I have now had the opportunity to participate in many Open Innovation (OI) conferences, and I have heard a lot about (and from) the big players. You know the companies that I’m talking about: P&G, General Mills, Shell, etc.

After attending the Marcus Evans Group’s 7th Annual OI Summit held in Philadelphia, PA from April 15 to 17, 2013, I was delighted to see the evolution currently happening in the OI stratosphere. I was privy to a few surprises in the lineup from non-traditional players in the OI space, making this dynamic open innovations platform technologically enticing.

Warner Brothers

The first organization that caught me by surprise was Warner Brothers, and a presentation led by Ethan Applen, executive director of technology and business strategy. I know what you are thinking, “Warner Brothers is looking at crowdsourcing as a means to write content.” That is not exactly the case here — although wouldn’t it be fun to see a show that was written by the crowd?

Warner Brothers is a fully integrated company, and strives to provide customers with the highest quality entertainment experience. Not only do they produce content, but they also have the proper methodology to distribute it to the masses. With the rise of On-Demand entertainment, it is essential to reach a larger audience with more content options. This is where technology development and a need for external resources come into play. 

Warner Brothers understands that a lot of new technology is coming from small companies without a lot of backing — or worse, without a greater understanding of the business side. Striving to educate these smaller entities on how egregious spending leads to plummeting ROI figures is what Warner does with striking accuracy.

Big Opportunities for Small Businesses

In recognizing this trend among single inventors or micro businesses, Warner Brothers ascertained that without suitable support or backing, these truly creative ideas and potentially plausible technologies will never receive their “fair shake” at doing something great. Today’s small business owner realizes the dilemma that is associated with limited resources, no matter how impactful the technology.

The company decided to create a platform for small inventors to submit ideas called Media Camp. Once ideas or early stage technology is submitted and accepted, the innovators get to participate in a 12-week camp with a small angel fund to see where the technology could possibly end up.

The basic idea behind Media Camp is that it will be a comprehensive accelerator program that educates entrepreneurs, yet equivocally enables them to build innovative media businesses regardless of funding shortfalls. This allows Warner Brothers to help guide the technology, as well as the individual, thereby creating an exciting win-win atmosphere. This approach to OI is still in its early stages, but we may be able to see its successful launch soon.

Under Armour Loves OI

Another presentation that I found most fascinating and engaging was given by Jason Berns, director of open innovation at Under Armour (UA). I have written about Bern and UA before, yet this time their presentation was more focused on how they engage with other OI providers. What I found most interesting was the way in which they treat their OI providers. As someone who works for a small company that provides the execution and technical capabilities to the OI platforms, I always find this to be most fascinating aspect of OI — perhaps a rendition of how David and Goliath could get along throughout the technological long haul. Under Armour’s approach is an open policy regarding expectations, as well as rewards, for OI providers.

UA has a candid approach to roundtable conversations. They sit down and talk about a technology’s strengths and weaknesses; ponder the potential length of time-to-market (which can be excruciatingly long for small companies); and they have heart-to-heart conversations to explain the contract without legal brouhaha involved in order to make sure that the OI provider understands how to proceed and what is expected.

The company is always a great example of innovation as a whole. UA began with an idea, a need and pure hunger to be the best, and it has become the ultimate American success story.

The Marcus Evans OI Conference was enlightening, with plenty of time allotted for ongoing conversations on OI best practices. Sometimes, the most useful part of a conference is the one-on-one impromptu sessions to learn from each other’s failures and successes. After all, the ability to get away from the office and learn from one another is Open Innovation exemplified ... isn’t it?

To learn more about the Marcus Even OI event, visit the Marcus Evans Conferences website.