Scouting emerging technologies and sharing the results within the organization can boost open innovation and catalyze sustainability.

Tech scouting (also called innovation scouting) is the identification of emerging technologies, assessing opportunities for partnership, co-development, licencing, or acquisition. To maximize benefits from tech scouting, a Harvard Business Review article has highlighted some useful approaches.

To add further regional insights into tech scouting, DigiconAsia interviewed the Head of Innovation and Technology, IPI — a subsidiary of government agency Enterprise Singapore — Dr Sze Tiam Lim, on open innovation, filling technology gaps, and out-licensing none-core concerns.

DigiconAsia: How do companies in Asia look for the right technologies to help them expedite or transform their innovation processes? 

Dr. Sze Tiam Lim, Head, Innovation and Technology, IPI

Sze Tiam Lim (STL): Instead of the “how”, because that is rather technical, I think it is worthwhile firstly to introduce technology roadmapping to support organizations in their business and innovation transformation journey. Technology roadmapping is understanding the external and internal drivers that influence a business. External drivers could be market trends, customer insights or regulations; while internal drivers include wanting to refresh old to new products, staying competitive, productivity, among others.

Knowing these external and internal drivers could help a company envisage how they would like to position their business, as well as produce or enhance their products and services to increase market share.

After deciding on the products or services that they want to develop, companies can then begin to identify technology gaps that need to fill in order to deliver these products or services. There is a differentiation between technologies that the company will want to develop in-house versus technologies that that they need to source externally to accelerate internal innovation.

Once they begin to search for these external technologies, technology scouting comes into play. Technology scouting involving scanning and assessing relevant technologies to address one’s development gaps. Sources include universities, start-ups, the venture capital community, or third-party data sources such as patents or market reports. 

It is essential to point out that not every company has dedicated resources to scout for essential technologies, this is where agencies such as IPI can assist through platforms and services supported by a multidisciplinary team of innovation and technology managers.

DigiconAsia: What is open innovation all about?

STL: Open innovation is the purposeful flow of ideas into a company to accelerate internal innovation. It also includes outflows of ideas and technologies to expand markets for the external use of innovation.

DigiconAsia: What are some companies doing with existing emerging technologies for open innovation? 

STL: Companies should take a deliberate step to review their technology portfolio and categorize them as addressing core or non-core concerns to their existing products or businesses. For technologies that are non-core to their products and business, they have an option to out-licence them for external innovation to take place.

IPI worked with a few companies that have developed their technologies to extract collagen from marine waste. This can be used for medical and personal care applications, as well as health food and beverage products. This creates additional value from by-products that are otherwise disposed of and supports sustainability.

DigiconAsia: How can organizations build a culture of innovation, and develop the relevant skillsets among its employees?

STL: Businesses can start by encouraging a culture that is open to external ideas. Management has an important role to initiate cultural change through leading by example and allowing this change to happen from a top-down approach. They must support this change and the risks that come along with open innovation in order to drive tangible outcomes.

Companies can then take steps to first understand and identify internal needs and gaps, then proceed to work with external partners to fill these opportunity gaps. This can include reaching out to their network, universities, research organizations as well as innovation catalysts like IPI that have access to a global network of technology and innovation partners.

DigiconAsia: If organizations in the region do not know how or where to begin, who can they turn to for help?

STL: They can approach IPI to support them in tech scouting. We have curated over 600 technologies in our Innovation Marketplace and these technologies come from universities, research institutes, start-ups and small- and medium-sized enterprise—both local and from abroad. We have curated over 100 tech experts to assist with technology translation, clinical trials and product development.

For example, IPI has been consulted by companies and organizations seeking technologies to address sustainability issues; expertise to automate agriculture production; waste treatment and valorization; as well as point-of-care diagnostics for infectious diseases, among other use cases.