How Open Innovation Can Help your Business - The Big Bang Partnership

How Open Innovation Can Help your Business

Open Innovation

Have you considered Open Innovation for your business?

If you lead a larger organisation, have you considered Open Innovation to help tackle your most significant challenges and opportunities?

Or, if you’re the leader of a smaller, potentially disruptive start-up business, have you ever explored some of the fantastic opportunities that are out there to collaborate with big business through Open Innovation programmes?

Maybe you’re a university researcher, interested in finding applied uses for your new ideas and discoveries?

If you’re not already thinking about Open Innovation, I hope this article helps you to consider about it some more and that it gives you some insight into how it might work for you and your business.

Photo: Dr. Jo North

What is Open Innovation?

Open Innovation is an approach taken by a business or organisation to access the ideas, technology and knowledge that is available externally, beyond its employees and existing supply chain. Click To Tweet

Not every business develops everything in high levels of secrecy until new products are ready to be launched into the world.  More and more companies are seeing the benefits of engaging with new and diverse networks and communities for some of their own new product development and solution finding. Those companies are also beginning to release some of their applied and unused innovations outside too so that more organisations can benefit.

Open Innovation is happening around the world, in all sectors

Open Innovation started in the commercial sector, with businesses such as IBM, Unilever and Phillips taking the lead. It is now becoming more used in the social sector, and by government organisations.

Organisations such as NASA publish innovation challenges and crowdsource solutions for them. Their Open Innovation Programme is called NASA Solve and includes opportunities for participation in student and citizen science initiatives, aeronautics, astronomy, earth science, engineering and modelling, health and medicine, IT, living in space, multimedia production and design , physical sciences and planetary science! They run competitions and challenges with prizes.

Open Innovation events

In October, the Open Innovations Forum 2019 took place in Moscow, the core themes being:

  • The Digital Human
  • Intelligent Economy
  • Futuretech

In November 2019 the SmartCity Expo World Congress in Barcelona providde a unique meeting point for the whole smart city ecosystem. Corporate leaders, public representatives, entrepreneurs, experts and academics from all around the globe got together to learn from each other, share experiences, talk about best practices, and open new paths for international collaboration.

Events such as these are great for inspiration and networking of course – but you’ll also find lots of opportunities locally. Here are just a few UK examples which I hope will inspire you to explore further.

Photo: Art seen in Gibraltar

Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival

As you may have seen in some of my earlier articles, I have been really honoured and delighted to have facilitated innovation sessions at Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival in 2018 to 2021 inclusive.

I have also written on innovation in the UK water industry for the Institute of Water.

More than 3,000 people from nearly 700 leading organisations around the globe descend on Newcastle Racecourse for Northumbrian Water’s now annual Innovation Festival.

Photo: Delegates from Newcastle NHS Hospitals and Northumbrian Water collaborating on hydration for health at the Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival

The aim of the Innovation Festival is to come up with innovative solutions to some of the biggest and hard-hitting challenges faced by society and the environment, within five action-packed days. Water industry professionals join engineers, local businesses, students, designers and members of the public, to focus on key issues such as climate change, the impact of 5G and vehicles of the future and more. Around 1,800 young people also join to learn about skills that can support their career, with the aim of inspiring them to consider a career in science, technology, engineering, art or maths (STEAM).

Companies and members of the public are very welcome to attend for free and can register for the activities they want to join via the Innovation Festival website. It’s a great opportunity to meet great businesses inside the water industry and beyond. Here is more information if you’re interested in attending next year.

Plus, if you have any ideas or innovations that you want to share with Northumbrian Water in the meantime, they are very open to hearing from you. Here’s how to get in touch with them and more information on Northumbrian Water’s process of consideration of innovative products and services.

Transport for London

Transport for London (TfL) wants to work with start-ups, SMEs, corporates, accelerators, and investors through their innovation Hub to improve London and TfL.

They want to make it easy for market innovators to work with them so have created an online Innovation Portal, which you can access here.

