Survival of the fittest: Is coopetition the saviour of innovation? #15 #cong17

By Sinead Hewson.



Collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results.

Origin: 1980s: from cooperative + competition.




Make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.

‘the company's failure to diversify and innovate competitively’


Introduce (something new, especially a product)

‘we continue to innovate new products’

Origin: Mid 16th century: from Latin innovat- ‘renewed, altered’, from the verb innovare, from in- ‘into’ + novare ‘make new’ (from novus ‘new’).

I work with entrepreneurs and owners of IP in the biotech and technology sectors. One of the biggest challenges they face is how to increase the momentum on their innovative idea and how to scale up once initial funding has been used. Over the years I have met a significant number of experts (who are not necessarily natural entrepreneurs) with brilliant ideas struggling to thrive past the start-up phase.

The point I want to make is that development and initial realisation of an idea is not enough for innovators to succeed. In the beginning, working in silos with brilliant, innovative technologies works well (to a point), however in order to get beyond the ideation phase and to cut through and or disrupt the market, working with competitors (i.e with a complimentary, capability, idea or IP)  is a must.

When competitors come together to solve a problem and fill a market need, magic happens. The fittest, operate as high performing teams, They survive, they profit, they thrive and the cycle continues. Egos are left at the door, mind-set shifts to ‘what would happen if we could? And practical leverage of ideas flow.

Centres of excellence in science and biotech parks are all very well in helping share resources and specialist equipment to drive innovation – BUT in order to succeed, a co-opetition (collaborative) way of working where key players come together to solve a common problem gets the job done. It is both an effective and practical way to bring businesses to the next level. They  work together as a high performing team and focus on revenue generation.

My view – for innovators to succeed, co-opetition combined with a high performing team mind-set where communication is at  the core of how the team operates is essential to move from competing ideas to product (or service) realisation and change the way the market operates.  This can include co-optition partnerships with business, institutions and government bodies. It challenges the way we operate and stretches us beyond our normal scope of work.

The main barriers for success include trust (lack of it), misaligned expectations, inability to listen to a competitors perspective, the cost and effort involved in the ideation phase and (in the case of many start-ups) inexperience in how to leverage the best out of business relationships with potential to generate revenue in the short term. In many situations I have experienced, I would also include alpha-male behaviour traits, petty politics and power plays.

The use of formal and informal ways to connect and build professional and personal relationships are invaluable. Focusing on the opportunity, curiosity and understanding group dynamics allows competitors (who can see a market opportunity but cannot capitalise on it alone) work together and mutually benefit from exploring the possibilities of forming some type of alliance to realise an opportunity to help their businesses grow.

In the case of co-opetition based projects, the following characteristics are a must for success: 

  1. Trust (expectations, ownership, resolution processes)
  2. Communicate (expectations & ways of working)
  3. Be open to challenge and change
  4. Commit to invest and act with aligned expectations

Looking forward to your input at #congregation 2017

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie