technology partners. Most collaborations with start-ups or research institutions tend to act as useful add-ons to existing structures instead of signifying a realignment of the company’s innovation strategy, not to mention ecosystem-building for networked innovation. That, however, is exactly what companies need if they want to be able to effectively tackle innovation challenges in the years ahead.


The future of the ecosystem: collaboration as a strategic advantage

Simple collaboration models have proven a sufficient way to address the easy challenges posed by digitalization. A number of start-ups, for example, tend to focus on e-commerce technologies. They lack the “deep skills” required for major future transformation, for deep tech in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things or Industry 4.0. Start-ups need to expand their vertical as well as their horizontal resources in order to tap this potential. Horizontal expansion is needed because new applications and business areas will require integration and coordination of considerably more skills than one company or start-up can cover alone. Vertical expansion comes into play as well because these applications require greater technological depth, skills and expertise, all of which call for collaboration, particularly in the realm of research and science.


The Champion’s League of high-tech collaboration

The bar set for true innovation ecosystems is high. They need to be as technologically sophisticated as cutting-edge research, as innovative as a start-up and as financially strong as a large company. In contrast to today’s established labs and accelerators, processes at this level of high-tech collaboration are difficult to standardize. A high-tech collaboration, e.g. a start-up comprised of entrepreneurs and researchers, is a unique endeavor gradually developed for a specific technology and a defined market segment and continuously adapted to new findings and circumstances.

Fraunhofer Techbridge is a deep-tech collaboration accelerator created specifically for this kind of ecosystem collaboration. We provide start-ups, companies and founders with access to one of the largest high-tech pools in Europe, help them identify technologies, teams and applications and accompany these “joint ventures” between start-ups and researchers during every stage, from team building, business model development and testing at our laboratories to investment rounds and setting up meetings with partners from our industry networks.


Are you an entrepreneur, innovation manager at a company, researcher or founder and would like to boost your own deep-tech ecosystem with leading industry partners, Fraunhofer technologies and professional matchmaking?

Sign up for our TechBridge CoInnovation Day on 28 November 2019 in Berlin and find your perfect tech match!