Open up or die. That could be open innovation's motto. Faced with major changes, notably in technology, companies need to expand their creative processes, both internally and with the outside world: putting startups at the centre of your company, collaborating with these partners but also (and above all) involving your employees to allow new ideas to emerge.
An inclusive approach
In recent years, when discussing issues of corporate creativity, innovation or collaboration, the "open innovation" concept has been on many people's lips. But what is it actually about? Whether it's called open, distributed, shared or collaborative innovation, it always refers to the idea of a company involving new resources in its creative processes: whether this is internally, by including its employees, or externally, by involving its customers, partner startups, suppliers, or even its competitors. In other words, whereas innovation has traditionally been confined to research and development services (R&D), the " modern" company has every interest in opening up its approach to face the challenges of a constantly changing world, especially where technology is concerned.
From its origins to definition
The term was first used in 2003 at Berkeley University in a book by Prof. Henry Chesbrough (director of the Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley). He understands open innovation as "a type of innovation based on sharing and cooperation between companies in a climate of discussion, openness and trust". This paradigm shift pits "open innovation" against "closed innovation", because with the latter approach, the company's expertise can only take a single route, from entry to exit. In contrast, with distributed innovation, both the emergence of the ideas and their market launch can occur at multiple points in the process. A wealth of opportunity will therefore result from this openness to both external players and internally within the company: the emergence of new ideas, more innovative projects and more widespread inventiveness.
Open up or die...
Co-creation, collective intelligence, open data, crowdsourcing, extra or intrapreneurship, etc. These are all concepts which go hand-in-hand with the advance of open innovation. In fact, more than an isolated approach, it's a real culture change which inevitably pushes the company to design its creative processes in a less stereotypical way, with greater agility and flexibility and by paying attention to developments in its environment. It's about not"waking up" one day to realise that one's business model (or product range) is...out of date. Thus it is not by chance that large groups, characterised by greater organisational "inflexibility" and linearity, opt to bring innovative startups into the heart of their business. The objective? Breathe a new dynamic of innovation into the company, more "startup-oriented", interactive and agile. Although large companies have been the first to be targeted by this approach, SMEs should not neglect this type of innovation in order to preserve their vitality and responsiveness...
A real culture change
But open innovation shouldn't just mean integrating startups. Indeed, it's also (even primarily) about managerial transformation, aiming to mobilise all the innate potential within an organisation. This culture change therefore involves shaking up the company's internal organisation to break through silos, get rid of (bad) habits and bring talent and ideas to the fore. In this sense, simply by virtue of their proximity, employees are generally very well-placed to understand any blockages, suggest approaches for improvement and detect new opportunities. To this end, if awareness-raising among management is indispensable, HR departments have a crucial role to play in sowing the seeds of open innovation within the structure and creating the conditions for change. Among other things, this involves implementing a win-win situation where everyone, employees and managers, can see the benefits of the activity.
Employees: the key players
To generate this bottom-up flow, rather than speeches and theoretical concepts, the company must take specific action to raise awareness among all employees of the advantages of collaborative innovation. It needs to show that it is really listening to its internal resources. This can be conveyed most notably by creating a climate which is reassuring but stimulating and dynamic, promoting the role of employees, and by opening up the organisation to employees' ideas. HR must also identify motivated volunteers with the potential to keep the transformation going and make it permanent. The creation of a favourable environment (material, temporal, geographical etc.) is also decisive, as is a flexible framework: coaching, discussions with experts, empowerment, etc. In concrete terms, for employees open innovation often takes the form of 'ideas competitions', hackathons, internal prizes for innovation, inter-company exchanges, etc.
Scale-up concludes mega contract in the midst of the coronavirus crisis
The Antwerp-based scale-up IPEE transforms ordinary toilets into innovative products. BNP Paribas Fortis is more than just the financial partner. IPEE have already come into contact with the right people via the bank’s network several times.
“The traditional urinal has no brain. The infrared eye simply detects that someone is standing in front of the urinal. The result? A lot of wasted water and misery”, says Bart Geraets, who founded IPEE in 2012 together with Jan Schoeters.
The scale-up devised new measuring technology that makes it possible to detect through the ceramic of a urinal when someone is urinating or when the urinal is blocked. With this innovative technology, the scale-up designed urinals that use half as much water and toilets that can be operated without touching them.
“IPEE is an atypical scale-up that innovates in a sector where little has changed in the past few decades”, says Conchita Vercauteren, relationship manager at the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation Hub.
Jan Schoeters: “At first we mainly focused on durability. But we soon felt that with non-residential applications, the potential water saving is subordinate to the operational aspect. We had to be able to offer added value for each stakeholder in the purchasing process.”
