Key takeaways

  • Open innovation connects startups and corporates, offering mutually-beneficial opportunities for both
  • PwC’s Open Innovation Newcastle event further promoted startup growth in the region and brought together the digital community
  • Open innovation offers numerous benefits to business, enabling rapid problem resolution and the potential creation of innovative new business assets

Almost every company in the country is facing one or many problems that they are finding a challenge to solve. The first choice for most companies and government departments is to turn inwardly – to people that are known and trusted – to help solve these problems. However pre-conceived notions, coupled with legacy mindsets, politics and culture, can often impede a clear path to resolution.

Enter open innovation, which requires management to recognise that good ideas are not just generated from the top-down, but can also come from the bottom-up and even from outside the organisation (from perhaps customers and other stakeholders).

Open innovation allows businesses to solve existing customer problems, operational and efficiency issues, and enables them to engage directly with members of their own community. It also serves to connect the startup and corporate community – for startups it enables great commercial opportunities, while enabling businesses to tap into a talent pool of up and coming innovative entrepreneurs.

With this objective in mind, we recently held PwC’s first Open Innovation Australia (OIA) event in Newcastle to promote startup growth in the region and bring together the local digital community.

Behind the scenes at Open Innovation Newcastle

Detailed planning and mapping of the problem and solution

Set over two and a half days at The University of Newcastle, some of the region’s finest budding entrepreneurs gathered together to tackle one of four problem statements for each of the participating local businesses:

  • Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC) – Creating visualisation tools that deliver an optimised coal supply chain through bottle neck areas of the rail network
  • Greater Building Society – Developing a way of improving financial literacy among 13 to 18 years olds
  • nib – Helping customers make more informed healthcare choices and be more relevant to customers when making those decisions
  • Heal for Life – Helping scale carer training to the facilitators nationally and grow from supporting 500 to 5000 people.

Over the course of the weekend, the participants chose one of the above problems to work on and learn how to define and refine the challenge, articulate a solution and begin the process of building a business proposal. Our well-experienced mentor group put the teams through their paces and included experts from Slingshot, Digit Newcastle, Reckon, NSW Department of Trade and Investment and our own Private Clients and Digital Change teams.

Anthony Mittelmark, Darren Turner and Lucy Walker mentoring the winners of the HVCCC problem, Tristan Newmann and Scott Butler

At the completion of the weekend, the teams who presented the most innovative and compelling commercially viable ideas relating to the business challenges were awarded a $15,000 grant from NSW Trade & Investment’s Innovate NSW program to bring their ideas to life.

As pointed out by my colleague, Darren Turner, PwC Private Clients Newcastle partner, Open Innovation uncovered some of Newcastle’s untapped talent: “There was much to talk about and lots of creative ideas shared among a group who are the entrepreneurial future of the region.”

The sense of community and collaboration at the event, allowed these budding entrepreneurs to engage and network with some of the city’s largest businesses, mentors and start-up advisors.

For some the event was potentially life changing, with the winning teams going from an idea to potentially creating a new business, in a single weekend. That’s not only open innovation. It’s innovation at speed.

Uncovering the business value of OIA

While the open innovation process requires a ‘leap of faith’ (so-to-speak), it has clear benefits to businesses that are willing to try something different:

  1. Connect with agile startups – Putting a call out for open innovation attracts individuals and teams who have a specific interest in solving a particular business problem. As highlighted in our recently released report ‘The startup economy’, complicated procurement and tender processes mean that startups miss out on opportunities to ‘get in the game’. Open innovation assists to overcome this hurdle and drive the corporate/startup connection.
  2. Rapid problem resolution – The process enables rapid resolution of problems within a relatively short time period. For the four business participating in Open Innovation Newcastle, the initiative brought together over 100 people, who for a focused period of time were solely focused on coming up with solutions for their specific business issues – an incredibly rare occurrence in the corporate world.
  3. An outside-in approach – Open innovation allows businesses to take an ‘outside-in’ approach to the resolution of their problems and gain a different perspective to their problem.
  4. Community engagement – These initiatives bring together groups of like-minded, talented individuals and allow businesses to go back to the grass roots in terms of engagement.
  5. Creation of innovative business assets – The ongoing value of open innovation for a business lies in the production of dynamic solutions to the original business issues. Post the initial event, the winning teams (working with the businesses) are charged with bringing to life their solutions in the form of a minimum viable product  – creating a visible and tangible asset for the business.

The final word

Collaboration was an essential part of getting from the problem statement to the solution

My thanks to everyone who participated in bringing Open Innovation Newcastle to life and congratulations to the winners who are just beginning their journey:

  • Tristan Newmann and Scott Butler who proposed an idea for improving logistics planning for HVCCC by using a touch screen interface to reveal scheduling bottlenecks.
  • Steve and Abby Young who proposed a Facebook-based app connecting healthcare information, social behaviour and health insurance funds via social media for nib.
  • Humphrey Laubscher leads a team from the Slingshot Accelerator who had the innovation of ‘disrupting’ the school tuck shop experience with an app that allows orders and payments for school lunches through The Greater Building Society.
  • Ben Heslop‘s team proposed an Outreach Portal which combines an online community forum and mobile app to increase a charity’s ability to reach survivors of childhood trauma.

Open Innovation Newcastle is the first in an ongoing series of open innovation events and we’re looking forward to bringing the business and entrepreneurial communities together again in the near future… so watch this space!


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Trent Lund

Trent is Head of Innovation and Ventures for PwC Australia. With 18 years’ experience spanning Australia, Asia, UK, Europe and the Middle East, Trent joined PwC to lead the customer centric transformation consulting team dedicated to improving the way Australia’s leading private and public sector organisations re-focus on the customer.

Before his commercial career, Trent worked with some of the earlier forms of computing, transforming traditional business through programmable logic controls to automate machinery. The learning he gathered from this early experience saw Trent ‘smash a lot of strawberries, but learned a lot about the power of technology’.

Trent began his commercial career in telecommunications in Australia and later independently as a business consultant in the UK. Trent helped high tech and communications clients develop product and market entry strategies for complex solutions such as data centres, mobile content platforms and 3G Mobile licenses.

Afterwards Trent joined Oracle to lead the mobile content and service delivery platform proposition in Europe and Asia. One of the key milestones he achieved was to architect a custom solution into 10 countries, gaining 45 million subscribers, operating in many different languages and different currencies. The key challenge was balancing the latest technology advancements with the pragmatism required to address economies in different stages of maturity, from emerging to very mature. Advising technology owners on what business models will be profitable in these environments is one of Trent’s great strengths.

Trent specialises in user experience design, customer-led innovation and disrupting business models through technology.

“Digital is challenging the status quo. We’re beginning to see how customers are interacting with technology and it’s exciting to see the escalating rate of change in all industries.”

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