7 ingredients to build a successful innovation ecosystem 


Last week Commissioner Moedas published a report on the direct impact that investing in innovation has on EU economy. While this analysis was being conducted, at Stromatolite we used 20 years of innovation experience – from earlier futures concepts for large multinationals such as Apple, Nike and Nokia, to the last 4 years of building a global community of 5000 innovators – to test some of our earlier observations and assumptions and put them into practice. In other words, we invested in hands-on building of an innovation ecosystem.

During this process over the past 15 months, we witnessed something extraordinary – the innovation toolkit we developed with EU research centres hit 1.5 million impacts on social media; 11 unique new product ideas using the toolkit were incubated to first level prototype, one patenting process was initiated in month 10; two new startups founded, the new R-IoT microboard has already been batch tested for production; and as a byproduct of the extremely fast knowledge transfer, several peer-reviewed papers and one book chapter were published. Two projects are now nominated for major international awards and several are being discussed with multinationals and global distributors for deployment.

Here is how we made this happen:

1) Place creativity at the heart of innovation.

Creative thinking is the fuel for an enthusiastic exchange of ideas. In our case the project is called #MusicBricks because music is our social glue. It attracts experts from far afield into a neutral space for an extremely fast knowledge transfer. The Music Industry provides an excellent template for experimentation in the new IoT-enabled innovation space: it thrives on big data; it relies on cloud services; it attracts communities; it provides fast feedback loops for experimentation; it allows for quick prototyping and cheap testing of technology ideas; and it allows to port tested ideas successfully to other industry verticals (if this last claim arouses suspicion, feel free to jump directly to point 7).

2) Enable an extremely fast knowledge transfer.

We build toolkits which interface between research and innovation communities. In January 2015 we set out to create the #MusicBricks toolkit by turning the excellence from EU music tech research centres into APIs, GUIs and TUIs (Tangible User Interfaces). By the end of May 2015, they were ready for deployment and testing with our community of creative developers and early adopters over challenges of accessibility, health and communication. By month 9 we had 11 product prototypes built with the toolkit, by month 10 the first patent being filed.

3) Set up open innovation IP parameters. 

Our Consortium Agreement was completely rewritten to enable interfacing with Background IP, deployment of newly created Research IP with adopter-friendly licenses, and creation of a layer of Innovation IP to motivate the wider community of innovators and early adopters.

4) Bring the best brains into the room.

A range of different literacies of digital making such as those shared within ad hoc teams that form within innovation ecosystems, seldom lie exclusively within the domain of a single individual or organisation. We are privileged to have access to some of the most brilliant researchers and innovators from varied fields of expertise, age groups, gender, cultural backgrounds, skills and interests. We embedded #MusicBricks into our Music Tech Fest community platform, where we set out to unite art and science, and academia and industry in a space of common understanding. When our close community surpassed 4000 members, our call response rate registered 25% regular engagement. At our first creative testbed we achieved 33% female innovators. The healthy mix of knowledge and engagement makes for an extremely vibrant ideas ecosystem.

5) Get your hands dirty. 

Our community do not read peer-reviewed papers to each other. They literally show each other how to do things. The experimental ‘hack’ is not simply an intellectual game, but a material practice – an act of thinking out loud, embodied in physical and working objects. IoT-enabled gesture-driven and audiovisual-signalling feedback loops are becoming sophisticated tools for communication in this context.

6) Give ample support to valuable ideas. 

Regular supply of knowledge and funds are both key to enable growth of innovation ideas. Hitting knowledge barriers can seriously affect timely delivery: direct access to an expert is key at those times. We spent 662 hours in face-to-face, Slack and Skype conversations with our incubatees, and this investment generously paid off. Motivation quickly drops if cashflow stops, and efforts are diverted to alternative sources of income. We ensured microfunding was available for first level industry prototypes and partnered with local incubators to provide further support.

 7) Plug ideas into a network. 

Ideas do not exist in isolation. Within innovation ecosystems research and developer teams are able to place their findings into the hands of people who will test them to their limits, and situate theoretical and intellectual results within real world environments to adapt their tools and make them more flexible, more robust and ultimately more useful to a variety of markets. With creativity at the heart, at Stromatolite we are trained to understand the wider context of an application, and spot the next serendipitous ‘Post-It’ note discovery. From the beginning of our project, we were scanning the horizon to identify verticals and markets for lateral deployment. As an outcome of the patenting process initiated in month 10 of the project, we are in talks with a multinational in the forestry and agriculture sector with the aim to streamline their heavy machinery operations.

As Commissioner Moedas places emphasis on investment in innovation, we have demonstrated that by using these 7 core ingredients even modest investment in creative innovation can radically impact industry verticals. Think what you could achieve in a large scale pilot using these principles…


Aside from building Innovation Ecosystems through Stromatolite Innovation Lab and its spinoffs Music Tech Fest and #MusicBricks, Michela Magas is currently co-chairing Innovation Ecosystems Group for the EU Alliance of Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI), and co-writing the CAF Innovation Advisory recommendations for the H2020 Work Programme 2018/2019. 

The image above is from FindingSomEthingBondingSoUnding – a project which uses EEG readers and the R-IoT microboard to detect neurofeedback in reaction to gesture, incubated to first level prototype through the #MusicBricks project. #MusicBricks has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 644871.

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