In recent decades, new ideas about innovation have been established that refer to the need to extend processes that provide value, through new products and services. The traditional model was that of hermetic systems with little participation between them, in which agreements were regarded with suspicion and the fear of disloyalty had more influence than opportunities to collaborate. In contrast, the established model in the twenty-first century is one of collaborative innovation, in which the agents of the system (companies, universities, technology centers, public research bodies, science parks and clusters, among others) join forces to develop more ambitious, more complex competitive projects, in which capabilities are combined and the value is multiplied. Â
Innovation is complex, but in many cases the mid- and long-term future of companies is dependent on its success. It is costly, because investments in innovation require highly qualified staff and expensive equipment that can only be handled and optimized by people with special skills. It is a long-term endeavor, as time is needed to produce reliable, tested results. And it is uncertain because the nature of the process means that it does not always culminate in success.
With these characteristics, it could be thought that innovation is exclusively for large corporations who can create, manage and fund their own R&D departments. Fortunately, this is not the case.
All organizations need to improve constantly to develop new products, provide better services, and organize their production and distribution processes more efficiently. To achieve this, they increasingly resort to partners such as technology centers, which are organized around Fedit in Spain and around EARTO at European level.
By collaborating with technology centers, companies can commission tailor-made projects, designed to meet their specific needs. They benefit from the knowledge and experience of the expert, qualified staff, and gain access to equipment and facilities that they could not afford on their own.
In the case of organizations such as the Universidad Politécnica de Catalunya’s Technology Center (CIT UPC), which brings together eighteen of the UPC’s leading research and knowledge transfer centers and more than 370 researchers, the offering is multidisciplinary and draws on the knowledge and results generated in university research. Consequently, such organizations can tackle complex technological challenges using cross-cutting approaches in which the various technologies are complementary.
Companies come to technology centers with diverse needs, such as the analysis or design of new materials, the improvement of existing devices, the development of new devices, changes in the use of equipment with which they work, and tests for specific products or parts of them in special situations. They wish to improve what they do in a reliable, personalized, safe and economically appropriate way.
Many more examples could be given than we can imagine. They include solutions for start-ups in their initial stages, for SMEs that want to grow and take on new challenges, and for consortiums of several companies that join together to tackle projects of great importance.
In addition to the benefits of an alliance of this kind, which are limited to specific actions, are advantages related to the fact that such a relationship extends beyond the short-term. Some of the most important of these advantages are:
- Access to technological knowledge that differentiates.
- Formation of preferential relationships with national and international networks that are experts in innovation and priority participation in calls for proposals for publicly funded research.
- Improvement in the image and innovative profile of the brand.
- Response to the need for social and ethical commitment, through corporate social responsibility programs.
Another advantage is tax relief. For example, there are corporation tax deductions on R&D activities, up to a maximum of 25% of spending on external collaborations, such as those with technology centers.
In this complex situation, and through the opportunity to collaborate with leading technology partners, the process can be summed up in the wisdom of an African proverb, which perfectly fits the philosophy and values of collaborative innovation: â€œIf you want to arrive quickly, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk in a group.â€