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What is an Ecosystem of Innovation, and How Do You Initiate and Foster it?

September 18, 2015 by Sam Yen 3

This two-part question takes me to South Korea. South Korean President Park Geun-hye met with SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner in September 2014 at the Blue House, South Korea’s executive mansion. The discussion centered around SAP technologies, some of which are built in South Korea, and the Stanford d.school for which Hasso provided the founding grant and where I was a fellow (2014-2015).

President Park wanted to learn more about what was happening at the d.school and how a similar institute might be developed in South Korea.

The request wasn’t entirely out of the blue, considering President Park has  launched the “creative economy” initiative, which places creativity at the heart of the nation’s economic agenda. The “creative economy” goes beyond industry and education; it also stands to help South Korean companies act on their expressed desire to innovate better.

So, Hasso and President Park agreed, during their meeting in September, to open an innovation center in Seoul similar to the SAP AppHaus — a project I have been driving in collaboration with the d.school. The AppHaus is a space dedicated to fostering creative agency and where multidisciplinary teams gather to create new products. There are now a number of locations around the world, including Heidelberg, Germany and Palo Alto, California.

I went with my team to South Korea in December 2014, a few months after Hasso’s visit, to learn more about the creative economy and the work SAP and the South Korean government are doing to move the initiative forward. My visit, in addition to being a remarkable learning experience, was a clear sign of SAP’s commitment to make a design and co-innovation center a reality in Seoul. My team and I attended a number of high-level meetings, including with the Mayor of Seoul, Park Won-Soon. We also met with members of the national assembly, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning as well as high-level executives of established and start-up companies.

The creation of a design and co-innovation center in Seoul stands to achieve multiple goals. On the one hand, it provides an opportunity to transfer design thinking and innovation knowledge to not only companies, but to government and the public sector in an experiential way. It can also serve as a place for academics — students and professors alike — to learn about design thinking and grow their creative confidence.

But let’s get back to the underlying question: What is an ecosystem of innovation and how do you initiate and foster it?

It’s worth noting that I have been wrestling with this question for some time, and that I am not alone. Just about everyone is trying to create their own ecosystem of innovation on some level — whether it’s in their personal lives, their companies or in local organizations.

Even my work as a d.school fellow was centered on this burning question. My original project goal was to create an ecosystem of innovation for private industry. But my experience, including my visit to South Korea, has shown that such an ecosystem can be much larger, incorporating multiple stakeholders from academia and government to business and non-profits.

My understanding of what it takes to start and foster an ecosystem of innovation continues to evolve, which leads me to offer up a simple answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this piece: keep an eye on South Korea and the work SAP is doing there.

South Korea is in the process of creating an ecosystem of innovation on a much larger scale than I have previously encountered. There’s much to be learned from the work they are undertaking. That said, realizing the creative economy will take patience, but SAP is committed to helping, and we’re well underway.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Photo: Shutterstock

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