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Regardless of where one looks at, they will find innovation. As time passes, businesses in any industry are starting to realise that without embracing innovation and utilising the endless possibilities this versatile subject can offer one can hardly run sustainable operations in the long term. Business Malta speaks to Tatiana Glad, founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, who will be leading a Co-Design Session on 10 October at the Malta Innovation Hub located at the Malta Life Sciences Park in San Ġwann.

If one runs a Google search for the word “innovation”, the world’s number one search engine — and portable operating system provider, and email services provider, and video streaming platform provider, etc — will list more than 4.1 billion results in a fraction of a second — 0.6 sec to be precise. Astounding result for a passion project that started from a garage a bit more than two decades ago.

Since then, the online world has reshaped how we think about our lives and businesses alike. Innovation — or (the use of) a new idea or method, according to the Cambridge Dictionary — has come a long way since the wheel was invented, or the first Ford Model T hit the streets rolling rather loud and slow.

Fast forward to today; innovation appears to be both an end result and also a practice. “As a practice, innovation to me is about understanding ourselves as living systems in constant cycles of creation and closure whereby we see the closing of a phase as feeding into a new one. We make our organisations and businesses more resilient if innovation is an embedded and ongoing practice. There are techniques and methodologies with which organisations can ensure a continuous cycle of innovation,” Tatiana Glad, founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, tells Business Malta.

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Kicking off at 08:30 in the morning of 10 October, the Co-Design Session will be organised by the ENISIE Project which is funded by INTERREG Italia – Malta Programme, as part of the Malta Innovation Summit 2019.

Tatiana Glad, founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam.

Innovation can be driven by “creating both safe and provocative spaces for people to think out-of-the-box […]”

For innovation and design, out-of-the-box thinking has increasingly become a skill of importance, even if the notion is becoming commonplace for some. Still, how can innovation be driven? “By creating both safe and provocative spaces for people to think out-of-the-box and experiment with putting new ideas into practice,” according to Ms Glad. “As well as honest conversations about failure! External facilitators can help keep the innovation workshops neutral and unbiased in order to maximise the contribution of the diverse contributors,” she adds.

It is a commonly accepted fact that great ideas are rarely sparked in a vacuum. Dialogue and open discussions can lead to the inception of intriguing brain pickings and provide the social network for collaborations developing a bold concept into reality. “My team is currently focussing on spurring innovation in specific societal issue areas and working with diverse stakeholders in an ecosystem approach. Just as the expression says ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ we believe it takes an ecosystem to raise an innovative idea or startup. We do this in the areas of food, inclusion, circularity and plastics, as well as city-wide with the city of Amsterdam,” Ms Glad tells BM.

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Impact Hub Amsterdam, as part of the global Impact Hub network of impact entrepreneurs and innovators with more than 16,000 members in over 100 cities around the world, invests great effort in making change happen. The hub says it facilitates entrepreneurial solutions to society’s biggest challenges, supported by access to its network and business expertise. Additionally, the hub can provide resources and capital in need, organises events, hosts a collaborative working space, and runs a series of accelerator programs. 

Driving innovation

Lately, Malta has been positioning itself as a real innovator on the brink of the European continent. Since 2007, the country has become one of the leaders in terms of regulating and supporting online gambling development, and more recently, with enhanced focus on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, crypto, artificial intelligence, digital games and eSports, as well as progress related to medical cannabis, the island nation is making efforts in the field of state-of-the-art innovation. “There is real on-the-ground commitment such as The Malta Innovation Hub at the Malta Life Sciences Park as a provider of support services to stimulate social innovation among Maltese stakeholders,” Ms Glad says about Malta’s role in innovation.

Despite the 21st century delivering such a fertile ground for innovation, projects will bump into difficulties down the road. One of the most important challenges, Ms Glad says, is how to translate a bigger vision for positive change to the society into a product or service that meets real needs. Then the next challenge is to “access the capital it requires at various stages of its growth trajectory without compromising on its values. From the innovation point of view, established enterprises and public services need to be open for innovation from outside sources. Innovative SME are more agile to develop innovative products, processes and services and a pilot contract for such innovation within the established organisations can have a real impact,” she says.

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No matter how good an idea is, however, if it finds no surrounding support it might not blossom into a working project. “The lack of support or space for experimentation, coupled with an impatient demand for results or return” can undermine innovation easily, Ms Glad says. “It is important to have support for innovation within an organisation through regular innovation workshops. Participation in innovation workshops needs to include staff, shareholders, customers and community representatives to ensure a successful, positive social impact. Innovation sometimes needs time to follow its natural path and allow something surprising to emerge,” she adds.

Nevertheless, Ms Glad has a strong message to all the startups that are caught up in the storm of pressure by high expectations and myriad of chores to be handled to make their project operate and deliver added value at the same time. One should “not be afraid to collaborate with others whether they be peers that help you learn faster together or partners who can bring valuable know-how and resources to the table. Don’t go at it alone,” Ms Glad concludes.

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