The pharmaceutical industry has taken an open approach to innovation for many years now – looking outwards, beyond the boundaries of the company (or even the industry)– bringing with it new ideas, technologies and information.
This month we’ve been thinking about how open innovation can benefit agri-tech thanks to inspiration from recent events run by two of our members: The formal opening of the stunning new Lawes Open Innovation Hub (pictured left), part of the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise (RoCRE); and the G’s Group, one of the UK’s largest producer of fresh and salad vegetables, held a thought-provoking workshop to consider the “How, Why, What and When” of embedding open innovation in their agri-business.
The potential to bring fresh thinking and approaches into a business has meant open innovation is gaining increased traction in agriculture and horticulture, where engineering, computing, electronics and mathematics are increasingly sitting alongside the traditional biology and chemistry to tackle the big challenges of sustainable intensification.
Of course, being so open, particularly for a company which has built its value on know-how or in-house intellectual property, comes with risks.
Building the right mind-set
These include making your challenges and issues known to your competitors, striking the balance between looking out for new ideas and focussing on the “day job” as well as building the right culture and mindset within the business to encourage risk-taking and open-mindedness.
Providing an enabling culture and environment for open innovation in agri-tech is the mission of the new hub at Rothamsted. Designed to bring together agri-businesses and researchers (many from the neighbouring research Institute), the layout of the new facility has been carefully thought out to provide opportunities for people in the building to meet and inspire each other. At the opening of the Lawes Hub, Rothamsted introduced guests to a number of tools including their Open Innovation Lab Book, a structured approach to including collaboration within the product development process.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
For larger, long-established agri-businesses such as the G’s Group, providing the culture and empowerment of staff to embrace open innovation can be more of a challenge. At G’s workshop “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, Prof. Jackie Hunter, open innovation expert and CEO of BBSRC pointed out that ambitions towards open innovation need to be firmly aligned with the longer-term strategy of the company, properly resourced and with executive support to create incentives and culture.
Of course, open innovation need not just be about new technologies. New business models, creative supply chain management, different ways of sharing information (both within the organisation and beyond) are all part of the story.
Open innovation in agri-tech
Developing a true culture of open innovation takes time, resource and commitment. But with willingness of companies to explore its potential business benefits, and the support of organisations across the east of England to facilitate these exciting new partnerships, farming can start to learn from pharma to be open around its innovation.
Agri-Tech East is doing its part to bring together these varied sectors of the agricultural industry through our Pollinators, SIGs and Agri-Tech Week, so there’s plenty of opportunity for interaction, inspiration and innovation.