Driving Growth through Open Innovation

Learn how open innovation can drive growth and innovation in your organization.

a group of product developers and owners discussing open innovation ideas in a meeting

What is Open Innovation?

Open innovation is a concept that involves collaborating with external partners, such as customers, suppliers, and other organizations, to generate new ideas and bring innovative products or services to the market. Instead of relying solely on internal resources, companies practicing open innovation actively seek external knowledge, expertise, and technology sources to accelerate their innovation processes.

By sharing ideas and resources with a network of partners, companies can access a broader range of perspectives and opportunities for collaboration, ultimately leading to more successful and sustainable innovation outcomes.

Types of Open Innovation

Open innovation is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it encompasses various models businesses can adopt depending on their strategy, industry, and innovation goals. Here are some common types of open innovation models:

Inbound Open Innovation

Also known as outside-in open innovation, this model encourages businesses to tap into the wider innovation ecosystem to fill gaps in their capabilities or find new growth opportunities. By incorporating external ideas, companies can rapidly advance their innovation initiatives and respond more effectively to market shifts.

Key features of outside-in open innovation include:

  • Incorporating customer feedback into product development
  • Strategic partnerships with academic institutions for research
  • Crowdsourcing and open ideation campaigns to gather a broad range of ideas

Outbound Open Innovation

Outbound open innovation, also called inside-out open innovation, allows companies to monetize their internal ideas that may not be a strategic fit for their current portfolio. This can also mean finding external paths to market that maximize the impact and value of their innovations.

Key aspects of the inside-out open innovation model include:

  • Intellectual property licensing
  • Developing joint ventures or spin-offs
  • Selling patents or proprietary technology to other industries

Coupled Innovation

Coupled innovation combines inbound and outbound open approaches. It emphasizes the importance of working with external partners to gain and share knowledge. This model is based on a give-and-take philosophy, where shared risk and reward are key tenets.

Under this model, companies can co-create and co-commercialize new technologies and solutions through joint ventures, strategic alliances, or innovation networks. Features of the coupled innovation model are:

  • Bi-directional flow of knowledge and resources
  • Collaborative research and development (R&D) projects
  • Co-development and co-patenting of innovations

Open Innovation Ecosystem

This model goes beyond individual partnerships and involves building a network of partners that can support various aspects of a company’s innovation process. It requires creating an ecosystem where organizations can collaborate and share knowledge, resources, and skills to drive continuous improvement.

Characteristics of collaborative innovation networks involve:

  • Virtual collaboration across geographic and organizational boundaries
  • Utilization of social media and online platforms for innovation
  • Crowdsourcing challenges and hackathons to solve complex problems


Several companies have successfully implemented open innovation strategies and achieved significant success. Here are a few examples:

Connect + Develop Program by Procter & Gamble (P&G)

P&G’s Connect + Develop program is a prime example of inbound open innovation. The company invites external partners, including startups, small businesses, and academic institutions, to submit new product ideas that align with P&G’s innovation needs. One example is the creation of the Swiffer cleaning system, which resulted from working with an outside inventor.

GE Appliances’ FirstBuild Initiative

GE Appliances’ FirstBuild initiative is a platform that brings together engineers, designers, and makers to collaborate and develop new home appliances. GE has quickly launched products such as the Opal Nugget Ice Maker through this open innovation ecosystem, which was co-created with input from the online community.

LEGO Ideas Platform

LEGO Ideas is a crowdsourcing platform where LEGO fans can submit ideas for new sets. The community votes on designs and those with enough support may be turned into official LEGO sets. This lets LEGO harness its fans’ creativity and bring their ideas to the market.


Here are some benefits that open innovation can bring to companies:

  • Open innovation leverages external and internal ideas and optimizes the innovation process by incorporating a more comprehensive range of ideas.
  • Enterprises utilizing open innovation can benefit from a versatile approach to innovation. It allows for greater adaptability and responsiveness to market changes and consumer needs.
  • Engaging with external sources of innovation helps companies tap into a wider pool of ideas and expertise, often leading to more efficient and groundbreaking innovation initiatives.
  • A culture of open innovation can foster stronger relationships with industry partners and other external entities, creating more opportunities for collaboration and joint ventures.
  • Embracing external paths for innovation can offer new revenue streams by strategically using intellectual property (IP) rights—licensing out unused IP and bringing in external IP as needed.
  • Companies whose innovation efforts include internal and external resources often create more robust, dynamic innovation cultures conducive to long-term success.

Best Practices for Implementing Open Innovation

To successfully implement open innovation practices, businesses must foster a culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing within their organization. Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Create a clear strategy aligning with your company’s goals and objectives.
  • Encourage employees at all levels to contribute ideas and collaborate with external partners.
  • Establish open communication channels across the company to share knowledge and ideas effectively.
  • Utilize digital tools and platforms to facilitate collaboration and open ideation within your organization.
  • Form strategic partnerships with other businesses, academic institutions, and other external entities to tap into diverse sources of innovation.
  • Reward employees for innovative contributions, regardless of whether they originate internally or externally.

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Despite its benefits, open innovation also presents challenges that companies must navigate to reap its full potential. Some common obstacles include:

  • Integrating external ideas and resources into the company’s innovation process can be complex and time-consuming.
  • Companies must balance protecting their intellectual property while sharing enough information to facilitate collaboration effectively.
  • Cultural differences and language barriers can pose challenges when working with external partners.
  • Open innovation requires a shift in mindset and culture, which may be difficult to implement within established organizations.
  • Coordinating and managing multiple partnerships and collaborations can become overwhelming, requiring dedicated resources and processes.

FAQs About Open Innovation

Open innovation involves leveraging external sources of knowledge and resources to drive innovation, while closed innovation relies solely on internal ideas and resources.

Yes, open innovation can be effective in industries of all types, including technology, healthcare, consumer goods, and more. When doing so, it’s best to account for the specific needs and challenges of the industry for this strategy to work.

Companies must carefully consider how they will protect their intellectual property while engaging in open innovation. This may involve developing clear agreements with external partners or utilizing licensing strategies to monetize unused IP.

Various digital tools and platforms can facilitate open innovation, including idea management software, online collaboration, and crowdsourcing platforms. Companies should research and select the tools that best suit their innovation goals and processes.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.