We opted for sleek designs to appeal to architects and end users. The simple installation attracts fitters and maintenance people see the advantages of the sleek design - that is easy to clean - and toilets that do not overflow.
Until 2015, Schoeters and Geraets, along with Victor Claes, an expert in measuring methods and originator of the IPEE technology, put their energy into product development and market research. The financing came mainly from money that they collected in their network of friends, fools and family.
They had to go elsewhere to obtain the funds for production and marketing. Geraets: “We had a product, but it wasn’t ready to sell. To take that step, we needed investors.”
Looking for new investors was a challenge. Schoeters: “We aren’t software developers and we don’t work in a sexy sector. So we miss out with a large target group of investors.”
The young scale-up attracted the attention of Ronald Kerckhaert, who had sold his successful company, Sax Sanitair, at the end of 2015. “He pushed us to think big, more than we dared ourselves. And he never headed for an exit. His express goal was to put our product on the world market”, says Schoeters.
IPEE has achieved impressive growth since then. The product range was expanded and new sectors were broached: educational institutes, office buildings and hospitals. The technology is now used by Kinepolis, Texaco, Schiphol and Changi Airport (Singapore).
“We very soon turned to Asia, because new technology is embraced more quickly there”, Geraets explains. The IPEE technology is distributed in Singapore - where the scale-up has its own sales office - China, Thailand and Vietnam, among other places. About half the turnover comes from abroad, although the coronavirus crisis will leave its mark this year.
“My biggest headache is achieving healthy growth”, says Bart Geraets. One advantage for IPEE is that in coronavirus times, hygiene stands high on the agenda. The scale-up's touchless toilet facilities meet that demand.
At the same time, the shortage of water and the need to use water sparingly is very topical. Geraets: “We notice that in these strange times we are gaining an even bigger foothold. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis we concluded a contract with the world’s biggest manufacture of toilet facilities. Now it’s a matter of further professionalising our business, the personnel policy and the marketing.”
The company’s main bank is an important partner here. Schoeters: “It is more than just a financial organisation. We have already come into contact with the right people via the bank’s network several times. Our bank feels more like a supporter that is also putting its weight behind our story.”
Export plans? Make sure you talk to our experts first
To prepare your international adventure properly, ask yourself the right questions and talk to people who have done it all before: partners, customers, fellow exporters and experts.
BNP Paribas Fortis listens to the questions asked by international entrepreneurs and offers reliable advice. "A lot of exporting companies ask for our help when it's too late", Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, says.
Entrepreneurs with little export experience are often unaware of the bigger financial picture. So what do they need to take into account when they set up a budget for their export plans?
Frank Haak: "Budgeting and pricing are affected by a lot of crucial factors: working capital, currency exchange risks and currency interest, prefinancing, profit margins, insurance, import duties and other local taxes, competitor pricing and so on. We always advise customers or prospects to start from a worst-case scenario. Quite a few companies are insufficiently prepared for their first international adventure: they see an opportunity and they grab it, but quite often disappointment and a financial hangover are not far away.
Our experts have years of export experience and the BNP Paribas Group has teams around the world. This means that we can give both general and country-specific tips. Let's say a machine builder wants to design and manufacture a custom-made machine. We recommend including the machine's reuse value in the budget: can this machine still be sold if the foreign customer suddenly no longer wishes to purchase it or if export to that country becomes impossible due to a trade embargo or emergency situation?"
What type of companies can contact BNP Paribas Fortis for advice?
Frank Haak: "All types! Entrepreneurs are often hesitant to ask for advice. Sometimes they are afraid that it will cost them money. However, the right advice can save them a lot of money in the long run. For example, we recommend a letter of credit or documentary credit to anyone exporting goods to a foreign buyer for the first time. This product is combined with a confirmation by BNP Paribas Fortis to offer the exporter the certainty that it will receive payment when it presents the right documents and to assure the buyer that its goods or services will be delivered correctly."
The consequences of not seeking advice: what can an exporter do in case of non-payment without documentary credit?
Frank Haak: "If you are not receiving payment for your invoices, the counterparty's bank can be contacted in the hope that it advances the payment on the customer's behalf. However, we shouldn't be too optimistic in that respect: the chances of resolving the issue without financial losses are very slim. Once you have left your goods with customs, you usually lose all control over them. Hence the importance of good preparation: listen to and follow the advice of your bank and organisations such as Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT). It will protect you against a whole host of export risks."
BNP Paribas Fortis
- is the number one bank for imports (approx. 40% market share) and exports (approx. 25% market share) in Belgium (according to the statistics of the National Bank of Belgium): it offers advice/financing and can help you to discover new export markets through trade development;
- is proud that Belgium is one of the world's 15 largest export regions and is pleased to give exporters a leg up, for example by sponsoring the Flemish initiative ‘Leeuw van de Export’.
