Open Innovation: collaboration pitfalls and success factors

by Francois Gilles - Digilab Manager Benelux
| minute read


Open Innovation, the practice of sourcing ideas from both external and internal sources, has become very popular in recent years. However, this new approach to innovation doesn’t come without its fair share of risks and challenges. Here are four pitfalls to avoid and just as many success factors to consider when stepping into the Open Innovation arena.


Last year, working with market research firm Ipsos and top graduate business school INSEAD, Sopra Steria carried out a comprehensive survey of some 1,648 startups and corporate organisations, both public and private, from 10 European countries, to evaluate how the Open Innovation trend was evolving across the continent. The results showed that corporate–startup collaborations, which were a niche activity for a long time, have now broken into the mainstream.


Avoiding collaboration pitfalls

Sharing knowledge and information about your challenges and looking to people outside your business for solutions and suggestions – that’s what Open Innovation basically boils down to. Unsurprisingly, this level of close collaboration comes with it’s own set of pitfalls or challenges. Here’s a quick look at the top four collaboration challenges most often cited in our survey last year:


1. Legal and regulatory constraints (14%)

Compliance demands from large corporations can easily overwhelm small start-ups. The same applies to security and privacy requirements, which may seem essential to corporations, which often employ large legal teams.


2. Low risk tolerance (13.7%)

The different growth stages of startups and corporates is a key factor in their different approaches to risk. Established corporations, which often have shareholders to keep happy, are routinely risk-averse. Startups, on the other hand, are willing to take risks and test their businesses as they seek their place in the market. That’s precisely why Open Innovation is thriving – it allows corporations to test out new ideas in a controlled environment.


3. Lack of strategic focus from top management (12.1%)

A lack of strategic prioritisation can lead to failure for multiple reasons, from an unwillingness to commit sufficient resources and capital to the collaboration to poor assignment of responsibility. To minimise this risk, you need to ensure that the collaboration is strategically important and that there is the right level of accountability and, in particular, leadership across the organisation.


4. Cultural differences (11.5%)

The often conflicting working and communication styles of corporations and start-ups need to be managed with a high level of awareness, including planned routines for onboarding and cultural alignment. Transparency is the key to mitigating risk.



Use the keys to success

No Yin without Yang! In our Open Innovation Report 2023, we also managed to identify four key factors that contribute to successful collaboration:


1. Strategic prioritisation

Prioritisation of Open Innovation at the highest level will ensure the right support and accountability for the project, improving its chances of success.


2. Dedicated responsibility and leadership involvement

Creating a dedicated business unit to work with startups has a powerful impact on success. With a clear line of internal accountability, the staff assigned to that dedicated unit serve as internal ambassadors, preserving the link between core business needs and innovation outcomes.


3. Building open innovation capabilities

Many corporations lack experience in setting up collaboration models. Build out your Open Innovation resources to create an ever-growing database of best practices, processes and learnings so that your collaboration systems are always improving.


4. Engaging a third-party expert for support

Don’t expect to be an expert from the get-go. And don’t be afraid to seek support from an experienced third-party intermediary to help turn your collaboration ambitions into a reality. According to our data, more than two-thirds (67%) of corporations who hired a third party achieved their objectives all or most of the time, compared with only half (51%) of the corporations who didn’t use external support.


Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes! When starting a collaboration, being aware of the likely challenges can help you manage them and reduce their impact, especially if you bring in a third party intermediary who understands the way both organisations operate and can facilitate the relationship.



As an external expert in Open Innovation, we offer a wide range of services, including pre-vetting of startups, matchmaking, expectation alignment and contract negotiation. You can also count on us to support your cultural alignment, establish your processes, build your collaboration structure, and ensure proper reporting and evaluation. Don’t hesitate to contact me or my colleagues for a no-obligation consultation.