Seven anchor businesses are to take part in a pilot initiative being launched by the Welsh Government and intended to encourage collaboration in innovation between large and small businesses and other potential partners.
The seven businesses have competed successfully for an Open Innovation Development Award “to originate new relationships” with other businesses and external parties.
Each can employ an ‘open innovation champion’ to develop and implement their proposals.
The seven participating anchor companies are Newport-based security company Cassidian, defence and security company General Dynamics, which has bases in Oakdale and Newbridge, IQE in Cardiff, Wales West Utilities, pharmaceutical developer Norgine at Hengoed, Pure Wafer at Swansea and Tata Steel at Port Talbot.
The companies are expected to explore “best practice approaches”, and introduce new methods for product and process development. They will share their findings at regular meetings of a newly created project board, and disseminate their findings to the wider Welsh business community.
The concept of open innovation is based on the idea that large companies cannot find solutions to all of their new product development issues in-house.
Instead their customers, suppliers, inventors, universities or other stakeholders may hold valuable insights into their problems.
Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: “This pilot two-year Open Innovation Award is a new approach from the Welsh Government that aims to bring commercially exploitable solutions to light for the benefit of Welsh businesses of all sizes.
“Through exploring the best practices of those businesses currently driving forward the innovation agenda in Wales, these seven anchor companies are in turn committed to sharing these benefits by encouraging and nurturing other Welsh-based businesses to engage in their own innovation work.”
She added: “Wales already lays claims to many new and exciting technologies, and the Welsh Government is committed to maintaining this reputation by encouraging collaboration between locally-based businesses of all sizes wherever possible.”
Examples of the type of innovative activity the anchors will generate might be advertising technology needs via a website, using technology scouts to source solutions, offering latent intellectual property for development by others, and sharing expertise and facilities.
A by-product of sharing information and open innovation is that developments which the anchors have started but not pursued could be taken up and progressed by others who perceive they can add value, the Welsh Government said.
It added that open innovation networks would “ideally” develop beyond the usual vertical relationship between anchor and supplier, and become “win-win scenarios for all”. Actual and potential suppliers would collaborate with each other and include service suppliers or the ultimate customers, as they seek new routes to market.
The awards are being announced on the day the Welsh Government launches its new innovation strategy, Innovation Wales.
The strategy “recognises the widely accepted technology-based concept of innovation”, but also emphasises that innovation can be achieved “everywhere and anywhere and by anyone, across the board.”
Its highlights the need for the public sector to be “less prescriptive and more open to fresh solutions for supporting business and procurement”.
This involves developing “more flexible ways of nurturing business innovation, more imaginative public procurement and co-operation across levels of government.”
It also calls for more collaboration between businesses, academia and others looking to access UK and EU funding streams.
Ms Hart will launch the strategy at Pure Wafer in Swansea. In a statement before the launch she said: “Our Science for Wales strategy launched last year recommended the need for a new, forward-looking approach to innovation in Wales; one that explores new ideas and concepts around the nature of innovation and how best to encourage it.”
She said Innovation Wales “adopts a focused approach with a single overriding principle – that while we can promote, encourage and enable innovation across the economy, our key investments should be made on the basis of clear strategic priorities, building on Wales’ strengths.
“We need to recognise these strengths and exploit them more. This means developing distinct and genuine areas of excellence identified in Science for Wales as: life sciences and health, low carbon energy and environment, advanced engineering and materials, ICT and the digital economy.”
Mrs Hart said that a “collective and collaborative effort” was needed from all stakeholders in Wales to create real change. She added: “The public sector can help create the right conditions for innovation to flourish but it is our people, our academics and our businesses that will be the agents for real change.”
The strategy has been produced after “extensive consultation” and input from an advisory group of experts drawn from small and large businesses, universities and other stakeholders.