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VirgleOpen-preneurs are those who create ventures that work very closely alongside established corporations to the benefit of both. While the open-preneurs set up entirely separate ventures, they gain great benefit from working with an organization of greater substance.

The spoof to the left might have suggested a joint-venture, but what we are talking about is a partnership between un-equals. Imagine a hot-shot creative product design boutique setting up in business next door to an old established component maker. Picture what synergy might flow from casual encounters between young people in both firms.

The relationship is mutually beneficial for the startup and the established business, through intellectual, if not contractual partnership. The two-way traffic will be an inspirations and possibly service in both directions. It could also involve subcontracting and other collaboration.

The community of interest may look lopsided between David and Goliath, but remember the winner in that story. Procter & Gamble have a Connect + Develop program and more than 50 percent of product initiatives at Procter & Gamble involve significant collaboration with outside innovators. IBM, awarded, as almost every year, the biggest number of patents in 2010 (5,896) made hundreds of patents available on an open source basis

Jams: Open Brainstorming

In a world where innovation is global, multidisciplinary and open, you need to bring different minds and different perspectives together to discover new solutions to long-standing problems. Therein lies the essence of collaborative innovation.

IBM’s Jams and other Web 2.0 collaborative mediums are opening up tremendous possibilities for collaborative innovation — ways of working across industries, disciplines, and national borders– for out-preneurs.

Since 2001, IBM has used jams to involve its more than 300,000 employees around the world in far-reaching exploration and problem-solving. ValuesJam in 2003 gave IBM’s workforce the opportunity to redefine the core IBM values for the first time in nearly 100 years. During IBM’s 2006 Innovation JamTM – the largest IBM online brainstorming session ever held–IBM brought together more than 150,000 people from 104 countries and 67 companies. As a result, 10 new IBM businesses were launched with seed investment totaling $100 million.

Jams are not restricted to business. Their methods, tools and technology can also be applied to social issues. In 2005, over three days, the Government of Canada, UN-HABITAT and IBM hosted Habitat Jam. Tens of thousands of participants – from urban specialists, to government leaders, to residents from cities around the world – discussed issues of urban sustainability. Their ideas shaped the agenda for the UN World Urban Forum, held in June 2006. People from 158 countries registered for the jam and shared their ideas for action to improve the environment, health, safety and quality of life in the world’s burgeoning cities.

Open Innovation

Pfizer makes opportunities available to minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs), women-owned business enterprises (WBEs) and small businesses through it’s Supplier Diversity Program, a variant of helping small business become out-preneurs. Now that is of course for procurement, but with them, as many other corporates, you are likely to find open ears to ideas that you may have. BMW is one of hundreds of companies treading the open innovation route. The have established their Virtual Innovation Agency.

Even Hershey is open to open innovation. Hershey’s Idea Works are interested in hearing ideas on new products, packaging, and technology that will help them deliver the future. Ford runs a crowdsourcing innovation platform that attracts thousands of ideas every month on which the crowd–you can vote.

The GE Ecomagination Challenge takes a different approach. It is a $200 million innovation experiment where businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators and students share their best ideas on how to build the next-generation power grid–and just might get funded.  GE teamed up with some of the best-known venture capital firms, including Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, KPCB and Rockport Capital, to help back the most promising ideas.

Go where you will

Stefasn Lindegaard’s 15inno site is a great source of companies and open innovation platforms. He helps innovation leaders with their challenges and issues through peer-to-peer networking groups and learning sessions.

My advice is that whatever your business idea, an alternative to going alone is likely to be some kind of partnership. Openpreneuring has no limits and you should take a look at likely and unlikely firms with whom you could profitably work, whether they have an open innovation program or not.

PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

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