In recent years, corporates have increasingly adjusted their innovation process to current trends in open and collaborative innovation. Today’s innovation process has moved away from the closed doors of Research and Development (R&D) units to become more and more open to external contributions. Through open innovation, corporates involve customers, partners, and external innovators to co-create new products and services. Open innovation helps to accelerate the innovation process, leverage skills unavailable in the company, and generate insights from different perspectives.
The opportunity: Innovate faster, leverage diverse skills, generate new insights
Corporate hackathons are one method for open innovation, during which external actors engage with complex innovation problems in a limited timeframe that typically varies between 24 and 48 hours. They help companies to explore and experiment with the open innovation process with a lower commitment compared to longer-term methods, such as corporate accelerators and innovation labs. Originated in software development, corporate hackathons are more and more interdisciplinary. The InnoDays are a non-technical corporate hackathon format that involves students and young professionals with diverse backgrounds to tackle pressing innovation challenges.
Despite the benefits of open innovation, there are challenges. Balancing openness and exclusivity requires a profound reflection on how to frame an effective innovation challenge and how to support external innovators throughout the event. In this case study, we present the experience of Julius Blum GmbH at the InnoDays Rheintal 2018 to provide insights on how companies can leverage corporate hackathons to kickstart their open innovation process.
Blum Case Study
Company partner: Julius Blum GmbH
Event: InnoDays Rheintal 2018
Outcomes: 17 participants generated four prototypes
Julius Blum GmbH is an innovative furniture fittings manufacturer from Hoechst, Austria. Blum is a family-owned company that operates worldwide, specializing in the manufacture and distribution of furniture fittings. Its main product groups are lift, hinge, and pull-out systems for furniture, predominantly in kitchens. Worldwide clients include furniture manufacturers and authorized dealers. Blum has roughly 7,600 employees all over the world today. The fittings manufacturer operates seven plants in Vorarlberg, which all have state-of-the-art workplaces and high-tech production facilities, production sites in Poland, Brazil, and the USA, and 30 subsidiaries and representative offices. The company supplies more than 120 markets around the world.
Blum’s excellence is the result of a traditional way of innovating, that leverages the technical expertise accumulated in over 60 years of operations. When we approached Blum regarding the opportunity to join the InnoDays, many questions surfaced. How to protect the company’s intellectual property, yet support the participants? How to frame an appealing challenge? How to leverage the skills and new perspectives of young talent? These questions are common to several companies considering to join hackathons as the first move towards a more open approach to innovation.
Martin Staudinger — Marketing Product Requirement Researcher at Blum — reflects on the decision to join the InnoDays: “We are a very traditional company; therefore, the InnoDays were a completely new experience for us.” Blum mitigated the concerns about intellectual property by choosing a challenge that did not involve high technical knowledge. Specifically, they asked: How might we design and enhance the functionality of a future proof waste management system for the household and the kitchen?
“It was a challenge everybody could relate to.”
“It was a challenge everybody could relate to”— observes Martin — “Instead of looking for a technical solution, we focused on generating use-cases that could later inspire technical solutions.” The importance of the challenge to curb waste and generate positive environmental impact inspired four teams of young participants with different backgrounds, including design, engineering, and business. “The most surprising thing was to see one team starting from an idea, talking to customers, and deciding on how to create a prototype with Legos in only 48 hours,” notes Martin. Moreover, the event generated learnings for the whole company relative to the importance to engage with end-users and visualize ideas through rapid prototyping. The four InnoDays projects were showcased internally to Blum’s research department and to the leadership team. When asked to advice companies who are considering joining the InnoDays, Martin answered: “Just to do it”. The hackathon opened up a window on different ways to innovate with external talent.
One year after InnoDays, Blum joined InnoSchool — a three months open innovation program involving interdisciplinary teams of internal and external participants. Find out more about InnoDays and InnoSchool on our websites.