Innovation requires discovery. To discover is a verb implying creativity and research; to discover is also to realize there was something we did not know. It seems reasonable to think that everything that is not discovery improves matters.
Discovery is a very healthy, willful act in which we strive to distinguish ourselves from the rest of our competitors … even if it just means to experiment with soft drinks. We ultimately want our search for new worlds to have meaning, a differentiation that the market can perceive and value. If the end customer fails to perceive any added value and is unwilling to pay for it, innovation is reduced to a mere theoretical, intellectual exercise.
But while innovation is based on discovery, the problem so far has been how to put the wheels of creativity in motion, how to know what you are looking for or how to find what is being sought by others. Each agent in an innovation system (research groups and technology centers and institutes, companies, startups/spin-offs, and venture capital/business angels) seeks disruption for different reasons: for financial reasons (financial investment), for strategic reasons (strategic investment), for reasons of scientific cooperation, to develop the “second floor” of a patent, for commercial reasons, and so on. He or she who does not know what to look for rarely finds it, and therefore cannot discover.
To date, the flow of transactions in an innovation system, be it in Spain or the United States, Colombia, Israel, or Singapore, has been based on static information or low capillarity to companies that need said innovation. And it does seem that those companies seeking innovation suffer the most neglect, as they will receive very little information about new findings that may affect the competitiveness of their business.
The international startups looking for investment that we meet often have interesting potential, both strategically and financially. But it is impossible to drum up attention for them in a network as wide and complex as is the universe of funds and companies interested in emerging or disruptive technologies. The only way to make them known is to harness the power of their own contacts, their newsletters, emails etc. That is, by conducting some very limited technological brokerage and organizing events. Commercial activities “below the line” are virtually impossible and mostly very expensive. Just ask the Research Transfer Offices, whose work has been commendable when it comes to commercializing research, but always with a low market reach and a very low budget for achieving such ambitious goals.
In innovation systems, particularly in Spain, the agents are unseen, are hard to pin down, tend to move in the dark, unless someone contacts them.
The universities are not seen by companies; companies do not know what universities do; companies do not generally invest with funds (pledge fund); the startups hardly know each other and then only at the regional level; the funds watch the startups but not the university spin offs, and the universities do not know the demand for innovation, or even how to find out…
There is no awareness of the real supply or demand in innovation, which is really decisive, and therein lies one of the reasons we do not have any divested markets, much as we have conferences and events on entrepreneurship. The ignorance is such that sometimes there have been investments in young technology entrepreneurs, when the solution had actually been invented 10 years earlier.
To overcome this deficiency in the innovation system, Spain has just seen the creation of the Alpha version (i.e. in registration alone, for now) of its first neural network in the cloud. It will have an international reach and aims to solve two strategic unknowns for the world of innovation: the discovery and the connection between the agents in the system.
This platform is called SUNN (Start Up Neural Network), a system modeled on Israel’s innovation system and whose proof of concept has been carried out in Israel, the U.S. and Singapore, and supported by Madrid Network and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.
SUNN is based on the idea of differentiating ecosystems (innovation bidders) from industries (innovation seekers) and connecting them through Innovation Maps and so-called InnoBox, inboxes through which flow disruptive deals, research groups, innovation seekers and venture capital funds.
Starting with a standard international questionnaire that any venture capital fund would insist on to protect its investment, the system opens windows of neuronal connections between companies, universities, funds and startups to deliver 15-day innovation cycles to each one, containing the best proposals in national and international innovation.
The ecosystems add innovation sources: patents, research groups, spin offs, startups. And they develop in innovation cells (icells) and Key Enabler Technologies (KETs). The SUNN platform was modeled on a study of the innovation system used in Israel, and was later tested in the U.S. and Singapore.
Basically it brings together five major “world class” source ecosystems (innovation repositories), where international venture capital funds and the international demand for innovation are concentrated: Energy, Cleantech (water and waste treatment), advanced ICTs, Life Sciences and New Materials, Electronics & Components. These source ecosystems are transforming the world and this spreads to other areas: aeronautics, smart cities, fintech, agrofood, etc.
The basic ecosystem agents are the inventors (patents), research groups, startups and spin offs.
Below you can see the Ecosystems, with Icells and Kets:
Industries / Clusters
Moreover, SUNN includes the traditional industrial classification and displays industrial capabilities by sector and connects them to the ecosystems. The idea is to know how to innovate fundamental skills and project them in four areas of innovation: core competencies, added value, diversification and troubleshooting Alpha problems, which require co-creation and open and closed innovation networks.
Industry agents are primarily the companies that SUNN targets: equipping small, medium and large enterprises with the opportunity to access a world of possibilities, now almost confined to internal research departments, emails, or complex systems of competitive intelligence, surveillance or static databases.
Funding and the last mile of innovation
This neural network includes a cooperation “workflow,” based on international scientific protocols and venture capital, so that in the platform framework the agents of a system can propose agreements and joint projects. These processes, should they require funding, are transmitted to international InnoBox venture capital funds.
Moreover, the system has implemented an Observatory, the possibility to perform international technology “sanity checks”, a risk analysis engine, a virtual investment committee, startup ratings, etc.
The complex algorithm implemented for the discovery and matching of innovation, like many other aspects, comes from the relationship between industrial capabilities – ecosystem icells, and between icells and icells, which will not only discover new opportunities for competitive growth through disruptive technologies, but also perform smart matching between the agents of an innovation system. All these complex algorithms are resolved in a fantastic graphic called “My Ecosystem World”, which discovers the world of disruptive innovation for companies or venture capital funds, or the world of innovation demand for startups and research groups:
All transactions in the system are contained in The Diverse (The Disruptive Universe), which will indicate the broad trends of innovation, and which resembles a web of relationships between innovation cells:
The geostrategic area of this platform covers four regions: Asia, America, Europe and Israel. Currently it already has 2000 disruptive startups, 500 research groups, 5000 innovation-seeking businesses and 200 venture capital funds
The beta version of SUNN is expected to be finalized in December, after which, in March 2014, it will be presented in Boston and Singapore. Important national and international universities, economic development agencies and industrial corporations have already signed up as beta testers.
I encourage you to register (www.sunn4i.com) to start discovering new blue oceans (in English, the language of innovation) … and hope that the Chinese, Indians and Koreans do not decide to fish there too. At the end of the day if Asian purchasing power continues to increase they may lose production but will head straight into stormy waters (attracting scientists and research centers), in which the Spanish may have neither shipyards nor boats, nor disruptive technologies or ideas, to compete with them in the world of added value.
CEO of 4 Innovation