Open Innovation From A Practitioner's Perspective


Innovation is Alive and Well in Colombia

I’m a native of Bogota, Colombia but have spent the vast majority of my life in the US.  I always thank my mom and dad for keeping the culture (and language) alive while growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. I owe so much to them!

I’ve always bragged about Colombia’s excellent exports (coffee, flowers, music, dancing) while constantly enduring the still-lingering negative image that Colombia has in the states (I’m sick of the Pablo Escobar and cocaine jokes – no mas!!).

During my time spent in Boston (2001- 2006) I came across many talented, well-educated Colombians who were living there and pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at what it seemed like every university in the area. These new friendships gave me a great opportunity to visit my home country and I was able to do so several times. I hadn’t been there since the early ’80s and it was a great experience to reacquaint myself with that great country and it’s people.

And I saw many excellent examples of innovation in the civic and social sectors. The two that come to mind are the Transmillenio (here and here) and Ciclovia. I currently live in San Francisco and the SF Sunday Streets Program was directly inspired by Colombia. I can think of a few US cities (Houston, LA) that should adopt the Transmillenio model for public transportation.

Fast forward to August of this year and I found myself again in Colombia, this time in Medellin (for the first time) and as a member of the University of San Francisco School of Business – Silicon Valley Immersion Program. We were conducting a series of workshops with CREAME, a Medellin-based organization that is nurturing the entrepreneur and investor community in Medellin.

In our workshop we ran a series of lectures (and one class project) focused on growing your startup, business model innovation, open innovation and managing confidentiality / IP. I can’t put into words how impressed I was with the quality of entrepreneurs, consultants and investors that I met. I learned as much from them as they (hopefully) learned from us. We gave them almost three days of intense lectures culminating in a project where groups of 6-7 students worked with real entrepreneurs with real startups and were asked to provide them with strategies on open innovation, confidentiality / IP, marketing your startup (Crossing the Chasm) and we even had them propose a new business model for each startup! The entrepreneurs were very appreciative of the quality of advice they received and the students really demonstrated a strong understanding of what was taught. I also came across a great blog written by one of the students.

I also met several people working at EAFIT University, a major university in Medellin which has a great innovation program led by Jorge Mesa.

One tip should you ever visit Colombia: be sure to enjoy the wonderful food, the great people and the incredible Juan Valdez Coffee (just remember – they don’t do coffee to go in Colombia, you need to sit down and enjoy it on the spot!):

Thank you to everyone I met and I look forward to my return trip!


Filed under: general, leaders, Uncategorized

Kudos to CureTogether

I have been meaning to write about an interesting site called CureTogether. I first heard about them a few months ago and have been following them ever since. It’s a great idea, and feels similar to PatientsLikeMe, with a few notable exceptions – Patients Like Me sells it’s data (anonymized) to pharma companies. Members of the community are aware of this and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea. Money doesn’t grow on trees and unless one of them is the spouse of a famous entrrepreneur, the optons are few. The other notable exception is CureTogether is really trying to rally the global open science community. I get the impression that it’s not just about collecting patient data (which is impressive) but they also wrote what they call the Open Source Health Research Plan.

I like the plan. A lot. They cover many important points and the goal is a noble one. I have a few suggestions to the plan. Minor ones, but here goes:

1) Encourage pre-competitive AND open collaboration, whether you are a pharma company, insurance provider, hospital chain, device manufacturer, etc. This strategy is absolutely critical to sustaining innovation in a cost-effective manner. Here’s another blog post I read recently that talks about open innovation & big pharma. I agree with every point the author makes. Another example of pre-competitive collaboration is the Innovation Learning Network. And don’t think big pharma isn’t thinking about doing this themselves. Novartis and Eli Lilly both have developed open strategies around data sharing and scientific collaboration. Small steps, but steps nonetheless. And finally, Steve Friend left Merck to start Sage Bionetworks, an open source drug discovery company.

2) The community at Cure Together should not be limited to people with diseases. I personally am not affected by any major disease but feel I can still contribute to the community. And maybe I will be affected someday but that shouldn’t be a criteria for acceptance within the community. Finally, I want to be a part of this and almost feel unwanted since I don’t have a particular illness. Maybe the community is open to everyone, if so it should be made more clear.

3) Encourage the experts in the community to identify the major challenges to curing these diseases. Yes, I understand that some of the diseases referenced in Cure Together are incurable, so it’s not fair to say “our challenge is curing endometriosis”. Break it down into smaller chunks that non-biologists can understand and maybe you’ll get an answer, similar to the solver who answered several ALS-related questions posted on And guess what, the community itself can begin to defragment these grand challenges! Just give them the tools.

In summary, I wholeheartedly applaud Cure Together and am hoping they achieve great success!!!

Filed under: leaders, , ,

Mary Meeker Web 2.0 Presentation

It touches on innovation and is loaded with solid  facts and figures on the economy and some tech markets.

As I wrote earlier, these difficult times are good opportunities to crowdsource innovation and spread the financial risk of innovating.
I also like her point that in these difficult economic times, customers need value more than ever and those business models that are well equipped to fulfill their promise of value creation will thrive.

Filed under: leaders, Uncategorized, ,

Alph Bingham Presentation on Open Innovation

From a recent presentation made at a CITRIS meeting at UC-Berkeley (an organization that seems to attract great speakers), Dr Alph Bingham gives his update on open innovation. I consider Alph a great mentor who taught me a lot on this subject during my time at InnoCentive (which he co-founded with Aaron Schacht).

As ususal, a great talk and worth viewing.

One of his best slides talks about the unquantified benefits of open innovation:

* spot capacity for innovation

* risk distribution (financial and technical)

* diversity of ideas, solutions, points of view around a given problem

I’ve seen these benefits many times, and would add a fourth: new insights around how ask the right question.

Filed under: leaders, ,

Google’s Project 10 to the 100

All in all, I think it’s a good idea. They presented a very simple framework for what they are looking for and how to submit your idea. I’m a little worried about how the finalists are chosen (why not open it up to the general public to vote?), and it’s not clear at all what they will do with the idea (other than fund it). Maybe they could take an approach similar to the Vine Project (which I talk about in a earlier blog) and open up the finalists to a round of open submissions where there’s another open call for people to contribute ideas to help those finalists reach the next round. The other interesting thing is that this project is not about a specific challenge (such as the Lunar X-Prize) but rather a call to identify those problems (and solutions) that can change the world.

I submitted an idea to the project website.

Filed under: community, leaders, Uncategorized,