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Innovation can be described as the result of the creative process of turning an idea into an outcome that creates value for people. Innovation tends to be customer-focused, providing a new product or a new way of doing things that adds value to our lives. The innovation process is the term used to describe the steps involved in taking an idea to adoption or market.

There is a common misconception that the innovation process is linear, and it is sometimes represented as a simplistic input/output model. In reality, the innovation process often includes many iterations, interactions and influences. As a result, the term ‘innovation ecosystem’ is increasingly used to reflect the complex network of people, organisations, institutions, government policy and regulations that support and promote innovation.

Innovation ecosystem is a conceptual analogy that is used to help illustrate how innovation actually occurs. The purpose of this article is not to critique the appropriateness of an ecological analogy but to give an overview of the term and describe the main components of an innovation ecosystem in the context of The FOODBOWL.

An ecological ecosystem

In ecology, an ecosystem is a community of interdependent organisms and the physical and chemical environment they live in. An ecosystem may be as large as a forest or as small as a puddle.

The biotic or living components can be categorised as producers, consumers and decomposers. Examples of abiotic or non-living components include light, soil type and temperature.

Factors in the wider environment that may influence ecosystem functioning include fire, disease and climate. In general, ecosystems with low biodiversity are more vulnerable to changes or external factors than ecosystems with high biodiversity.

Components of an innovation ecosystem

As with ecological ecosystems, innovation ecosystems can be small scale or large scale. For example, The FOODBOWL is an innovation ecosystem that also fits within the larger innovation ecosystem of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network.

As with an ecological ecosystem, the components of an innovation ecosystem are interdependent and commonly interact at different levels.

Human resources (the biotic or living components)

Successful innovation requires a diverse range of people with different expertise and skill sets such as scientists, technologists, lawyers and marketers. For example, at The FOODBOWL, there are specialised staff to help clients with the different stages of product development including food safety, equipment use and export. In addition, The FOODBOWL clients all come with their own particular skills and experience.

Physical resources (the abiotic or non-living components)

Physical resources that play a role in the innovation process include equipment, ingredients, communication technologies and the physical spaces available to work or operate in. The FOODBOWL has seven multipurpose food production suites available for client use. The suites contain high-tech equipment such as a high-pressure processing machine, freeze dryer and twin-screw extruder. Other key physical resources include the many different specialised ingredients and packing solutions that are required for food safety and export.

The wider environment

There are many external factors that influence innovation ecosystems. At a local level, these can include mentoring programmes and local council regulations or bylaws. National government policy can also influence the success of innovation ecosystems through funding programmes, tax incentives and the establishment of agencies like Callaghan Innovation in New Zealand. For example, Callaghan Innovation (in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development), fund The FOODBOWL. Clients pay to use The FOODBOWL facilities, but these costs are subsidised by the external funding sources.

Innovation ecosystem example

The FOODBOWL is an example of an innovation ecosystem. This video story explores how The FOODBOWL supports food companies to develop new product ideas, scale-up production and create new market opportunities. It highlights the different components that make up the ecosystem including staff and physical resources.

Useful link

Visit the Callaghan Innovation website to learn more about how they support innovation and commercialisation in New Zealand.

    Published 27 June 2014 Referencing Hub articles