How Andy Zynga and NineSigma are helping companies utilize open innovation

Andy Zynga, CEO, NineSigma Inc.

Andy Zynga has been in business surrounding open innovation for more than 10 years now. As CEO of NineSigma Inc., a 70-employee company that engages organizations with external innovation resources, Zynga helps companies prove that open innovation is a valuable resource.

Due to NineSigma’s mission, the Ohio Third Frontier recently awarded the company a $2 million grant to aid small and medium-sized businesses in Ohio in gaining access to open innovation and solution providers around the world.

“The success of open innovation is something that departments of development take note of,” Zynga says. “The Ohio Third Frontier said, ‘Why don’t we help to grow this state and the businesses in this state and create new jobs by giving the smaller corporations access to technologies just like the big guys and let’s find intermediaries that can help to make that happen.’

“That’s where they were looking for companies, such as ours that could do this, and that’s how we ended up winning this $2 million Ohio Third Frontier grant.”

Open innovation can impact a business in numerous positive ways. It is Zynga’s and NineSigma’s goal to help Ohio small businesses achieve success by using it.

Open up

Open innovation has to do with companies going outside their own four walls to find new technologies, knowledge and ideas. That means going above and beyond the trusted network of people you’ve worked with all along.

“The power of open innovation is getting solutions that have nothing to do with your own,” Zynga says. “The very first step is to be able to define the problem in a way that is clear, compelling and concise,” he says. “Then you have to do cross-industry outreach and look around the world for people who may have an answer within your industry and outside the industry. Then thirdly, you have to filter through all the proposals that come in as a result.”

Open innovation helps to accelerate the innovation cycle.

“Rather than sitting there trying to reinvent the wheel, companies all of a sudden get all of these great proposals on their desk within four or five weeks and they get access to all these great technologies from around the world,” he says. “Tapping the global brain is what this is all about and we are, so to speak, the people that tap the brain for our clients.”

To help make this process easy on your business, you should dedicate someone to lead the effort.

“The CEO should make someone dedicated champion of open innovation,” Zynga says. “Somebody who is the process owner that works with the other internal resources in order to utilize the power of open innovation to the max.”

Open innovation is really about creating your own intellectual property with the help of additional pieces that you are using to accelerate the overall IP.

“When clients have internal champions that own the process, typically the success rates are two to three times higher than they would be without a champion,” he says. “That is a big recommendation for the CEOs of the world to find someone internally to understand how this works and get training so they can get everybody around the table when it comes time to review all those great solutions.”

Allow open innovation  to help you

Almost every product development process has some place in it where there is a bit of a challenge or a stumbling stone. Those are the times where open innovation can be your company’s best friend.

“These are the moments when somebody’s got to make a decision to say, ‘Do I go look in the world to see who’s got a solution we could tap into?’” Zynga says. “If the answer is yes, we have seen accelerations by 30, 40 and 50 percent. So people get to market much, much faster and can realize some real savings.”

When companies start to do these technology searches, it also helps to positively impact corporate culture to one of more openness.

“The biggest obstacle in all companies is usually the not-invented-here syndrome,” Zynga says. “Companies say, ‘We can solve this with our own people; why should we even go look outside? We’ve got the smartest people anyway.’ When you receive all of those excellent proposals, you get to see different approaches that people take to solve a particular problem.

“Surely your own R&D people have their own hypothesis as to how that can be solved, but just seeing the different approaches from around the world enhances your knowledge. That means there might be other projects that this may have a positive impact on within the business.”

Open innovation can also de-risk the whole product development process.

“It helps you to see what’s going on out there and what all the approaches are,” he says. “It helps you to say, ‘Am I on the right path?’ You may run a technology-strict project and find out there is no answer out there … it’s so unique no one has done it before.

“Likewise, if there are tons of solutions already for something that you’re developing internally, you may say, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know there are already so many solutions to this.’ It helps to de-risk and it helps to bet on the right horse.” <<

How to reach: NineSigma Inc., (216) 295-4800 or www.ninesigma.com

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