The specific innovation challenges that TfL has opened up are:

  • Connected Retail London – there was a big prize attached to this one. The challenge is for businesses to come up with an ‘innovative and technological concept that will reimagine the use of physical space in retail and deliver a unique experience for customers who travel using the transport network every day.’ Here’s the link to find out more.
  • The Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge, focusing on the ageing population, climate change and inequality.
  • The Bosch Connectory in Shoreditch, which gives small businesses and start-ups the opportunity to work with world-class experts and use cutting-edge data to tackle critical transport challenges in London. The Connectory mainly focuses on urban mobility challenges facing Londoners, including innovations around more efficient, greener and safer vehicles, reducing congestion, improving accessibility and encouraging more people to walk, cycle and take public transport across the city. TfL provides technical knowledge and a wide range of datasets based on their existing Unified API and open data platform to allow companies to test ideas and understand patterns in more detail. Bosch dedicates professionals to provide technical expertise, guidance and mentoring.
  • TfL is working in partnership with Waze to use data to keep customers informed, reminded and updated to reduce traffic incidents. Waze is a tech-enabled community of millions of people round the world who connect to create a ‘living map’ to reduce traffic, improve safety and make the roads better.
Photo: London Shoreditch, UK

Sellafield’s Game Changers Open Innovation programme

Decommissioning ageing nuclear engineering sites is an enormous project, and takes over 100 years to complete, and costs in the £billions. Because the UK has been a leader in nuclear energy since the 1940s, this means that the complexity, and consequently time and cost of decommissioning and waste management brings huge challenges and opportunities. At Sellafield, the baseline cost of decommissioning is estimated to run at £150m per annum in 10 years’ time and £300m per annum in 15 years’ time.

Sellafield’s Game Changers is an Open Innovation programme which gives external businesses and organisations the chance to bring their ideas and technologies to the UK’s largest decommissioning cluster. Very early stage ideas and projects that demonstrate genuine potential in-line with Game Changers published challenge statements and the overriding ambitions of the wider UK nuclear decommissioning programme will be considered to receive a grant of up to £10,000 to articulate the idea with support and access to FIS360 and NNL expertise and staff at Sellafield. If successful, additional Proof of Concept (PoC) funding is available for further development.

All intellectual property rights stay with the proposer: neither Sellafield Ltd, National Nuclear Laboratory nor any of the Game Changers delivery partners have any IP rights over the ideas proposed and a non-disclosure agreement is provided, pre-signed, up front to this effect. All of this is stated very clearly on the Game Changers website. The full process and how to apply can be found there, and this information is very clear, easy and accessible.

Just a few examples of the challenges, amongst several others, include:

  • Delivering change through robotics at Sellafield
  • Physical asset management
  • Identifying unknown sharps in glove boxes
  • Modelling and knowledge management
  • Plant characterisation

You can read about these and the other challenges on the Game Changers challenge page.

The UK’s first Maritime Innovation Hub – based at the Port of Tyne

A new partnership between a number of organisations including Port of Tyne, PD Ports, Nissan, Connected Places Catapult, Accenture, Royal HaskoningDHV and Ubisoft was announced in July 2019 to create the UK’s first Maritime Innovation Hub.

The #2050InnovationHub will see partners collaborate to develop solutions to the technological challenges facing the maritime sector and the wider logistics industry both nationally and globally.

Photo: by Dr. Jo North. DFDS Ferry at Port of Tyne

These challenges include increasing efficiency, making UK ports more attractive to businesses at home and abroad as well as ensuring the UK continues to lead the way in maritime technology into the future.

The 2050 Innovation Hub is a catalyst for sharing ideas, harnessing research and development, advancing technology and tackling shared challenges. It’s an exciting time because it is just getting started, and the intention is to harness skills and innovation from all industrial sectors to develop a global proposition and enhance maritime competitiveness, as well as working on attracting more young people into the maritime sector.

The 2050 Innovation Hub is fully aligned with the Government’s Maritime 2050 Strategy and it will work closely with the Department for Transport and MarRI-UK to ensure that it delivers for the benefit of the maritime sector as a whole.

Photo: Innovation session at the #2050InnovationHub, Port of Tyne

I was honoured and delighted to facilitate innovation sprints in person, also virtually, at the 2050 Innovation Hub at Port of Tyne. If it’s something you’d like to be involved in, our know more about, please contact me direct at and I will connect you, or you can contact Port of Tyne direct here.

Photo: Port of Tyne, by Dr. Jo North

Open Innovation and Your Business

These are just a few examples of the open innovation and collaboration opportunities that are live right now. There are many others, and if you’d like to know more or want to explore accessing open opportunities for your business, please do get in touch and I will help. You can contact me direct at I’m looking forward to hearing from you.