Playing the Open Innovation game

Since my job title is 'Lead Open Innovation', I frequently have to explain what I do and what we want to achieve with our Open Innovation activities at Rabobank. And the truth is: there’s not just one Open Innovation approach because it depends on the experience, industry, maturity and need of the organization. In this blog, I will explain how and why we conduct Open Innovation activities as part of our overall innovation process.

Max Kranendijk
Max Kranendijk
Lead Open Innovation
3 minutes
April 4, 2022

Open Innovation

In short, Open Innovation means you don’t run (all) your innovations only within your own organization but work together with other companies, innovators, universities and other relevant stakeholders to jointly come up with new products, services, and other (incremental) innovations

At Rabobank, our business lines have their own innovation teams working on about 60 internal innovation projects focused on so called ‘H2 and H3 innovations’.

[Gert Hans Berghuis explained earlier in his blog how we run our Innovation funnel at Rabobank]

As Open Innovation department we help these innovation teams with making the right decision for their solution between build, buy, partner, or a combination. But what is right? We define this by examining what’s happening outside of Rabobank that is relevant to the innovation initiative; from new technologies, market trends and potential partners to new legislation.

Illustration of open innovation activities
Open Innovation Activities. Illustration by Bram Baarslag.

Our hunger for partnerships

Financial companies were, and are, known for building many innovations themselves. To set ourselves apart, we are striving to engage with a partner in 50% of all projects as part of the overall innovation process. This could take the shape of a small pilot to validate a specific feature or offering in a certain segment, or even of a full solution. It’s not only a learning opportunity for our innovation teams, but also for the partners to figure out if there is a match with us or our customers.

Our main responsibilities

With our Open Innovation activities, we help our innovation teams with several services which we separate into two main categories with two defined roles:

  1. Providing market insights and scouting of partners, competitors, and other relevant stakeholders in their field. In this way, we try to provide them with a better understanding of the ecosystem in which they operate. These activities are done by our Open Innovation Analysts. We make use of our scouting databases, research skills, and networks including dedicated help from (Open Innovation) partners
  2. Secondly, shape and accelerate partnerships with external parties that have solutions that help to build or accelerate our innovations. These Open Innovation consultants act as facilitators between our innovation team and the partner, often a start-up or scale-up offering a specific solution.
Illustration of the open innovation menu
Open Innovation Menu. Illustration by Bram Baarslag and Lucia Tramutola.

In both categories, it’s important to understand the corporate strategy, processes and culture on the one hand, and the world of start-ups on the other hand. Moreover, we need to be able to provide consultancy advice to our colleagues, partners and stakeholders. Especially in shaping and running partnerships, we must know what’s feasible and realistic in a certain timeframe and that’s why we need a broad understanding of how corporates function and how start-ups think and want to work.

To smoothen this flirting and relationship building we create and adjust a lot of internal governance steps, such as partner pilot approval processes and predefined pilot flavours to become one of the most start-up-friendly banks to innovate with. Of course, not all partnerships lead to the desired outcome. Hence, it’s important to be clear and transparent about each one’s desired outcome and how we both would like to continue.

Open Innovation is maturing

Around 10 to 8 years ago a lot of start-ups were very eager to pitch for corporates, hoping (and expecting) to get business. Nowadays, start-ups are more selective because they are aware of corporate long sales trajectories due to complex approval processes which costs them precious time. As Open Innovation players, it’s our role to smoothen this and repair the image that corporates are slow. Of course, we are slower than start-ups but we do everything in our power to speed up Open Innovation partnerships and to strive for ‘speed to pilot’ and ‘speed of learning’.

Open to connect

As explained in this blog, the Open Innovation department predominantly exists to service our innovation teams with outside-in knowledge. In addition, we act as a bridge for start-ups, scale-ups, and other innovators that want to work together with us. You can reach out to us via a special open innovation portal (read more about how we organize that here).

To conclude, the open innovation game never gets boring. All players are changing in terms of innovation trends and processes and therefore the matchmaking also changes over time. You need to evolve to become and stay relevant as a proper Open Innovation partner.

We support and challenge our internal teams with outside developments. Therefore, within Open Innovation we must be hungry to follow, explore and wonder what is happing in the world from new technologies, market trends until new legislation.

Feel free to reach out to me or work together with us!

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About the author

Max Kranendijk
Max Kranendijk
Lead Open Innovation
Max has a background in Business Engineering and Innovation Management and 10 years of experience with start-up – corporate partnerships. He’s on a mission to make Rabobank the 'go-to' bank for Innovation partnerships. He’s confident that in many cases innovation can be quicker, cheaper and more successful with partners instead of building everything ourselves.