A few months ago Mentors Montreal, an organisation I founded, was drafted to help provide and manage mentors for the Cooperathon; an open innovation competition organised by the Desjardins Group, in collaboration with Hacking Health and CIC.

Open innovation - Baker Marketing Desjardins is the largest association of credit unions in North America. Hacking Health organises hackathons in the health sector around the world and CIC is a financial services group under the umbrella of the French Crédit Mutuel Bank.

The competition is loosely based on the hackathon[1] model and lasts a full month. The goal is to bring everyday people, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, startups, organisations and companies of all sizes together to solve social challenges and hopefully create new, viable, companies and organisations rather than just software.

In my view, open innovation is one of the most useful growth tools in an organisation’s arsenal.  Open innovation has come to mean different things to different people. Originally it was used specifically for technological innovations. The expression was applied mostly in large organisations and it basically meant having an external party contribute to the development of a new technology or furthering an existing one.

Today open innovation (sometimes referred to as collaborative innovation) is more a mindset than a specific concept.

It is also applied to all types of innovations, in all sectors, and not only technological ones. The only part of the original definition that still stands is that it requires collaboration between, at least, two distinct (ownership wise) entities.

How can open innovation help my organisation?

Open innovation - Baker Marketing Companies and organisations that do not practice some form of open innovation will most likely not prosper or even survive the next decade.  This because scientific and technological progress is happening at such a fast pace (compared to recent history) that no single organisation can keep up on its own.[2]

How open innovation can benefit a startup

Collaborating with an established business or organisation of any size can help you:

  • Find your product/market fit sooner
  • Discover new markets
  • Get access to expensive equipment/machinery/ resources/expertise faster
  • Find the most efficient business model
  • Grow your network/eco-system
  • Grow at a faster pace

How open innovation can benefit companies and organisations

if you’re an established company or organisation, open innovation can help you:

  • Get faster (and cheaper) access to new markets and/or hard to find expertise
  • Witness and/or Integrate a new business model
  • Understand and implement more efficient processes/equipment
  • Accelerate the development of new products

How the Cooperathon does open innovation

Open innovation - Baker Marketing As mentioned, the Cooperathon brings startups, companies and organisations together to innovate.  It has taken the hackathon concept and adapted it with the specific goal to create lasting companies or organisations that will have a significant positive impact on society.

Desjardins Group (mostly their Desjardins Lab innovation team) and Hacking Health created the concept of the Cooperathon 3 years ago. Every year they evolve and grow it. The Cooperathon is thus a startup itself going through very similar stages as the more traditional startup.  It would appear that 2017 was the year they found their product/market fit.

From a couple dozen teams, in Montreal, in 2015, the 2017 edition of Cooperathon brought together;

  • over 600 participants in 3 cities (Montreal and Québec, in Canada and Lyon in France)
  • 111 teams
  • 135 mentors and experts from various entrepreneurial eco-systems
  • 18 sponsors
  • over 100 contributing partners (companies, organisations -public and NPO – and communities such as Mentors Montreal)

They invited other companies, organisations and governments to submit challenges and employees to coach/work with the teams, created during the Cooperathon, to solve these challenges.

The focus was on 4 different sectors; Health, Fintech, Smart City and Education.

During the course of the competition the teams are offered pertinent workshops on the newest entrepreneurial management methods (including Lean Startup type approaches) and access to experts and business mentors to help them create and start executing on their business model.

The financial cost to the participants is limited to the registration fee (ranges between 15 and 50CAD). The money collected from those fees is donated to a local charity. This year the Dr Julien Foundation was the recipient.

Desjardins has a coop, social-democratic culture and this reflects on the criteria used to evaluate the projects.

Sustainability, environmental awareness and positive social impact are as important as the financial viability of a project.  This type of event serves to show that open innovation can also be used to better society as a whole and bring companies, large and small, onboard to work on social issues.

Total prizes exceeded 100 000 CAD divided in multiple categories. Individual cash prizes ranged from 5 000 to 12 500CAD.

Other prizes included admission to a Silicon Valley accelerator program (with flight and lodging) for the Startup track, as well as incubator program admission and workspace for the other tracks.

Social impact of the Cooperathon

Open innovation - Baker Marketing Such open innovation competitions serve multiple purposes.

  • They bring out of basements great initiatives and projects that may otherwise not see the light of day.
  • They help train fledgling entrepreneurs and quickly expand their network.
  • They increase, at an exponential rate, the cross-pollination and communication between various fields of study, business sectors, community organisations (public or private) and government.
  • They help bring to light and solve (or at least attempt to) the most pressing social issues
  • They allow large organisations, including governments, to better understand the local entrepreneurial eco-system and get their feet wet with open innovation
  • They expose companies of all sizes to cutting edge innovation management techniques and expertise
  • They strengthen the entrepreneurial and innovation eco-systems of their community

The Cooperathon, and other such open innovation initiatives, serve not only to accelerate innovation in a given society, they also help educate and empower entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike who want to make this world a better place.

My personal experience with the 2017 Cooperathon was amazing. I learnt so much and expanded my network at a record pace. I also got to meet an incredible amount of everyday people doing extraordinary deeds and surpassing themselves in a way they didn’t even know possible.

I strongly recommend you get involved in open innovation events in your community. I am certain it will make your life better as well.

[1] Hackathons are intensive events (usually held over a weekend) that gather various professionals to create a software application that will solve a specific problem.

[2] Hydra-type organisations such as Alphabet are doing a better job at innovating than traditional organisations because they mimic an entire eco-system that has incorporated open innovation in their business model.