The Metro Atlanta Chamber has partnered with NineSigma Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio-based company to launch an “online marketplace” to help local companies pursue innovations that will increase their productivity.
The marketplace enables companies to broadcast their needs to a wide array of inventors, entrepreneurs, designers and research labs around the world in the development of new goods and services.
In announcing the partnership, Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the chamber, said that the collaboration would increase the capacity of local companies to produce new ideas, technologies, products and processes.
The online marketplace is being managed by NineSigma, which developed the applications for the open innovation platform, through the site NineSights.com where “solution seekers and providers connect.”
The origin of the open innovation concept can be traced back to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Soon after the Sputnik launch, the Soviets fired off an intercontinental ballistic missile adding further security concerns.
U.S. officials were stunned realizing that the country could be the victim of technological surprises over which they had no control.
Their answer was what is now called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), created to spur investments into breakthrough technologies to assure national security.
Since its creation in 1958, DARPA has been responsible for many of the technologies that have transformed modern life including: the Internet, automated voice recognition. language translation software and Global Positioning System receivers.
Mehran Mehregany, one of the preeminent engineers of microsystems technology and an entrepreneur who has founded and managed a number of technology startups including NineSigma, saw the opportunity to apply the government’s experience with DARPA to the private sector.
Hence the creation of NineSigma in 2000 with the purpose of broadcasting corporate needs for technological innovations to remain competitive in challenging global markets.
Andreas M. Zynga, NineSigma’s CEO, told Global Atlanta during an interview at the company’s Cleveland headquarters that the concept of “open innovation” was relatively unknown at the time of its founding.
“We had to explain how open innovation can accelerate the innovation cycle,” he said. “But when we started out, people didn’t know what open innovation was about.”
The publication in 2003 of the book, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology,” by then-Harvard Business School professor Henry Chesbrough helped by providing the explanation.
But even though the need of explaining the concept of bringing together global expertise to solve an immediate problem became more widely accepted, the challenge of “how to do it” remained considerable, Mr. Zynga said.
“That’s where we come in,” he added. “It’s a simple concept but it’s difficult in execution. We take the pain out for our clients.”
He credited A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble’s chairman, CEO and president, with first experimenting with the open innovation process prompted by the ballooning of his costs for research and development.
“I have 8,500 researchers,” Mr. Lafley would say, according to Mr. Zynga, “But there are 1.5 million people busy in these domains. I’d like to have them all working for me.”
NineSigma began running searches over the Internet to match companies seeking innovative solutions from a wide spectrum of solution providers.
“There are pockets of innovation everywhere,” he said, adding that solutions are as likely to come from abroad as they are from across the street.
Mr. Zynga provided several specific examples:
“We had a client who wanted to reduce wrinkles in a shirt when they come out of the drier, and we found a professor in Indiana who was doing integrated circuit research and had developed a polymer that when sprayed on cotton relaxed it.”
As another example, he cited the automobile company that wanted a sensor for oil viscosity. The solution this time came from the dairy industry in the Ukraine.
And there was the South African global pulp and paper company that wanted to develop a technology that would allow fresh produce to be shipped over long distances while maintaining their freshness and flavor.
The goal of the project was to identify a packaging technology that could extend the shelf life of the produce and create less waste.
NineSigma attracted proposals from Asia, Europe and North America and the client then entered into discussions with six of the identified groups before entering into a deal with a Canadian smart-polymer company.
The company now has 75 employees with 40 in Cleveland and the remainder in Europe, Japan, South Korea and India, and has conducted 3,000 searches for clients and developed 40,000 proposals. The company also is opening an Atlanta office.
It has developed its databases since 2000 with clients increasingly turning to it for recommended solutions because they can take a product to market faster. Its global solution provider network now numbers more than 2 million scientists and entrepreneurial innovators.
“For instance, if I’m a brewer and my marketing department tells me I have to have a label that changes color when the beer has the right temperature for drinking,” he said, a company might be able to develop the capability in-house, but by turning to NineSigma it’s apt to happen a lot faster.
Mr. Zynga described a four step process whereby the staff fields questions from the client breaking down industry jargon, helps find a solution through its network of experts including Nobel prize winners, then develops a problem statement and turns the results to a help desk.
While the NineSigma’s early clients were primarily large multinationals, he said that there is increased interest from small- to medium-sized firms and that local economic development agencies are realizing the benefit of open innovation as a development tool.
The state of Ohio has supported the effort to increase its competitiveness by subsidizing the cost of local companies’ open innovation searches conducted through NineSigma’s platforms.
Mr. Zynga said that 35 small- to mid-sized companies have worked with NineSigma to date with an expected increase in revenue of $350 million and 175 new jobs within three to five years.
Ms. Moddelmog cited the economic development aspect for the Metro Atlanta region as an important reason for developing the partnership with NineSigma.
“We want to work collaboratively to increase Atlanta’s innovation capacity and the region’s ability to produce new ideas, technologies, products and processes,” she said in her announcement of the partnership.
To learn more about the chamber’s partnership with NineSigma, call Jennifer Sherer, vice president, innovation and entrepreneurship, at (404) 586-8546 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org