One of the aspects of open innovation that makes it fun to work in is that it is, in practice, boundary-less. When we get a brief to find start-ups in the fintech sector, in ultrasound or cosmetics our clients never say ‘but only in our part of the world’. Many companies believe that they have exhausted local possibilities and are opening up their horizons. This was brought home to me recently on a trip to Xi’an in Southern China. I was speaking at the Xi’an International Entrepreneurship conference to a packed house of about 1,000 people.
It turns out there are 200 accelerators in the city (one of the 13 emerging megacities in the world with a population of 12m) and 70 universities and colleges. The Chinese are serious about entrepreneurship and are investing much public money into growing start-ups by the hundred. Who knew? This vivacity, combined with the various development zones that are springing up around this still historic city, makes it a perfect place for open innovation to thrive. All the ingredients are in place, including many western companies, for a powerful suits and sneakers network to emerge.
And yet the Chinese local authorities and businesses are not just looking locally for partners and suppliers. They impressed upon me that they are very keen to develop more global trade links and supply chains, particularly with the UK. This echoes the feeling we got in the Greater Bay area during our Smart Cities Mission for Innovate UK last year. We are certainly going to be building up a better database of Chinese start-ups for our Innovation Radar service. So the world just got a little smaller.