From idea to innovation – how to be an effective innovator?

Though there is a wide gap between having an idea and implementing the innovation it carries, the innovations are the real driving force behind economic development. An effective innovator is able to link technological mastership with openness to challenges, courage to meet what is unknown and readiness to cooperate with others.


Innovations and competitiveness of companies

Technological innovations, understood mostly as new products, new production methods or new work management methods, can strongly influence the competitiveness of companies. Efficiency growth leads to productivity growth, affecting positively the competitiveness of companies, which is essential nowadays. Innovations enable companies to improve the quality of products and services, decrease production or provision costs, rationalize production, lower energy and material consumption, enrich product offering and put their products or services on new markets1. In order to trade effectively a company, should constantly seek for new solutions. Innovations allow for strengthening its position on the current market or increasing its competitiveness on the new market. Striving for profit maximization and operating costs minimization, the company naturally becomes an innovator – a subject, which commercializes new technology and implements innovative idea on practical terms.


Managing technologies in company

In the case of the knowledge-based economy, the applied technologies are decisive factors in terms of advantage and goodwill of the company (the competition between Microsoft and Apple is a good example). That is why understanding technological development path and wise technology management are the key aspects for companies’ progress. Taking into account the latter aspect, what matter the most are the life cycle of technology and its competitive force. The curve of technology life cycle, also called the potential of technology, reflects the shape of “S” letter, which means that in the initial stage of “life” it requires some improvements, whereas in the final stage it reaches the maximum of its effectiveness. Being well familiarized with the life cycle of technology allows entrepreneurs to replace old technology with the new one in the most suitable moment.

Competitive force means the influence of particular technology on reaching competitive advantage. Being aware of competitive effectiveness of individual technologies allows entrepreneurs for setting priorities in terms of increasing and strengthening them. It should be managed, of course, with particular focus on strategies and objectives shared by the company. Depending on competitive force, technologies can be categorized as follow:

  • Base technologies – they are basic and widely used technologies, which are essential for the company operating, but rather ineffective when it comes to building company advantage on the market.
  • Key technologies –allow entrepreneurs to reach the competitive advantage.
  • Setting-pace technologies – they are progressive technologies, which are in their initial development stage, but have chances of replacing key technologies and, at the same time, increasing the company’s competitiveness.
  • Emerging technologies – are the technologies, which usefulness has not been proved yet, however, after refining them, they have chances of changing competition rules in particular business2.


Technology Transfer

Under conditions of fierce competition, growing consumers’ needs and shorter life cycle of products and technologies, companies need to constantly seek for innovations and implement new solutions. New technologies may come from internal sources (therefore, they can be produced in research and development units operating on the premises of a company), external sources (in this case companies use technologies developed by separated units) or mixed sources (both from internal and external sources). When acquiring technology from external sources, technology transfer may reflect the vertical or horizontal form. Horizontal technology transfer takes place between companies and means, among others, sale of patents, licenses and the “know-how”, undertaking joint actions and industrial cooperation. Vertical technology transfer means, above all, acquiring knowledge on public R&D sector, including purchasing inventions, patents, licenses and utility models as well as assigning contract research. It is worth mentioning that technology transfer covers not only the most common forms and innovation media such as publications (open knowledge media), patents and licenses (protected knowledge media), but also various courses, trainings and trade fairs (formalized channels of diffusion of innovations), mergers and acquisitions, informal contacts with clients or the purchase of innovative machines and devices3.

Technology transfer is also a much more complicated process than typical commercial exchange. On one hand, technology supplier is a monopolist but, on the other hand, what is the subject of the exchange are new solutions, which effectiveness cannot be precisely predicted. Technology transfer makes competitive position building easier, however, the process can be successful only when it is effectively implemented in business practice. The task is complicated and innovators have to pass it. 

According to the team led by Prof. Krzysztof Santarek, technology transfer process consists of 5 stages:

Generation of ideas and preselection of projects are stages which are the response to situation, when technology effectiveness can satisfy market needs. These first two stages of technology transfer process lead to identification of commercial potential of innovation or new technology. Incubation stage involves the definition of product and determining its specification as well as validation of technology effectiveness in terms of market needs. Incubation should also embrace demonstrating, at least in laboratory conditions, the most characteristic product features, and creating business plan with the information about business risk and the ways of limiting such risk. The last two stages are promotion and implementation of solutions having defined and confirmed value with the support of innovation and business centres.