Source: Wereldwijs Magazine
#StrongerTogether Lasea decontaminates masks using lasers
Lasea conceives precision laser solutions for high-tech industry. Faced with the coronavirus crisis, the Liège enterprise revived an old project to decontaminate surgical masks – and respond to the shortage of face coverings.
The secret weapon of Lasea is the femtosecond laser. This has an accuracy of 0.2 micron, 200 times smaller than a hair. Lasea’s high-tech equipment is notably used in horology, electronics, medicine and pharmaceuticals. Given the shortage of surgical masks, the Liège enterprise revived an old project for decontaminating, as Lasea CEO Axel Kupisiewicz explains.
“We had tested laser decontamination 20 years ago. At the time, the project had no commercial outlets. With the coronavirus crisis, we proposed using it to decontaminate used surgical masks. That’s how we joined a consortium managed by the University of Liège to develop a decontamination chain. Usually, it takes many months, even years, to carry out the tests and obtain certification. Thanks to the collaboration between the university and the Walloon government, everything was done in a few weeks.”
Reinvention thanks to a crisis
Lasea proposed two decontamination techniques. “For the first, we used a laser device manufactured by Aseptic Technologies from Gembloux, which we adapted to meet local needs,” explains Mr Kupisiewicz. “For the second, we have entered into a partnership with Optec, in Mons. This latter solution makes it possible to treat three or four times as many masks each day.”
Lockdown has also generated a new dynamic within the business. “We launched a brainstorming session to refine the strategy for the coming years. The result: a new organisation after the move to our new building, financed by BNP Paribas Fortis. On the other hand, the widespread use of videoconferencing has created a new dynamic at the heart of the company. Previously, the Belgian team, who were gathered physically on site in Liège, were in a way privileged in meetings with their French, American or Swiss colleagues, present via videoconferencing. Now, everyone is on an equal footing because everyone is behind their screen by themselves. It’s one of the interesting aspects of lockdown that has created a global spirit in an international group.”
A relationship of trust
“BNP Paribas Fortis has been by our side since the beginning, 21 years ago,” recalls Mr Kupisiewicz. “First via the local branch in Sart-Tilman and now, for seven years, via Corporate Banking. Given Lasea’s developments, enlargement to several banks was necessary, but BNP Paribas Fortis remains the primary bank. I place huge importance on personal relationships and a climate of trust. Be it the branch manager or staff at Corporate, our relationship managers know our activities and our products. It’s important: they understand the issues we face and as a result they know our financial needs.”
“Since the beginning of the crisis, the bank has asked if we need support to develop this project of decontaminating masks. We have been able to implement these solutions by redeploying our teams and we have not needed a large injection of capital. We have, on the other hand, welcomed the moratorium on repayment of capital on all our investment credits.”
#StrongerTogether Wearable tech guarantees distance between workers
The Antwerp technology company Rombit has developed a safety bracelet for workers in ports and industrial settings. This guarantees social distancing, and also allows for contact tracing in the event of coronavirus infections.
Since 2012, Rombit has developed digital applications for maritime businesses, port terminals, the industry and building sites. Its software and hardware solutions aim to make operational activities more efficient, safe and dynamic. For the purposes of social distancing, the company has now launched a smart bracelet: the Romware Covid Radius.
“This wearable tech guarantees 1.5m distancing,” explains CEO John Baekelmans. “If two employees get too close to each other, it sets off an alert. Thanks to contact tracing, a prevention advisor or confidential counsellor can check which colleagues an infected worker has come into contact with. Their privacy is 100% guaranteed. That is unique.”
The Romware Covid Radius is a variation on the existing Romware ONE: a bracelet that brings together 20 safety functions, including access control, an incident tracking system and an alarm for approaching vehicles. In just two weeks, Rombit optimised a derivative solution that facilitates safe working during the coronavirus outbreak.
“An extensive test of the Romware Covid Radius is being carried out in the Port of Antwerp,” says Mr Baekelmans. “Roll-out to other businesses will follow and they will integrate our safety bracelet into their new way of working. There is already huge interest at home and abroad. We are talking with some major players in the industrial sector.”
In response to the great interest in the Romware Covid Radius, Rombit has already markedly increased its production in Taiwan. Mr Baekelmans also expects a growing need for short-term financing. “Close cooperation with your lender is essential,” he says. “In BNP Paribas Fortis, we have a good partner.”
“Rombit is part of the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation hub,” says relationship manager Conchita Vercauteren. “With the hub, the bank supports innovative start-ups and scale-ups that are contributing to a better society. The fact that Rombit wants to distribute its coronavirus solution so widely and at as low a cost as possible clearly testifies to social responsibility.”