Innovation and enterprise blog

27 November 2013

University innovation: using the wisdom of the crowd

The innovation strategies of universities should focus much more on ‘connection than protection’. This was the over-riding message that emerged from The Open Innovation & Higher Education event at the British Library.  

This approach contrasted an inward-looking and secretive approach to assessing and developing ideas characterised by risk-aversion and decision-making by committee and an emphasis on use of intellectual property protection, to one in which universities worked with external business, funders and others (‘the crowd’) to turn ideas into innovative new products and services.

The former approach had led to a graveyard of interesting ideas which were never taken to industry as their potential was not seen or the institutions did not posssess the knowledge or skills to develop them.

Each of the speakers looked at a different aspect of addressing the challenges of engaging with ‘the crowd’.  


Stefan Lindegaard

Stefan Lindegaard from 15inno talked about the need for a major cultural change within high education whereas Daniel Hulme from UCL spinout Satalia looked at how algorithms could be used as a way of involving and engaging external communities in a focussed way.

Brian McCaul specified three pinch points in the innovation process in which ‘the crowd’ could play a role. These were:

  • Validation - this involved addressing the question: ‘does this idea have any legs?’
  • Business development - this involved using external resources, knowledge and skills to take an idea forward
  • Funding - linking up with potential investors potentially using options like crowdfunding.

Brian described the example of The Innovation Commons, a successful online community of universities, businesses and funders which had developed in the North West of England.



The Innovation Commons logo

Els Delaere from Voka Chamber of Commerce in Flanders looked at an earlier stage in the process, that of unleashing the entrepreneurial talents of students, by talking about the annual Ghent Mega Brainstorm in which 200 students take part in a 48-hour ideas competition.

The event formed part of the British Library’s contribution to the Interreg IVB funded Open Innovation Project. Previous events had looked at how open innovation can be applied by businesses and public services.

Videos of the presentations from this event, as well as the lively panel discussion can be found online

Nigel Spencer on behalf of the Business & IP Centre


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