What does an innovation broker do?

AUTHOR: Brigitte Ömer-Rieder

Nowadays, knowledge is diverse but unequally distributed: On the one side, people face unsolved problems, while, on the other hand, there are people who are able to solve them. The art lies in bringing together and supporting the individual actors to enable innovation. That is the core task of innovation brokers, such as Johanna Stieblehner from the winnovation team. Innovation brokers increasingly gain importance in the era of Open Innovation and network-economies.

Innovation brokers build customised bridges. As “enablers” they analyse questions and connect different people and organisations. They provide guidance in project development, stimulate out-of-the-box thinking, look for suitable innovation partners (“matchmaking”) and encourage targeted knowledge transfer and information exchange. In this process, it is vital to involve unusual suspects who have relevant knowledge, e.g. user crowds and communities or individual highly innovative users (“lead users”). Innovation brokers’ personal mind-sets play a crucial role as they are generally open to all ideas, impartial, objective, and non-judgemental. In fact, they examine whether an idea or solution addresses an actual problem. At the same time, an innovation broker should be able to draw analogies to other industries and markets.

At present, innovation brokers operate in different EU member states (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria) within the framework of the European Innovation Partnership “Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability” (EIP-AGRI). There, so-called “operational groups” are promoted, who aim to foster agricultural innovation by bridging between practitioners and researchers. In Austria, Johanna took up the position of the innovation broker for the “Austrian Rural Network”. She supports innovative actors in extending their innovation networks by targetedly searching for consortium partners, initiating contact, gathering information on innovative agricultural and forestry projects as well as communicating the results within the EIP-AGRI network and beyond.

It can be anticipated that the importance of innovation brokers will rise further in future. The awareness that innovation-related knowledge is not bundled in one region or industry, but is distributed across the globe has risen. Particularly those that are in need of innovation often lack a clear view on valuable external knowledge sources.