Nobody can solve everything on their own.

When we collaborate more openly with others, our odds of solving real problems and creating value for our customers and users increase. For corporates, open innovation is all about being transparent and public about the challenges and themes they're looking to go after and solve, and then finding the best-fit partners for that.

Ben Yoskowitz (Founding Partner at Highline Beta) and Helene Niklasson (VP Innovation Ecosystems and Partnerships and Head of CampX at Volvo Group) joined us for our recent The Innovator’s Handbook 2023 launch event. Together we discussed what's next for open innovation and partnerships, as summarized below.

Launching An Open Innovation Program: What Should You Know?

For starters - if you are to launch an open innovation program, what should you consider? What can’t be missing?

  • Understand your stakeholders to solve real problems: managing stakeholders and understanding what they really want and their most significant challenges will help you prioritize and solve real issues that matter to your business.
  • Streamline your decision-making process: in order to work with other partners, especially when it comes to startups, corporates should shift and streamline the way they make decisions. This will make it easier for startups to collaborate with that corporate partner.
  • Secure top-down and bottom-up support: for these programs to scale, you need some top-down level support to rally folks, as well as people on the ground executing the actual pilots.

  • Start small and don’t pick a winner: you don’t need to launch a project along the lines of the 100+ Accelerator. However, as Ben points out, even if you start small, you should never put all your eggs in one basket. To put it another way, a portfolio approach typically gives any open innovation program a greater chance of success.
  • Give due weight to geographic proximity: the level of understanding of local challenges that comes with geographic proximity can play a crucial role in open innovation programs. It doesn't necessarily follow that proximity is a prerequisite for successful partnerships. Partnerships can work exceptionally well even without partners operating in the same place.

In order to receive applications from potential partners through an open innovation program, corporates need to create a call to action and publicly disclose their needs and interests. Some companies might then shy away from such an approach and prefer different, external methods to source ideas.

No one wants to give away their IP and other private information. How to distinguish between what information should be made public and what should remain private? How can companies thread that needle and make that distinction for themselves?

Open innovation Calls for Broad Thematic Areas…

According to Ben, open innovation is not a forced path. Where there is more confidential information and more IP at stake, corporates have to be able to innovate “behind the scenes”. For very core themes, it may be somewhat harder – yet not impossible – to make those open calls because companies would tend to keep proprietary gifts and confidential information closer to their chests.

For more self-evident innovation challenges that matter to many, such as sustainability, corporates should broaden their network and consider other ways to grow, like investments, acquisitions or, precisely, partnerships. A large, general area of interest doesn't need to be protected or kept secret.

“Typically, open innovation is best suited to topics that aren't very core to the business”.

Open innovation works across all industries. That said, sharing a big theme is not enough to find the right partners. You must come up with clear problems to filter out the noise and tell people where you're going and what you need from them.

… And Clear Problem Statements

Helene echoes Ben. The transport industry is undergoing huge transformations: electromobility, battery management, autonomous driving, digital-based cloud solutions and services, and so on. It's not a secret that Volvo Group, like any other industry company, is working on these challenging themes.

At Volvo Group, they're willing to collaborate and partner with other big players and startups to tackle these challenges together. For this reason, a few years ago, Volvo Group created CampX, a global innovation arena for technology and business transformation where partners – including customers, startups, suppliers, academia, and authorities – are invited to collaborate with Volvo Group experts and jointly develop future transport solutions.

The likelihood of success and continuation of the partnership resulting from these initiatives lies entirely in the clarity of the problem statement. According to Helene, the more open we are about the challenges we have, and the better we define our problem statement, the better match we will have with our partners.

What’s The Most Important Benefit Open Innovation Programs Can Provide To Partners?

From money to credibility to specialized resources such as equipment and legal and technical expertise, corporates have several ways to draw the attention of potential partners through open innovation programs. Ben and Helene have slightly different perspectives on what is the most intriguing and helpful benefit corporates can offer startups or other potential partners.


With over 190 markets served and 12 different brands, Volvo Group employs almost 100,000 people. The possibility of becoming part of this network, together with the chance to draw on incredible know-how and expert support, is the number one attractiveness Volvo Group can provide. As mentioned, CampX is where Volvo Groups welcomes collaborations with potential partners through three interdependent tracks:

  • Incubator: here, the corporate looks for early-phase startups developing solutions in the sustainable mobility area, with a focus on hardware and complex software solutions. These startups will receive mentoring from Volvo Group’s (chief) engineers, senior managers, and former Volvo employees-turned entrepreneurs.
  • Accelerator: here, the corporate is committed to launching and running co-creation projects with startups within the sustainable mobility area. By joining the CampX accelerator, the startups will cooperate with the R&D teams of Volvo Group and will be supported by their engineers and senior managers. They will also have access to trucks, facilities, and data if required.
  • Venture Builder: the mission here is to bring new products and services to market with speed and simplicity.

"If you're able to marry your expertise with the speed and innovation of startups, then you can really create magic”.

As Helene outlines, partnering with others is also essential for talent retention within Volvo Group- and this is true for other large corporations as well. “Working with startups is very rewarding for our coworkers: while the juniors find it fun, inspiring, and exciting, the seniors want to give back and help the whole environment and ecosystem grow”, explains Helene.

Or Money...?

“An open innovation program's success finally depends on money”, says Ben. He thinks that the most value a corporate can provide a startup is executing a pilot, something you need money for. Everything else, like expertise and all the other assets a corporate can bring to the table, is important but comes later.

Open Innovation And Collaboration With Competitors

Collaborating with multiple companies may also encompass partnering with competitors. This is especially the case in those areas that affect us all in one way or another. Sustainability is a prime example. Ben and Helen share two stories of successful collaboration to prove that even competitors can benefit from open innovation and mutual collaboration.

AB InBev and the partnership with Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company, and Unilever

Highline Beta helped AB InBev – the world's largest beer brewer – design and launch the 100+ Accelerator. The intention was to reach out to top-notch innovators and startups that could deliver breakthrough advancements within the sustainability space. In 2021, during the program's third cohort, AB InBev brought on board Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company, and Unilever to make the program bigger and more impactful.

These four big companies are not direct competitors in most of their product lines, but still, there’s some overlap between the multiple brands they have. Yet the urge to boost, fund, and pilot sustainable innovation in their supply chains is stronger than the competition itself. In other words, they want to work together to meet their sustainability goals faster and eventually become the leading companies they aspire to be. As of today, the 100+ Accelerator is in its fourth cohort and the four corporates are working with 46 startups.

Volvo Group and Daimler Truck AG: two fierce competitors with a common goal

Daimler Truck – one of the world's largest commercial vehicle manufacturers, with over 40 production sites around the globe and more than 100,000 employees – and Volvo Group have been competing for a while (and for obvious reasons).

“Partnership is the new leadership”.

As part of an industry-first commitment to accelerate the use of hydrogen-based fuel cells for long-haul trucks and beyond, instead of waiting for someone else to come up with this innovation, Daimler Truck and Volvo Group have come together and started a joint venture to create. They remain competitors and both will use that jointly developed innovation in their respective transport solutions.