Key takeaways

  • PwC has launched the Open Innovation Platform, a digital marketplace for innovation opportunities.
  • Traditional procurement processes disadvantage startups and small businesses.
  • Facilitating an open innovation solution allows multiple stakeholders to collaborate in solving a common goal – with funding attached.


How can Australian organisations ensure that they become both great consumers and implementers of innovative products and services? As we transition away from the resource sector, productivity gains and new sources of export revenue will be required to sustain growth. Yet the way government and large organisations have approached problem-solving in the past may no longer be fit for purpose.

Take procurement processes – the way projects are tendered, shortlisted and awarded. While most are designed to ensure robust impartiality and probity compliance, they frequently require respondents to answer all potential questions at the first step of the process. Because of this, interested organisations have to make significant investments at the earliest stages.

As a result of this front-loaded process, many smaller companies perceive their chances of winning, as well as their expected return if they do take on the project, to be lower than the initial investment required to draft a submission.

To make matters more complicated, out-of-town or interstate meetings are also common. These are usually mandatory, conducted in person and on a fixed date.


In the end, we’re left with a system that hinders the ability for startups or businesses to make it to the shortlist for government projects. Without a team of dedicated tender response writers and designers, nor the logistical capability to meet stakeholders at a moment’s notice, these lean teams are taken out of the running.

This is a shame. Australia is home to many innovative small businesses and startups with great technology and incredible ideas. More broadly, research and development is throttled because it’s denied a key project development pathway, confining ideas to universities and incubators.

These procurement processes are beginning to change, however. Aided by advances in digital technology, there’s another way for smaller outfits to come together and collaborate on solving many of the country’s most pressing problems. It all begins with the concept of open innovation.

Open innovation:
The best people working on the right problems

Open innovation centres around the idea that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, the smartest or most capable people to take on a particular challenge may not all be found within a single organisation.

Coined by Henry Chesbrough of the University of California Berkeley’s Haas Business School in 2003, it can be thought of as the opposite of internal research and development: stakeholders ranging from large corporations to startups, researchers and government organisations all come together to collaborate on a common goal or project.

Using open innovation, solutions can be developed faster, more cost-effectively, and with higher degrees of differentiation than if the project was developed solely in-house.

“Useful knowledge today is widely distributed,” Chesbrough wrote on the topic in 2011, “and no company, no matter how big, could innovate effectively on its own.”


PwC has been facilitating open innovation events for the last three years. Now, to help bolster the relationship between companies, governments, researchers and startups, we’ve developed the Open Innovation Platform. Built to scale the proven open innovation model, the platform can accelerate the growth of startups and businesses by improving their access to both local and global opportunities.

Designed to government procurement standards, the platform works in three stages:

  1. Organisations post a particular opportunity or problem to a community of innovators (startups, researchers, small business, etc) that have been invited to submit solutions.
  2. These innovators pitch their high-level solutions electronically.
  3. The organisation then selects a winning solution, working together with one or more applicants to develop and execute it.

Challenges currently posted on the platform’s launch include a project to automate the reprocessing of financial information for accountants, and a $50,000 initiative from the City of Gold Coast to develop new solutions for protecting native biodiversity on public land.

Working with the City of Gold Coast’s Digital City and Animal Management teams, local small businesses and startups are encouraged to develop new ways of monitoring and trapping feral animals that improve on the current foothold trap system. Constraints facing the present system include limited mobile network coverage, remote environments, and damage or loss of trap equipment.

a better society

Why would PwC develop such a platform? At our core, we seek to build trust in society and solve important problems. We can do this by mobilising our global workforce of more than 200,000 alongside organisations and governments. But we believe we can go further than this.

Through our open innovation approach, PwC has so far engaged hundreds of startups and STEM entrepreneurial groups in more than 30 corporate and government challenges. It is by connecting in this wider innovation community, as well as academics looking for new pathways to implement their research, that fresh ideas can be cultivated and the solving of many of society’s problems can be orchestrated.

Keeping pace
in the digital economy

Another advantage of the Open Innovation Platform is its ability for organisations to keep up with the rapid changes of the digital economy. Whether it’s maintaining a smartphone app or preparing for a new hardware platform such as virtual reality, it is becoming increasingly necessary to engage problem-solvers located beyond an organisation’s own rank-and-file.

By providing a digital marketplace for problem-solving, we seek to optimise the distribution of talent to where it’s needed most. When resources are allocated in this way, many people with part-solutions combine to solve a single problem, ensuring the best people are working on the right problems more often.

Bringing innovators and organisations together to work on problems with funding already on the table also means that partnerships are bootstrapped, revenue streams are unlocked and new value is created.

All that’s needed is a project team and a challenge worth solving.

To register your interest in solving challenges, or to post your own problem worth solving, click here to visit PwC’s Open Innovation Platform.




Duncan Stone

Duncan Stone is a director in the Innovation & Disruption and Economics & Policy practices at PwC Australia.

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