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A small population can be both a strength or a weakness when it comes to innovation

A small population can be both a strength or a weakness when it comes to innovation

Innovation Centres – Part 2 by Rikus Grobler of Namibia Innovation Solutions

I am on the subject of Innovation Centres, currently a hot topic in the innovation space. Previously I looked at the “why” and “how” of Innovation Centres, and in this delivery I want to argue the case whether these “structures” will make sense in the Namibian context.

Just to recap, Innovation Centres comprise teams of people and often physical sites, with the goal of leveraging the ecosystem of start-ups, venture capital, accelerators, vendors, and academic institutions. Innovation Centres offer a range of benefits, as discussed in the previous article.

Innovation Centres for Namibia

I am the first person to admit that innovation is a daunting challenge in a corporate environment. This is the reality organisations have been facing for many reasons and which I have discussed in length over the course of four years of writing this column. From a practical perspective, I am always on the hunt for ways through which organisations in Namibia could excel at innovation.

The concept of the Innovation Centre has certainly intrigued me. I will not say it is the innovation silver bullet, but it does hold some great potential. There are four broad categories of Innovation Centres namely: In-house Innovation Labs, University Residences, Community Anchors, and Innovation Outposts. Each of these models differ in their goal and the amount of investment required, and I briefly want to give a summary of each category.

In-house Innovation Labs – As the innovation engines for their companies, these centres perform all innovation activities from inception to prototyping using an in-house approach. Given this in-house focus, these centres are typically large in size, with a lot of staff.

University Residence – In this model, companies invest to set up a centre at a university campus to drive innovation through university researchers.

Community Anchor – These innovation centres actively identify mentors and provide opportunities to start-ups to work closely with the company to test the start-up’s products. The start-ups also gain from mentoring and the availability of mature processes to test their innovations.

Innovation Outpost – Innovation outposts are small teams that are based in technology hubs, like Silicon Valley in the USA.

We certainly have unique challenges and opportunities in Namibia as opposed to other countries and economies, but in my view, each of these models holds potential to some extent in the Namibian context.

When confronted with any “international” model or approach for something in Namibia, my first response is always that we have a very small population, and my second response is that this can be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it.

Over the course of the past six years, I have certainly seen greater effort on a national level to promote “domestic” innovation, including efforts by the government, investment entities, educational institutions, regional bodies and specific entities created to promote innovation.

Yes, there is certainly room for improvement, however, can corporate Namibia contribute more to these efforts and in doing so strengthen their own innovation capabilities?

My answer is 100% yes. I appeal to local organisations to provide me with examples of the following: Collaboration with NUST or UNAM research facilities to drive innovation efforts; Efforts to establish an in-house innovation lab; or co-operation with local entrepreneurs to launch start-ups in a specific industry or sector.

Let us start to share these stories of promising examples of Namibian Innovation Centres and become an international innovation force to be reckoned with!

Next Time
On the issue of new trends in innovation, another trend which I have noticed is the use of social media in organisations for idea generation and -collaboration. Social media has certainly infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives and society have become accustomed to using this medium, so next time I will look at the use and impact of social media on organisation’s innovation efforts.

I conclude with a quote from Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success”.



About The Author

Rikus Grobler

Dr Rikus Grobler is a Namibian academic, inventor, entrepreneur, public speaker, and business consultant who specializes in the development of the innovation capability of companies and individuals. He holds degrees in Engineering and Law and has an MBA and a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and he has also completed studies in design thinking and intellectual property management. An experienced professional with a background in manufacturing, information technology, tertiary education, research, consulting, and financial services, Dr. Grobler has been involved in innovation management for the past ten years and currently holds the position of Manager: Innovation for the Capricorn Group in Namibia. He is particularly interested in creativity, innovation, and invention.