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Exploradio: Ohio invests in open innovation
A Beachwood company pairs businesses in need of innovation with an international network of solution providers
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Open innovation means looking outside your company's domain for solutions to novel technology needs. It's a process the state of Ohio is facilitating with grants to a Beachwood-based technology search company.
Courtesy of NineSigma
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Innovation can happen in a flash, in mythical light-bulb moments.  But more often it takes time, effort, and resources for companies that need to make changes quickly. 

Ohio’s Third Frontier program recently granted $2 million to a Beachwood-based company to help pick up the speed of business innovation in Ohio.

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair talks to NineSigma's Andy Zynga about the process of ‘open’ innovation.

Exploradio: Andy Zynga on open innvation

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Open Innovation explained
Zynga says open innovation helps companies get around production road-blocks.  It's a process where searches for solutions take place outside the company, and often outside their main domain of business.  NineSigma has a team of around 15 scientists, engineers, and Ph.D's who craft a clear question that summarizes the problem at hand.  The question is phrased in a way that it guards against intellectual property concerns of the company, but also sparks interest in a network of solution providers.  

NineSigma International CEO Andy Zynga lists approximately 2 million contacts in their portfolio of problem solvers, with satellite offices in seven countries.

Outside the local comfort zone
The 'open' part of open innovation is that nearly all the solutions are already in the public domain.  The 'open' call for proposals from solution providers pairs companies with a set of possible answers to technology and process problems that 'in-house' searches might have missed.

Zynga says open innovations broadens that search, facilitates the filtering process, and helps negotiate exchanges of information.  Often the end product of an open innnovation search is a proof-of-concept design proposal, fast-tracked R&D project, or simply added expert knowledge that was otherwise unobtainable.

Ohio invests in innovation
In July, 2012 Ohio's Third Frontier program awarded $2,097,563 to NineSigma, and $1,767,100 to yet2.com, Inc., based in to Needham, Mass., with the promise that yet2.com will open an office in Ohio.  The awards were part of $8 million set aside for the Ohio Dept. of Development's Open Innovation Initiative.  Third Frontier's overall allocations in the 2012 fiscal year were around $60 million out of a potential pool of $190 million in money set aside for grants.

Help for midsize businesses
NineSigma will spend its $2 million in grant money to reach midsize businesses in Ohio and spread the word about open innovation.  The program plans to engage 40 companies this year and another 80 next year in varying levels of assistance.  The state grant money essentially pays half the fee of a technology search for those midsize companies that contract with NineSigma.    
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