Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

Innovate Us widget from FellowForce presses the button for open innovation

A recent post on this site profiled FellowForce, an open innovation project that acts as an intermediary between enterprises and individual innovators. At the time I had noted that the FellowForce website had certain limitations which limited the prospects for success. However, since then FellowForce has made an innovation of its own that should enable the project to have a reach well beyond direct users of the site: an Open Innovation widget for other websites.

Jeff Crites, Director in North America, explained: “We started our platform for Open Innovation two months ago, and since then we’ve received ideas and suggestions for leading brands worldwide. The idea for this new service is due in large part to a submission in our own innovation box. A Fellowforce ‘Fellow’, Marcel Heinkens of the Netherlands, suggested we offer an Open Innovation widget for websites. Today, four weeks later, we’re introducing the ‘Innovate Us’ button, enabling any business to welcome ideas from a global force of innovators”.

FellowForce describes the ‘Innovate Us’ button as being like a ‘Digg-this’ application for innovation, empowering and encouraging consumers to submit ideas to company controlled (Fellowforce enabled) innovation boxes. “We prefer to call them Innovation Boxes because consumer participation is more than just a feedback tool”, adds Crites, “it’s a driver for innovation. And for companies, this is like having a souped-up RSS aggregator to manage idea feeds.”

The basic ‘Innovate Us’ button is free of charge, but companies can also upgrade for full facilitation, customization and complete open innovation box solutions. Consumers can see status reports on their submissions, so the process is transparent between parties. Fellowforce says it will soon launch an Innovation Forum, giving companies the option to take ‘Innovate Us’ ideas into the open for feedback from Fellows – adding an important social networking element to the innovation process.

Among the early adopters of the widget are FloorWindo International, the Mindtrek Conference, Telme Clothing and BizzFlip, described as a niche Craigslist for business.

Companies can post ‘innovation challenges’ on the FellowForce Challenge Board, and the  ‘Innovate Us’ button will be connected to their ‘Innovation Box’.  This means that users of the companies’ websites, who might never otherwise be aware of open innovation, have a means to propose innovations to the company in question through the FellowForce system.

With this new widget, FellowForce can bring open innovation to a potentially huge audience of visitors to the websites of other companies.  It reduces somewhat the need to spend large resources on publicising the FellowForce website.  The marketing focus is likely to shift towards persuading as many companies as possible to adopt their service and use the FellowForce widget on their websites.

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