Developing an innovation strategy for Horizon 2020 funding

European funding is now innovation lead rather than discovery lead, this has resulted in a lot of research institutes being concerned that they are losing out, or that the process is unfair. Being innovation lead is a difference perspective for Universities and research organisations, one of the ways they can improve their success rate  in Horizon 2020 is to develop an innovation strategy.

What is a strategy?

Before we even get into developing a Horizon 2020 innovation strategy, I’ve noticed that many people struggle with the concept of a strategy. What does it mean to say we have a strategy? To put it simply a strategy is nothing more than a defined approach or behaviours to achieve defined goals. For example ,if we want to get fitter, our strategy may be to hire a fitness coach, attend training twice a week and restrict our calorie intake.

What is an innovation strategy?

Taking the example above, an innovation strategy therefore, is a set of behaviours and approaches that we use to improve innovation. The start of our innovation strategy process will be to understand and define our specific objectives and outcomes. These need to go beyond pithy comments such as – we need to innovate to get more research funding.

Rather you need to ask yourself – what value will innovation create for our end users? And if we are talking about Horizon 2020 funding we need to understand what value we need to create for European society. If your innovation isn’t novel and doesn’t create the value you have identified, then perhaps your innovative idea shouldn’t be founded.

Six tips to get your Horizon 2020 innovation strategy off the ground

I can’t tell you what your innovation strategy should look like, but here are six tips to get you up and running.

1. Develop a process to select the best ideas

Just asking for ideas is inefficient unless you have a process to select the very best ones and take them forward for further development. This doesn’t mean that you set up a whole department, but do develop a set of criteria to select the best ideas. Make sure the ideas that are selected align with your innovation goals and objectives.

2. Define the problems you want solving upfront

As I’ve said innovation is something that is novel and adds value, you only create value by solving problems that matter. Make sure your problem statements are well defined and clear, being as wide as the Horizon 2020 societal challenges will result in fragmented undefined ideas. Creativity and constraints are very closely linked. Whatever domain of research you have, the more specific you are with your problems the better.

3. Failures are the most valuable form of success

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed,” Edison once said. “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward”. Don’t be discouraged if an idea that you took through your innovation process doesn’t get funded. You have to accept a certain level of risk, if an idea fails to get funded, take the time to learn from your mistakes and feed these back into your process.

4. Invest in the right equipment and materials to test your innovations

Innovation is linked to experimentation, concepts such as the ‘lean startup’ urge teams to create minimum viable products and then keep adjusting the product based on feedback. Ensure that you are equipped to rapidly prototype ideas, then test your ideas and validate them to prove that they can work. The Wright brothers flew kites and built wind tunnels, while others tried to build a complete aeroplane and risked their lives testing them. Give your innovators the materials to build kites and experiment as they innovate.

5. Expecting impacts without assigning the right resources

Innovation is hard work, and many startup companies fail and this is with dedicated teams working around the clock. You need to dedicate the right resources to your innovation strategy; this means the right people given the enough time to be creative. If you don’t allow the right people the time and resources to develop innovation, they are doomed to failure.

6. Developing innovative ideas is a long term investment

You need to commit to a Horizon 2020 innovation strategy over a number of years before you may see a potential return. Unless financial budgets are committed for a number of budget cycles, you won’t have the right future resources in place to drive disruption.

The final challenge facing you is recognizing that innovation strategies must evolve. Strategies must be tested against the realities of the world that you live in. Just as companies develop products to react to market forces, your innovation strategy needs to react to remain competitive. Regularly review what is working and what isn’t and adapt your process.

Becoming one of the 14% of people that are winning under Horizon 2020 takes a focused strategic approach

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