Industrial innovations driven by multi-stakeholder ecosystems

Report for Industrial Innovation for Competitiveness (i24c) published to understand how innovations really materialise and what factors drive success

Publication date: September 2016

The outlines of the next industrial economy are becoming much clearer - shaped by globalisation, disruptive technologies, emerging business models and growing sustainability concerns. There is an overarching need for transformative innovation if Europe’s significant industrial assets are to realise their new competitive potential in this new economy - whether through technology, resource-efficiency or high skills – or by focusing on how clusters can connect disparate value chains across finance and end–markets.

For Europe to reap the benefits of this transformation, its policymakers as well as its business leaders and entrepreneurs need to better understand how innovations really materialise, and what could be done by both the public and private sectors to enable rapid commercialisation.

While innovations often occur within the boundaries of a single company, they are also often driven and nurtured by an ecosystem of actors working together. They are also not limited to just technological change, but can take the shape of innovative business models, processes, products, and policy.

In both innovation and industrial policy, new thinking actively explores the full set of stakeholder relationships involved as the focus of its work. In the domain of innovation policy, this is expressed most frequently through terms such as actor networks and, in particular, ecosystems. In the domain of industrial policy it is expressed through terms such as value chains and clusters. For this study, we use the term ecosystem as the one that best captures this overall picture and its focus.

This reframing toward a so-called “meso-level” ecosystem focus has profound implications both for policy design and for business strategy. Policymakers need new capabilities and instruments, which are relevant to such ecosystems. Business strategists need a new framework, which is not exclusively centred on their own firm but situates them within a wider network of competitors, suppliers and customers. Linked to this is also a recognition that the boundaries between the private and public sectors have become more permeable, and that many of these networks will be hybrid in nature, with a variety of sources of knowledge or finance that cross the divide.

Using a case study approach of industrial innovations across Europe, this study has sought to identify what are some key factors of success for these ecosystems. It analyses ten case studies in-depth across diverse sectors, which include innovative technologies, business models, processes, and products. The conclusions we have drawn are based primarily on these specific case studies and so their wider applicability remains a task for further research.

Four broad key learnings stand out from this selected sample, highlighting interesting lessons and forming the basis for potential further enquiry when studying successful ecosystems.

The key learnings:

  1. Ambitious ecosystem leadership through challenge-driven goals and programmes can have an impact in addressing difficult systemic challenges;
  2. Independent facilitating agents can lead and coordinate complex ecosystems, fostering cross-value-chain collaboration that targets systemic change;
  3. Defining supply and demand within specific proximities can nurture important market visibility; and
  4. Communication practices should build on current themes and trends that help sell the benefits of the innovation and convey a convincing business case to attract newcomers to the ecosystem.

About i24c 

i24c, the Industrial Innovation for Competitiveness initiative, is a platform dedicated to developing and promoting an industrial strategy that secures European industry’s competitive advantage through innovation.

Today’s European economy is being shaped by global technological, social and ecological mega-trends. By 2050, it will become carbon neutral. This transition challenge offers many opportunities, but these will not be realised without a modern industrial strategy focused on innovation. In developing ideas for this, the mission of i24c is to strengthen Europe’s industrial leadership in this new world economy.

i24c was set up to develop evidence to inform the critical debate on these issues in Europe. The organisation works to co-create effective and socially fair solutions with a wide range of partners.

i24c's activities are guided by a High Level Group of prominent leaders from government, business, academia and civil society. The initiative is powered by the European Climate Foundation.

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