2016 World Open Innovation Conference: a Meeting of the Minds in Barcelona

Henry ChesbroughWhen Henry Chesbrough began planning his sabbatical last year, he chose to visit Barcelona, Spain, where he could practice what he preaches.

For nine months, Chesbrough, known as the “father of open innovation,” helped European academics and industry practitioners—two groups typically siloed in their own worlds—collaborate on innovation.

The move also inspired Chesbrough, an adjunct professor and the faculty director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, to host the Third Annual World Open Innovation Conference in Barcelona, Dec. 15-16. To see the entire WOIC program and list of speakers, or to register, visit the conference website.

“Barcelona is a hotspot for innovation within Europe,” says Chesbrough. “Europe boasts a history of science and technology excellence but there is a feeling in much of Europe that the U.S. has done a better job of innovating and getting products to market faster and on a larger scale.”

Chesbrough, known for coining the term, “open innovation,” is the author of Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating Profit from Technology (Harvard Business Press, 2003) and three other books about scaling innovation by collaborating with other firms. For almost two decades, he has been studying the open innovation concept, which details how firms can benefit by opening themselves up to external, as well as internal ideas, and sharing their internal ideas with others.

As a consultant to technology company Philips in the Netherlands, Chesbrough witnessed open innovation at work.

He recalls a day when Philips’ research campus was very guarded, surrounded by fencing and security.

When Philips embraced the open innovation model, it literally tore down the fence and opened the campus up to researchers from other companies.

Today the research hub houses more than 7,000 researchers who are able to exchange ideas with colleagues from more than 70 companies, according to Chesbrough.

“After that, we studied 465 research projects at Philips and found that those projects with an open innovation component got to market faster and had better results in the market,” says Chesbrough.

Taking an open innovation approach can address tricky business challenges companies face. For example, “Your company may think it can do better than a competitor but the other guy already has the product and it’s selling right now. It may take you a few years to create something better while the competitor continues to keep improving too,” says Chesbrough. “Open innovation is about leveraging those external ideas and incorporating them into what your company does best.”

Open innovation is gaining a growing foothold in European business and is becoming part of EU policy.

Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science, and Innovation, and a former student of Chesbrough’s at Harvard, has advocated the Three Opens (open science, open innovation and open to the world) as the linchpin of future EU policy towards innovation.

At December’s conference, Moedas, one of the WOIC’s keynote speakers, will discuss his proposal to make open innovation a mandate for all EU-financed R&D grants. Known as “Horizon 2020,” this coupling of research and innovation provides nearly 80 billion euros in research funding from 2014 to 2020.

Chesbrough says the European economy will grow as open innovation expands. He plans to continue to advise European companies on open innovation application strategies as he has for many Silicon Valley companies.