A couple of weeks back I had gone to Sao Paulo, Brazil to give the keynote address at an innovation conference organized by the Harvard Business Review (here is a link to the video of my talk). While in Brazil, I had a chance to discuss with the conference attendees (who were managers in a wide range of organizations—from the likes of P&G and Fiat to small tech ventures to nonprofits and government agencies) about the state of innovation and its practice in Brazil.
One of the key insights that I got from my discussions was how the lack of well-developed external innovation infrastructure (particularly, innovation intermediaries) may be dampening the flow of innovative ideas and technologies in Brazil. Clearly, the pace of innovation in Brazil has increased considerably in the last 5-6 years or so. There are more and more innovative ideas being generated - both within organizations as well as by independent inventors. And, more broadly, there is much greater extent of participation (by people from all walks of life) in innovation initiatives (the Fiat Mio project is an excellent example of this). At the same time, it is also becoming evident that many of the innovative ideas coming from independent inventors are not getting transformed into new products and services. What is holding back many of these innovations?
I believe a key factor is the lack of a mature innovation infrastructure that could help transform ill-developed but innovative ideas from independent inventors into promising products and services. In particular, there is a paucity of innovation intermediaries such as the innovation capitalist who can play a valuable role in identifying promising ideas and making the right connections with companies so that those ideas find a home within existing organizations. True, intermediaries such as Innocentive operate on a global basis and cater to the Brazilian market too. But that is no substitute for more local or regional innovation intermediaries – who would have a better understanding of the Brazilian marketplace and the network connections with companies large and small. In fact, this is an issue that is relevant in some of the other emerging markets too, particularly in India.
While there has been considerable democratization of innovation in countries such as Brazil and India, the institutional infrastructure (read: intermediaries) needed to shepherd the process of innovation often lacks maturity (or is missing) and as a result many of the truly innovative ideas do not see the light of the day. The true scope and the extent of innovation in the emerging markets will be realized only when such institutional voids are filled in the innovation marketplace.