innovation: how to build a unified innovation ecosystem

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New York, Stockholm, Tel Aviv, London, Tokyo and Singapore. These are just a handful of diverse geographies that are united in their quest to become powerful hubs of innovation. These cities are fueling local economies and disrupting the global innovation landscape by fostering a new generation of digital startups. According to Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021, they consistently top the global startup ecosystem rankings. Also, on the list of growing ecosystems in the world are Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai.

What do these trends suggest?

Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because of it – these geographies have cemented their position as vibrant innovation hubs and are increasingly seen as viable alternatives to Silicon Valley. As innovation ecosystems become more agile and dynamic, leaders seek to create an integrated landscape that helps startups grow, enables companies to invest in talent and R&D, and attract other parties. stakeholders to participate effectively in a collaborative environment.

However, the question remains: what makes or breaks an innovation ecosystem that creates sustainable businesses and drives economic growth? Here are the key factors that help shape a unified innovation ecosystem:

A solid financing environment

Funding an innovation ecosystem is essential to the creation of innovative products and services. Entrepreneurs can only build sustainable businesses if they have adequate access to finance and financing options. Some thriving ecosystems – more than others – have put financing at the top of the agenda to enable entrepreneurs to find innovative solutions to unique challenges.

For example, funding is key to establishing Tel Aviv’s thriving tech scene. In addition to venture capital support, Israel also receives significant government funding. It has raised a total of $6.55 billion and produced 19 IPOs even amid the pandemic gloom in 2020. The country’s mature startup landscape is ripe for investors looking to diversify their portfolio in AI, cybersecurity and other high-tech fields.

As the example of Israel shows, a sustainable and resilient funding environment conducive to closing deals is paramount to the long-term success of an ecosystem.

A collaborative culture

The cornerstone of an innovation ecosystem is connection and collaboration between key stakeholders. Competitive advantage can only be achieved if a culture of collaboration and interdependence is encouraged to support innovation.

In addition, only mutual collaboration between stakeholders can create new markets and better meet customer needs. For example, as ecosystems around the world have shown, strong business-startup collaboration will democratize and foster innovation. This is especially true in Germany where the changing nature of business innovation has resulted in several business-startup partnerships in robotics, MedTech and FinTech. German engineering multinational Bosch has launched Startup Harbour, an open innovation program that fosters collaboration between the company’s business units and startups.

Industry associations such as FICCI, CII and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) are also key contributors to the innovation ecosystem. They open networking doors for entrepreneurs and connect them with people who matter in the industry. Membership in such associations could also help startups build their brand and reputation in the wider innovation ecosystem.

A connected ecosystem

Ecosystem entrepreneurship can only be sustained if stakeholders provide adequate infrastructural support to startups. Ecosystem builders should focus on building innovation capacity that drives policy initiatives to foster a startup culture. Entrepreneurial ecosystems can only thrive if government takes a proactive interest in formulating policies that meet the needs of all stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Capacity building measures include the implementation of an R&D-driven innovation policy to meet new market needs, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

In recent years, Japan has become an innovation powerhouse for multiple reasons. It has forged organic ties with local and foreign startups and embraced digitalization to solidify its presence as a key player in the global ecosystem rankings.

The development of an ecosystem also depends on the role played by the media in supporting entrepreneurs. Mainstream media have a responsibility to cover local and national innovation ecosystems in their reporting, in order to shape the public perception of entrepreneurship. In the digital age, social media also plays an important role in promoting local businesses and startups.

A collective knowledge-sharing platform

The best innovation ecosystems protect intellectual property rights (IPRs) of entrepreneurs and innovators and focus on building partnerships with desired stakeholders. Silicon Valley is a great example of how a mature innovation ecosystem has prioritized protecting the valuable IPR assets of its innovators. The Silicon Valley ecosystem is experienced in high-level IPR litigation and in driving innovation and technological disruption. Its enabling policies and regulations make it the preferred destination for startups worldwide.

The best ecosystems are also those where entrepreneurs are actively involved in giving back to the startup community through mentorship initiatives. I strongly believe that established entrepreneurs should pay it forward to make sure early-stage startups avoid making the same mistakes they did.

A strengthened talent pool

According to the Global Startup Genome Report 2021, Telangana was ranked among the top 15 Asian ecosystems for affordable talent, among the 280 entrepreneurial innovation ecosystems analyzed and 140 ecosystems ranked. This speaks to the critical need for ecosystem builders to focus on bringing together talented people to work on innovative ideas.

If ecosystems aspire to attract more investment to their region, they must nurture a diverse talent pool to drive productivity and competitive advantage. They should look for talent both within the geography in which they operate and outside the regions as well. In an increasingly complex business environment driven by disruptive tech startups, a strong talent ecosystem that supports diverse skill sets is undoubtedly the need of the hour.

Cities like New York and Boston are magnets for attracting top-notch global tech talent that supports their mission to become hubs of innovation.

Overcome barriers and move forward

For startup ecosystems to punch above their weight and seize new growth opportunities, they need to overcome key barriers that impede innovation. First, a poorly implemented innovation strategy hampers innovation. This results in a lack of clarity on the role that each stakeholder should play in achieving the innovation goals of the ecosystem. Second, a lack of agility in validating ideas delays time to market and limits opportunities for iteration. Third, when ecosystems rest on the past laurels of innovation success, they are reluctant to harness their strengths to create a roadmap for resilient innovation processes. Finally, an ecosystem’s innovation strategy should not be introverted and complex. Stakeholders must be customer-centric and agile in identifying new revenue streams and approaching innovation from an interdisciplinary perspective.

An inclusive and thriving innovation ecosystem must embrace a holistic worldview to innovate at scale and speed. In my opinion, it is only when leaders are proactive and begin to see the value of building such a cohesive ecosystem that innovation-driven entrepreneurship will flourish.

(The author is the managing director of T-Hub)

(The one-stop destination for MSMEs, ET RISE provides news, views and analysis on GST, exports, finance, policy and small business management.)

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