This article summarises a presentation from a conference hosted at Edith Cowan University: Networks in Changing Business Ecosystems – 3rd International Symposium, Perth, Western Australia. The presentation focused on cases and practice, including a tentative synthesis of twelve dimensions of incubation facilitation.
The questions and challenges the presentation addressed include:
- What are ‘good’ conditions for incubation and growth of innovations?
- What are innovation networks and ecosystems ‘for’?
- What are key functional relationships within innovation ecosystems?
- How does incubation, functions and roles differ between ecosystems?
- How to use this knowledge to harmonise the conditions for innovation?
The key insight is that networks to support innovation have different purposes, audiences and dynamics. For any network entity within a broader ecosystem, understanding the differences may help harmonise activities with other entities, to maximise the benefits for the individual ventures who are the whole ecosystem’s common focus. The metaphor is comparing random motion within a system, to motion organised as a wave to create momentum.
The presentation opened with some discussion of previous papers and introducing what is meant by incubation, facilitation, and propagation as per a previous post. The distinction was also drawn between different ‘systems’ to be considered in the topic ontological (perceptions and concepts), economic (value exchanges amongst commercial entities), and social systems (human relationships).
This background helped discuss what is the ‘good’ of incubating innovations and what networks are for. Hierarchical, dependent and networked types of relationships all have a role to play within, amongst and for innovative ventures. The different types of networks and relationships were discussed in the case of Pollinators Inc in Geraldton. Detail was provided of the situation and Pollinators formation, and the the following aspects discussed:
- Role (difference) – the role Pollinators play, distinct from other organisations and networks e.g. local government, chamber of commerce,
- Diet (independence) – the resources it attracted, services it sold and value it created and relative importance of its financial independence,
- Grace (coherence) – the way in which innovation played a role in every aspect of Pollinators, using lean and experimental approaches e.g. for developing new services and coworking space design.
The second set of cases were looking at the next ‘level’ of abstraction in ‘innovation ecosystems’, that is the statewide network of innovation hubs (Meshpoints) and peak advocacy group for Startups (StartupWA). These organisations both emerged from local, specific networks and organisations (like Pollinators), and their existence also enables the growth of more local networks and organisations. So they have complementary roles to, say Pollinators, and some similarities, but also differences in roles and functions within the ecosystem.
Some context was provided about the histories, roles and current situations of those organisations, then three principles discussed with illustrative examples:
- Orientations (attention) – the different ways in which entities relate, say for example what relationships they have to ‘members’,
- Focus (direction) – the effective influence entities exert, so the ‘direction’ in which they move the ecosystem,
- Resultants (co-actions) – the combined effect of these entities and those with whom they interact (e.g. local, state and national governments) on the ecosystem.
The third case was looking at the whole of the Western Australia innovation ecosystem. The WA innovation ecosystem was introduced with some history, some comparison to other jurisdictions (e.g. New South Wales, United States, Mongolia), and giving a sense of the relationship to other layers of networks like Pollinators, Meshpoints and StartupWA.
The principles discussed through case studies included:
- Strength (capabilities) – what WA as an innovation ecosystem is very good at e.g. efficient extraction from remote locations
- Motivation (drivers) – the reasons for doing things and doing them in particular in WA e.g. a relatively ‘inwards’ focus on the benefits of innovation
- Tone (qualities) – characteristic communication and perception throughout the ecosystem e.g. the sense of isolation as a specific fear and limitation.
The concluding section of the presentation and discussion was to discuss:
- The fundamental differences between the ‘networks’ and same ‘ecosystem’ when looked at through these different cases,
- The dynamics of the relationships between these networks and whether they are healthy and beneficial for innovations,
- The potential to be deliberate in ‘harmonising’ the contribution of each type and level of network, within an ecosystem,
- From a policy perspective the different types of activities to enable growth, health and harmony within an ecosystem, including e.g. interventions, incentives.
The metaphor used to compare the alternative to harmonisation was comparing Brownian motion of random interactions amongst entities (e.g. each itself a network) compared to intentional, directional cycling of entities within a wave that generates momentum for the ventures and innovation it’s for. See below for visualisations.
Finally, as foreshadowed, the synthesis of twelve considerations for discerning the conditions beneficial of growing innovations were presented.