Who Actually Does Innovation?

Date Posted

“Innovation Insight” is a blog series written by SRC’s President Emeritus Dr. Laurier Schramm, which aims to shed light on the importance of innovation in driving economic, societal and environmental growth.

This may sound like heresy, but research and technology organizations (RTOs), universities, colleges, and even private-sector research and engineering companies seldom literally “do” innovation. Since innovation is the conversion of ideas and knowledge into new and commercially successful products and services, innovation hasn’t fully occurred until the commercial success part has been accomplished, and that last part is almost always done by industries or other businesses.

innovation cycle

In principle, industries can conduct virtually all of the steps needed to accomplish innovation on their own. But most companies can’t afford the costs in time, money and risk that are required to do basic research, idea generation and development, applied research, engineering development, entrepreneurship, and so on, all the way down the line to products in the marketplace. Instead, most of even the most innovative companies will rely on others to do components of the process for them.

Many organizations are available to help with select aspects of innovation:

  • Universities and some large government labs specialize in basic (discovery) science and engineering principles and processes.
  • Research and technology organizations (RTOs) specialize in applied science, development engineering, testing and analysis, and sometimes pilot testing, scale-up engineering and even full-scale plant or field testing and demonstration.
  • Service companies generally specialize in technical services, plant or field support, and sometimes process troubleshooting.
  • Many manufacturing companies now specialize in just the manufacturing component.

Most companies will want to do their own marketing, distribution, and sales, but any or all of the components of the innovation process can be outsourced, even the idea generation component.

Is your company part of the innovation support system or do you work with companies to incorporate innovation into your business? I’d be interested in hearing some unique ways companies “do” innovation.

More information: Your Single Portal to Canada’s Top Mission-Oriented R&D Resources, Innoventures Canada Inc.: Ottawa, 2013.