Innovate Go – Boosting Innovation at the Province of Overijssel
Welcome to Overijssel, a province located in the eastern part of the Netherlands with many of its economic activities linked to industry, manufacturing and materials. Moreover, the region is characterized by the presence of a large number of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs), many of which have been established and run by generations of families. The often-technical nature of these SMEs combined with the presence of several highly ranked educational institutions in the region makes for significant innovation potential. For the Province of Overijssel it is key to unlock this potential; not only to tackle the increasing competitive pressures, but also to create an environment that retains the excellent technical talent the region develops.
An accelerator program for SMEs
To support and increase the innovation capabilities of local SMEs, the Province of Overijssel commissioned a tender for the design and execution of Innovate GO, an accelerator program with the goal of:
- Supporting SMEs in developing their existing innovative business cases whilst building their long-term capability to identify, develop and market innovations.
- Creating a supportive and dynamic innovation ecosystem by connecting SMEs to each other, as well as to startups, students, corporates, investors and other relevant (regional) parties and networks.
- Launching a new and ambitious program that contributes to the innovative and progressive image of the province of Overijssel.
Continuous Innovation, Agile and Shu-Ha-Ri
As opposed to a “standard” and finite accelerator program (mentoring, workshops, demo day) BlinkLane proposed a more comprehensive and sustainable approach in order to create a lasting impact. Using elements of the Continuous Innovation (COIN) Framework and Agile, Blinklane built a strong programmatic foundation that contributed directly to the above-mentioned goals, and that could be continued by the Province of Overijssel in the long run. Working closely with Novel-T, the organization tasked by the Province of Overijssel with running the program, BlinkLane provided support in the areas below, gradually shifting from leading with hands-on involvement into a supporting role by leveraging the agile principle of Shu-Ha-Ri (freely translated to Learn, Detach, Transcend):
- Program management – BlinkLane collaborated closely with Novel-T and the Province of Overijssel on program management, both on an operational and a strategic level with the aim of setting up sustainable structures for long-term continuation. Amongst others, responsibilities included setting up and executing program activities, engaging with key stakeholders, and being involved in participant acquisition.
- Participant coaching - Working in a six-week cadence, referred to as the Six-Week Innovation Challenge or SWICH, the SME program participants work one day per week on their innovation, guided by a certified COIN innovation coach. Leveraging lean startup principles and tools, participants identify the riskiest assumptions to their innovation, and test and validate these in the six-week period. Results and progress are presented at the end of every SWICH to fellow participants and the Innovate GO advisory board to receive feedback and determine next steps. With every SWICH the involvement and support of the innovation coach is reduced, allowing the participants to build their proficiency in using the SWICH methodology, tools and processes.
- Coaching the coach – With prospective innovation coaches from Novel-T lined up to get involved as soon as possible it was essential to build their knowledge on the COIN Framework as well as provide them with practical coaching experience. Using a blend of formal and hands-on training BlinkLane ensured the coaches had both the theoretical foundation as well as practical experience to successfully coach future program participants.
A program built to last
A first in the Netherlands and a flagship program within the Province of Overijssel, Innovate GO is now the accelerator program for SMEs who have an innovative business case they would like to take to the next level. Providing the SME program participants with a structured process, hands-on support and knowledge, and a community of like-minded innovators, the program sparks and develops innovation within Overijssel, both in the short and in the long term.
- Designed and established a flagship 18-week accelerator program for SMEs.
- Coached 14 SMEs to bring their innovations to market in 18 weeks, with the program rated on average 8+ by participants.
- Organized and ran ten workshops, five pitch days, five knowledge sessions and three innovation days, all in remote settings.
- Trained prospective innovation coaches on the COIN methodology, tools and processes in order for them to continue to run the accelerator program in six-week cycles.
- Created a lasting and growing innovation community of SMEs, startups, students, corporates, investors and other relevant (regional) parties and networks.
What one of our consultants said about the assignment
“Building an accelerator program from the ground up is no small feat, and it has been an absolute blast collaborating with Novel-T and the Province of Overijssel to lay the foundation for their flagship accelerator for SMEs. It is incredible to witness the progress the various SME participants have made in only three SWICHes, but even more rewarding is the enthusiasm, focus and mindset change this way of working brings for all involved. Overall, it has been a great experience, and we are glad to have been in the position to support and work with Novel-T and the Province of Overijssel in a way they can now independently run the program and continue to improve and build upon it.”