Innovation director celebrates 10 years at IXC
What is it like to reflect back on over a decade in the innovation sector? This year IXC director and principal intermediary Jamie Elliott celebrates ten years with innovation consultants InnovationXchange (IXC).
Innovation consultant: a person specification
With a sharp, enquiring scientist’s mind, and a warmth perfectly conducive to facilitating collaboration, Jamie has trod the corridors of leading technological powerhouses as trusted and embedded innovation consultant. He has worked with clients such as Jaguar Land Rover, BAE Systems, Halcrow, The Heart of England NHS Trust, Mondelez (Cadburys), FreislandCampina, and Mars.
How did he get to this admired role- open innovation practitioner relied upon by some of our most famous household names?
Growing up, he had always dreamed of becoming a scientist, and this ambition was fully realised with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology, Masters in Biotechnology, and a doctorate in Molecular Microbiology. But all that science turned out to be only an incredibly strong foundation, as Jamie reflects: “I was always interested in science and especially Biology which was why I ended up studying it at University. I always thought I would just be a scientist. However, after my PhD I felt too constrained in just one area of research, which is why being an IXC Intermediary is now such a good fit for me.”
Early days: reinforcing the innovator mindset
With such a full suite of qualifications, immediately post-doctorate Jamie was the natural choice for the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBRSC) programme manager. It was here that his aptitude for stimulating collaboration between academia and industry shone, and he became adept at all aspects of the commercialisation of science such as licensing, patent protection, and intellectual property.
These skills continued to be honed as Jamie worked with regional bodies and universities to advise on knowledge transfer, enterprise and entrepreneurship- complemented with the achievement of his MBA in International Business Finance. With such a knowledge bank and skill set in science, academia, business, start-ups and spin-outs, Jamie was considered an excellent fit by IXC and was encouraged to apply for an innovation intermediary role (IXC itself being a university spin-out).
Indeed, his time at the research council, regional body and university proved the perfect foundations for Jamie’s new position at IXC: “Understanding what both sides are looking for from these types of interactions including the timescales that they work from has helped me in IXC. The original core job of the IXC intermediary was to bring together two parties in a safe environment for the benefit of both.”
What does a good innovation consultant do?
So, with ten years under his belt, what does a typical day as Director of an innovation consultancy look like? Naturally, Jamie confirms there can be no such thing as a normal day: “We are always looking at something new. Because IXC works across industries, the jobs we do supporting innovation are varied… I may be looking at a variety of reports on diverse subjects such as steel degradation in nuclear power plants or new textile technologies.”
With such novelty and diversity as a constant, to be a great innovation intermediary Jamie advocates supreme listening skills: “Our job is not to tell our clients how to do something but to articulate their needs and find solutions which fit those needs.” Thus, the intermediary must be a creative, lateral thinker with superb networking and relationship management. Jamie clarifies that they are expected to “quickly grasp technical concepts outside their own research base, provide creative solutions to challenges posed and to form strong contacts at all levels of the companies and organisations they work with.”
He evidences the necessity for this skillset: “In many cases our clients don’t have the time to look beyond their own knowledge base for solutions to the maze of challenges they are facing. The job of the Intermediary is to support the client by spending the time finding the dead ends but also the routes through that maze.” This means the most rewarding projects, in Jamie’s experience, are the ones “when I have been able to make a connection with another client, seeing a connection because of our unique view point which would not have been seen by either of the clients.”
A career in Innovation: past, present and future
A decade in innovation consultancy is rich experience but what has changed in that time? Jamie explains: “When IXC first began, we were supporting the early Open Innovation [OI] movement championed by [Henry] Chesbrough. At that time, OI was in its infancy. These days, companies are much more savvy about their approach to innovation and many companies have internal innovation teams and OI managers. However, that is not to say that they do not still need external help, in many cases IXC supports companies with their internal structures and processes as well as interacting with the outside world.”
Indeed, IXC practices what it preaches- the oft-used phrase “innovate or die” holds true. Looking to his future at IXC, Jamie is excited about its own continual innovation and seeing it grow: “When IXC first started, it was clear that the only way we would survive was through our own internal innovation. Over the years we have been able to react to the changing needs of its clients and tailoring our provision to fit those needs.”
A futurist mind-set though, can surreally make things feel like they have been around forever or with little change.
Jamie reflects: “In my first interview for IXC I was asked what technologies or science I had seen recently that interested me and I answered Augmented Reality. Ten years on, I am still keen on the possibilities and applications of Augmented and Virtual Reality systems. So much so that I have set up a separate business Vive Virtualities to provide VR experiences.”
All creatives- and this most definitely includes scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs- have a source or role model to draw upon, that ignites their spark, and propels them forwards. Although Jamie doesn’t rely on any specific role models, he counts a source of true inspiration as “anyone who has a plan and follows it is a role model. This is especially true of the entrepreneurs I have met who have set up successful businesses, they had belief in themselves and their ideas and followed them through. I admire the focus these people have.”
And if he could tell his younger self anything? “That everything in the single “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann is true and should be followed religiously.” This unexpected worldwide hit of the 90’s, based on a proposed graduation speech, touches on everything social, emotional and physical to live a good life, yet it commences with lyrics mentioning important scientific research! Of course Jamie!
For further information on how our innovation consultants can develop your innovation strategy and help you connect and collaborate, please contact our team on: 0121 250 5717 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.