A new business insight provided by Roger La Salle, innovation thought leader and pioneer of “Matrix Thinking”™

“Innovating” the Innovators

Innovation is certainly flavor of the month, if not the decade, but a question worth exploring is whether or not the conventional approach to innovation can itself be innovated?

Traditional tools ask you to find different ways to think about things. For example, use of the open question such as “what if” about a product or service? Whilst this may be an interesting way to stretch the imagination, it really fails to address the real issue which is the “why” of the “what if”?

Another common approach asks people what annoys or frustrates them and how resolving this may lead to breakthrough thinking.

Whilst these methods have great merit they don’t address the real question of how people interface with products and services. This surely has to be a good starting point and that comes down to observation. This is the real secret.

For example, the realization that a force called gravity existed was not an innovation but a discovery. It was the use people made of this observation, the opportunity if you like, that lead to innovations.

So too the principles of buoyancy, thrust, sound, heat, magnetism, light and the like, you name it!

All of these were discoveries, not innovations or inventions, but they opened the door to innovations in ships, submarines, aircraft, acoustics, navigation, flight and many more. The list of innovations resulting from discoveries, or perhaps of observations, is endless.

The secret that conventional approaches to innovation overlook is that of discovery, or as we refer to it “Opportunity Capture”, for without an opportunity there is little scope for innovation.

A better approach is to first explore the “opportunity horizon” and to look for areas of human interface with the products and services we use and with that in mind use one of the techniques we have developed known as “tracking”. This tool is fundamental to the art of “Opportunity Capture”. Indeed there are 36 trigger questions in the “Opportunity Matrix”.

In business, nothing happens until you sell something.

With innovation, nothing happens without first an opportunity.

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The European Patent Office announced this month that the long-awaited EU patent will be launched this year and that the court responsible for enforcing the Unitary Patent would be ready to operate by 1 December. The Unified Patent court is essential for the new system and must be ratified by at least 13 member states, including Germany, France and Britain who share the court’s split seat.

So far, 12 countries have completed the ratification process, with signatures still required from Germany and the UK. Berlin is expected to conclude the ratification process before the summer, while the UK has committed to conclude the process despite the activitation of Article 50. The UK’s membership of the unitary patent could be short-lived. However, EPO President, Benoît Battistelli, is “convinced” that a solution can be found “to make the unitary patent continue to be valid within the UK, even in the case of ‘hard Brexit’ and no direct access to the single market”.

It is predicted that the number of patent applications will increase after the unitary patent comes into force, especially from SMEs, as it will be easier and cheaper for smaller companies to apply for an EU-wide patent. Against this background, the EPO announced that there was an “unprecedented surge” in the volume of patents granted in 2016, from 68 419 to 95 940, representing a 40.2% increase.

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TII held its 2017 annual meeting on 23-24 March in the western Finnish city of Vaasa, better known as home to the highest concentration of businesses in the energy sector in the whole country. To celebrate this fact and to raise its visibility to the outside world as an energy cluster, the city organises an annual Energy Week consisting of a varied programme of company matchmaking and investment fora to a solar and wind energy exhibition, expert seminars and panel discussions.

This was the backcloth to TII’s own annual meeting which was billed this year as an “Innovation Dialogue”, offering a more informal conference setting for exchanging expert views and experience on the chosen topics under this year’s banner of “Energize, Commercialize, Internationalize”. The venue at the Barn at Bock’s Brewery was certainly conducive to a lively exchange of views, which was kicked off by the owner and multiple entrepreneur Sture Udd.

He gave a no-holds-barred presentation of the world’s energy needs to 2030 and the challenges in store, also for the energy cluster in Vaasa. Bearing in mind that the emerging countries alone would have a spending power of €100 trillion by 2030 and that China’s middle class was pushing the country’s conversion to electric vehicles, it was impossible for energy companies to ignore the pull of going international.

TII member Tauno Kekäle, Rector of Vaasa University of Applied Sciences, made another scene-setting introduction to the energy sector strengths of Vaasa which already claimed 38% of the country’s energy-related jobs. (Out of an estimated population of 57 000, Vaasa boasts 11 000 engineers and 1 000 students!) He highlighted the growing collaboration between local energy companies and research organizations, which had been stimulated, amongst other things, by the govenment’s initiative to create funding schemes which promoted new research-based businesses.

After coffee (definitely a strong feature of Finnish culture) the programme continued with three consecutive 40-minute dialogues with the audience, led by Peter Mogyorosi (LC Innoconsult Internationl, Hungary) on research commercialization challenges, Andrew Buckley (RTC North, UK) on diversification and cross-sector collaboration and Akash Bhavsar (Skyquest Technology Group, India) on the internationalization of technology transfer. This format gave the audience ample opportunity to voice their own ideas and professional concerns and get feedback from international colleagues.