On each stage of technology transfer process various tools are applied:

  • generation of ideas – survey, brainstorming and Delphy method;
  • preselection of projects – sector analysis, scenario analysis, Pareto analysis and methods of evaluating technology;
  • incubation – sector analysis, market alliances analysis, scenario analysis, technological capabilities analysis and methods of evaluating technology;
  • promotion – technological capabilities analysis and market alliances analysis;
  • implementation – technological capabilities analysis and market alliances analysis.

Apart from the above tools, in technology transfer process different types of work are distinguished:

  • Basic research – theoretical and experimental research, which does not aim at direct, practical use;
  • Applied research – unlike basic research, they aim at gaining knowledge and skills concerning particular use;
  • Development works – works which aim at developing new goods, processes and services during which already gained knowledge is applied;
  • Industrial research – research which is targeted at gaining particular type of knowledge and which is to be used in particular processes of production or providing services;
  • Pre-competitive research – works aiming at implementing the results of industrial research into new project;
  • Prototyping –works focused on building prototype, i.e. experimental module, in order to verify all theoretical assumptions regarding the product;
  • Implementation works – works focused on effective implementation of particular technological solution into business practice, including e.g. creating complete technical documentation and launching production process;

Financial support for innovators

Technology transfer process is costly, therefore innovator has to decide whether they are able to finance the process from their own funds or they need external financing. The decision on financing technology transfer from own funds depends upon the maturity of technology and the difficulty level of its implementation.

If technology is mature and its difficulty level of implementation is low, it is easier for company to finance technology transfer from its own funds. The two aforementioned factors are critical when it comes to deciding whether to choose external financing, debt financing (bank loan, loan from loan fund, leasing) or equity financing (grants from the EU or other international institutions and organisations structural funds, venture capital). It is generally accepted that when technology maturity level is low, innovator should seek for public support (grant from the EU or equity funds) or special private support (from so called business angels). When technology maturity level is medium-high or high and the difficulty level of implementing technology is relatively low, a company should take a loan or a bank credit. However, in case of medium or high technology maturity level and medium or high difficulty level of implementation, the best solution is technological credit or venture capital, seed capital funds or corporative venture capital7.


Non-financial support for innovators

When conducting technology transfer process, innovators often benefit from the specialised support from technology transfer centers and technology brokers operating within their structures. The centers’ main role is to help with raising capital for implementation of innovative undertakings, seeking business and technology partners and developing business activity by entering foreign markets. Technology brokers perform also an additional function, which is crucial when it comes to relations between the technology owner and the investor where the matter of trust always appears. Technology owner cannot reveal any details about technology which have not been commercialised or sold yet. The investor, on the other hand, does not want to buy a proverbial pig in a poke. That is why technology brokers become so important – they guarantee safe and reliable process conducting as well as objective analysis of technology value and reliability of business partners.

Along with technology commercialisation, many entrepreneurs want to enter global markets. There are some international organisations which would help in achieving the objective e.g. European Platform for Technology Transfer, which is the part of the European Green Technology Alliance – international platform for technological and business cooperation (associating over 300 companies and business support institutions from all over Europe). European Platform for Technology Transfer supports all technology transfer areas thanks to specialised business environment institutions operating in all European countries and the cooperation network operating on other continents.


Let’s talk about future

In global economy there are innovations, which warrant the success of single companies and entire economies. Poland is a country which role rapidly evolves both on the European and global markets, being considered the supplier of cheap labor in the 1990s and the source of highly skilled human capital in business services sector in the last decade. Our country is at a threshold of enabling its potential in terms of developing technological ideas and generating innovative technologies. There is a clear evidence that Poland is becoming a crucial technological player on global markets as Polish inventions are recognized by respected international investors and conquer global markets.

Why is that? Have we become more innovative because the genius dawned on us? Well, no. Poland’s accession to the European Union simply enabled international knowledge transfer processes, which granted Polish scientists, engineers and makers access to great global know-how and taught them how to benefit from cooperation and contacts and use them for commercialising their own solutions. Thanks to various forms of the knowledge transfer, we do not have to duplicate existing ideas, but focus on our inventions, which have access to capital and modern methods of commercialisation.

Source: Green Economy

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