Open Alps: Cross-National Innovation Support for SME in the Alp Region

OpenaplsA little while ago I posted about the Top Technology Cluster (TTC) project, an initiative to foster and fund open innovation in amongst SME and partners in the greater Euregio Meuse-Rheine region (where my home university Aachen is placed). Their goal is to promote (consortial) cooperation between SME from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

PartnersA comparable yet larger project is Open Alps. The program, part of the "European Territorial Cooperation" initiative, is organized and conducted by nine partners from Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. The goal is to support SMEs in their innovation processes with external partners, and to promote the establishment of such cross-border cooperation in the first place.

Much like with the TTC, international linking is the key aspect here. While the famous term of globalization does still mainly apply to large, multinational companies, SME can especially profit from cooperations with partners, large and small, from neighbouring countries, both in one-on-one and larger consortial dimensions.

Unfortunately, there are the usual barriers one has to face when considering to extend business across the border. Open innovation can help to overcome these barriers, especially in regards to the outside-in approach, enabling SMEs to get in touch upon one broadcasting a problem that another can solve.

Open Alps is heading off to support such ventures with a threefold approach. Besides efforts to spread the word of OI, making actors on the market aware of the existance of the approach and its benefits, the program is working on the establishment of so called Open Innovation Labs in all participating areas.

These will then focus on region-specific topics and markets in order to inform and incubate exemplaric cooperations that can be role-models for other SME and get the stone rolling, so to say.

Furthermore (and especially interesting to monitor from a scientist's point of view) there will be special online platform soon, which will support the initiative's goals through active broadcast search and idea contests. This way, hopefully, SME's (and possibly additional larger companies') need information will be matched with solutions from other SME in the region.

It will be interesting to follow the development of this European Union-funded program. Preparing working packages are mostly completed by now from what I hear, and within the next months, labs and online platform will be established and opened for interested companies.

When time comes, we will take a closer look at the platform and its capabilities. Until then, Open Alps informs about all news and launches on their official project website.

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.