NUMA has been working with startups and the tech ecosystem from day one. When we created DataCity two years ago in Paris, we naturally pushed the crucial need for a data-driven approach, with smart tools to enable actors to create change. This continues to hold true as we are now launching the third season of the program, and expanding it on a global scale. But we also learned that smart collaboration – meaning process and methodology – was as instrumental, if not more, to our collective success than data and tech itself. We became experts in facilitating innovative ideas, creating open innovation programs and ensuring these projects come to life. This is what we learned in the process:
Open innovation programs need a trusted third party
Smart collaboration should be radical: it should bring all stakeholders together, to openly share as many resources as possible. All stakeholders ranging from corporates, startups, researchers, institutions, and citizens, should be included. This diversity of perspectives is essential to build the most efficient ecosystem possible to create collective intelligence. But building the ecosystem is only the first step. It also needs to be stimulated and nurtured. Facilitating collaboration and ideation is achieved more easily by a trusted third party who is capable of understanding the interests and the culture of all parties. At NUMA, we work with startups, corporates and communities on a daily basis through acceleration programs, trainings, community events and so on. We knew we had the connections, but we now know it is the key to being a good facilitator for innovation. We can’t stress enough the impact of the lean startup method and design thinking for creating innovative ideas. We use these methodologies, but when it comes to smart collaboration, it is also important to find the sweet spot between lean startup style and a comfortable process for everyone. We work as a facilitator to ensure all actors have enough freedom to create and enough guidance, based on their culture and generation.
The 5 steps road to smart collaboration:
Smart collaboration is based on the ability to adapt to each stakeholder, and ensure that all stakeholders can work together. It is also based on the principles that were identified after our first two seasons held in Paris and Casablanca. Namely, we must ensure smart collaboration is:
- Horizontal: the ecosystem approach doesn’t work well with strong hierarchy or frictions. Our role as third party is to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s interests are represented.
- Imperfect: Done is better than perfect is something very common to hear in the startup world, not so much in larger companies. As a facilitator for ideation and innovation, we work on making sure we accept this imperfection in order to avoid designing at the whiteboard a hypothetically perfect solution for the future, without any action in the present.
- Iterative: accepting early stage imperfection doesn’t mean we stay there, it is a constant test & learn approach, starting small but building up.
- Systemic: especially after we move from phase 2 (when startup were selected) to phase 3-experimentation, startups take the lead and we are the referent partner ensuring even if one actor is more involved at this stage, we are still aligned on everyone’s goals and everyone’s interests.
- Precise: the approach may be systemic – bringing everyone together – but it also needs to be precise. Our role as a third party is also to help articulate challenges that are specific enough for startups and corporates to come up with innovative solution. It is also our role to be the time keeper and track progress to ensure the delivery date is respected.
The higher purpose of smart collaboration
Whether it is waste management, public transport congestion, energy consumption, or crisis management due to more frequent natural disasters, all of these challenges are more than market opportunities and excited grounds for tech development. Our overall mission at NUMA is to empower tech entrepreneurs to solve the 2030 goals. This is something we can also keep in mind while working together on smart city issues. As a third party, we represent everyone’s interest but can also help actors work more effectively together when we also represent this higher purpose we all serve. Including these dynamics can substantially help take a step back and realign everyone’s goals.
Smart collaboration is possible. We successfully tested it in Paris and Casablanca. As we are about to expand to more cities worldwide, we know we can make it happen, as long as we bring people together and have their trust to facilitate as a third party.