What Is An Innovation Ecosystem?

“Innovation” seems to be among the most popular words characterizing businesses, organizations and start-ups in today’s tech-saturated world. And it’s not terribly difficult to understand why, right?

If a start-up company or long-lasting organization is genuinely innovative, then they’re a place marked by thorough-going creativity that produces solutions to complex problems. They’re a place where innovation happens. What organization wouldn’t want to be known as a place of innovation? None that we can think of.

At times, however, this talk of organizations or companies as being “innovative” can lack precision. Strictly speaking, organizations and companies aren’t innovative; people are.

A different but related concept that’s gaining new-found popularity and attention is the “innovation ecosystem.” This is a concept that’s near and dear to the hearts of us at Harness because most — if not all — of what we do centers around creating ecosystems for innovation.

But what is an innovation ecosystem? What are the implications of innovation ecosystems for managing innovation?

We thought it would be good idea to answer these questions. Along the way, we’ll stress why innovation ecosystems matter and our involvement with them at Harness.

Innovation Ecosystems: The What

Starting with the first question, what exactly is the innovation ecosystem definition? Believe it or not, there’s a growing literature of research on this very topic.

One bit of this research defines innovation ecosystems this way:

This is the technical definition of innovation ecosystems. Here’s an adapted definition of innovation ecosystems from the same research which is a little easier on the brain:

We like this definition of innovation ecosystems. Simple, clear, and illustrative of the core idea. Innovation ecosystems, in their simplest form, are these clusters, physical or virtual, that house innovation activity around specific themes. They can include entrepreneurs, universities, government agencies, innovation labs and accelerators, as well as influencers.

Technology, biology, landscape-engineering — these are examples of themes around which innovation ecosystems can be arranged. The list of themes are endless.

Universities, agencies, regions — these are examples of the clusters that house the innovation activity.

We’re off to a great start here, but until we help you understand why innovation ecosystems matter, we’ve not done much for you. On to the why we go.

Innovation Ecosystems: The Why

One good way to understand why something matters (or why something is important) is through identifying what makes it distinctive and special.

Oxygen matters because it — together with some other elements — enables life as we know it; cell phones matter because they enable verbal communication between two people thousands of miles apart without any wifi.

Here’s our attempt at distilling what makes global innovation ecosystems distinctive and special, therefore crystalizing why they matter. (The non-distilled version can be found here.)

Innovation ecosystems matter because they provide us a way to organize communities of innovative people united by a diverse range of values, vision and ideas. They allow for the co-creation of new ventures and new insights. Entrepreneurial activity, therefore becomes diverse in nature.

Without innovation ecosystems, innovation becomes a homogenous rather than heterogenous enterprise; an enterprise, in other words, which lacks diversity. And have you ever tried to be innovative in a group of people who all thought exactly the same way? Have you ever tried to innovate in a community of people that lacked diversity?

Chances are, there wasn’t too much innovation going on. Or if there was, it was vastly limited by the lack of diverse ideas and thoughts. This is just one of many of the profound benefits of innovation ecosystems: they foster more innovation.

But we’ll say more about that in just a bit.

You can now see why we have something like an obsession with innovation ecosystems and their thriving.

Innovation Ecosystems & Harness: The How

Harness is all about bringing innovation ecosystems into existence and keeping them alive and well. Harness exists for innovation ecosystems.

As far as bringing innovation ecosystems into existence, we build platforms that give universities and organizations world-wide a way to generate an innovation ecosystem. How do we do this? By developing online platforms that use intuitive software to connect creatives and problem-solvers with fellow creatives and problem-solvers — in and outside your industry.

More, we’re crazy about mentorship and see it as a fundamental feature of innovation ecosystems because of the way it breeds learning, creativity, and growth. Our platform makes accessing mentorship — whether you need it or want to offer it — easier than ever.

If you already have an innovation ecosystem, our platform brings increased order and organization, offering you, the ecosystem manager, peace of mind and data on your users in return.

This brings us to the implications of innovation ecosystems for innovation management. As any innovative person knows, innovation requires some guard rails, so to speak. In other words, innovation needs order and organization.

Attempting to innovate in a communal context needs even more order. You need a way to organize ideas, set a vision that guides the innovation, and have open lines of communication among the innovators. Innovation ecosystems, according to their definition above, are designed to accomplish just this.

That’s just one more reason innovation ecosystems matter so much: they enable further, deeper and greater levels of innovation than ever before. The implications of innovation ecosystems for managing innovation, then, are wide-reaching.

We’ve really just begun to scratch the surface of innovation ecosystems and our involvement with them. Many of the features that characterize Harness are intimately connected to innovation ecosystems.

If you can’t wait until our next blog, we invite you here for more information on our involvement with innovation ecosystems.

Otherwise, stay tuned for more from us on innovation ecosystems and what we’re doing to support them worldwide.

Harness is a support and intelligence platform for engaging, tracking and advancing innovation communities. Welcome to our blog!