In the afternoon, the format became a little more technical with presentations on “IP in business” by Peter Mogyorosi and “Putting a price to technology” by Gosse Hiemstra (Van der Meer & van Tilburg, NL).  In the first part of the session, a discussion focused on the question of “why patent?” and an extension to other forms of IP protection while the issue of “who owns a patent in collaborative research?” drew a number of interesting views and personal anecdotes.  In the second part, Gosse Hiemstra presented a 5-step approach to valuating a new technology as well as a couple of cases so that the audience could discuss about the optimal valuation model to choose – cost-based vs. market-based vs. income-based.

The last part of the day’s formal programme entailed a move to the Festival Hall in Vaasa where the Energy Spin investment forum was taking place. After the announcement of the top 30 most promising energy startups in Europe, compiled in collaboration with the Vaasa Entrepreneurship Society, the audience was invited to listen to the pitches of 10 start-up companies from the Finnish energy sector to a panel of investors. The technologies involved ranged from an energy-saving app to a revolutionary sodium battery.  The day ended with some serious networking and a joint dinner among participants from the TII Innovation Dialogue and the Vaasa Energy Spin Forum at Bock’s Brewery.



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TII President, Bruno Woeran, currently EU Affairs Manager at Merinova (energy cluster centre) in Vaasa, was re-elected at the TII Board meeting on 24 March for another 2-year term. Bruno looks foward to accompanying the association in its transition to a web-based hub of commercialization experts and services.

At the AGM which took place the same day, three new members were welcomed to the TII Board of Management. They are Marta Catarino, Director of TecMinho, University of Minho, Portugal, Anas Al Natsheh, Director of CEMIS, University of Kajaani, Finland and Benoit Rivollet, Partner at Benoit Rivollet Conseil, France. Maggie Gorse, Director of Verlion, Singapore was elected for a second 2-year term, while outgoing Board members Akash Bhavsar, Skyquest Technology Group, India, Peter Mogyorosi, LC Innoconsult International, Hungary and Juha Vätäänen, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland were all elected to the Jury d’honneur.

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Often criticised as a source of unfair treatment for some of the EU28’s researchers, the Commission has recently adjusted the salary concept in the H2020 Model Grant Agreement. According to a new, broader definition, some of the top-up bonuses that researchers previously received as additional remuneration will now be treated as part of their basic salary, to the level that they would receive when working on nationally-funded projects.

Before this change, Horizon 2020 provisions had some unintended side effects on researchers in some countries with a low basic salary, whose pay in nationally funded projects is improved with larger bonuses.  The new measures will apply retroactively to all on-going Horizon 2020 grants.


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The four winners of the 2017 EU Prize for Women Innovators were announced at a ceremony at the European Parliament in Brussels on 8 March, International Women’s Day. They received their prizes from Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, and Mairead McGuinness, Vice-President of the European Parliament.

The winners are:

1st Prize (€100,000): Michela Magas, of Croatian/British nationality, founder of Stromatolite, Design Innovation Labs in Sweden and UK, building a new generation of incubation and creative technology toolkits for innovation. [Watch video]

2nd Prize (€50,000): Petra Wadström from Sweden, founder of Solvatten, which produces a portable water purifier and water heater that are powered by solar energy. [Watch video]

3rd Prize (€30,000): Claudia Gärtner from Germany, founder of microfluidic ChipShop, which provides “lab-on-a-chip” systems as miniaturized solutions for better diagnostics. [Watch video]

Rising Innovator 2017 (€20,000): Kristina Tsvetanova from Bulgaria, who is CEO and co-founder of the Austrian company, BLITAB Technology, has produced the first tablet for blind users, called BLITAB. [Watch video]


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Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research Science and Innovation, has launched the competition for the iCapital first prize of €1 000 000, which will go to the city that has most successfully experimented with new and innovative citizen-driven initiatives proving itself as a ‘test-bed’ for potential solutions to relevant societal challenges.

The contest is open to cities:

  • which have over 100 000 inhabitants (in countries where there is no city with more than 100 000 inhabitants, the largest city is eligible to apply)
  • from a EU Member State or a country associated to Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme.

Applications close on 21 June 2017 at 17.00 (Brussels time) and the winner will  be announced in November 2017.  Barcelona won the first edition of the prize in 2014 and Amsterdam in 2016. Three cash prizes will be awarded for the best city initiatives creating the right environment to innovate:

  • The European Capital of Innovation 2017 – € 1 000 000
  • First runner-up – €100 000
  • Second runner-up – €100 000

An application guide can be found at

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