Open Innovation and Community Building with Vuyolwethu Dubese

Nazli Allie, Thursday July 5th 2018

Last week we had Thomson Reuters’ Startup Partnerships Lead Vuyolwethu Dubese join us for an afternoon Community Conversations to chat about Open Innovation and Community Building at MEST Incubator in Cape Town.

Thomson Reuters is a global intelligence and media company that provides professionals with the research, technology and human expertise needed to find trusted answers.

Vuyolwethu forms part of the Thomson Reuters Labs network in Cape Town, one of their vibrant innovation centers around the world that identify and pursue new business opportunities through quick, agile, and collaborative experimentation with customers and partners.

Dubese’s journey to Startup Partnerships Lead for Africa

How long have you been with Thomson Reuters and what led you to your current role?

I’ve now been with Thomson Reuters for two years, and I was the first hire for the Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town, hosting our first hackathon and our integration to the startup ecosystem and engagement.

From being an Innovation Project Manager to now, the responsibility has always been to drive and support the innovation agenda at the labs through ecosystems and startup development with a Pan-African focus. This has been through our relationships that we have with our customers and some of their labs (following the startups that matter most to them), our independent relationships with thought leaders as well as accelerators in the space and university partnerships.

The role of Startup Partnerships Lead for Africa has been exciting in that it affords the opportunity to leverage our (open) data and platforms in creating visibility around tools and scaling and validating the startups through our resources, and more internally to partner with the right startups and ecosystem players to accelerate our POCs (proof of concepts).

What is Open Innovation?

Open Innovation is a term coined and promoted by Henry Chesbrough, professor and executive director at the Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley. He described Open Innovation as:

“ … a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology. The boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable; innovations can easily transfer inward and outward. The central idea behind open innovation is that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (e.g. patents) from other companies.”

Open Innovation is about creating profit and community from technology, convergence of perceptions and an efficient way to operate and find solutions. It is NOT just crowdsourcing and one dimensional transactions; it’s fostering accelerated creative and business value for all stakeholders involved.

Organisations like Fintech Sandbox, which has shown the value of a sandbox for startup partnerships in Boston; CodeSandbox Live, which is providing value for real collaboration between developers; and Any API, which has over 500 open APIs, have benefitted many entities. These entities show us what is possible with the world of open innovation in both emerging and developed markets.

Looking to the future of Africa, the concept of Open Innovation to drive Africa’s Future Agenda is a tool that not only invites the strengthening of intra-African and global knowledge trade, but also provides the opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders in the private, NGO and public sectors to empower Africa’s success.

How does open innovation tie in with community building?

Open innovation cannot happen in isolation; it’s about knowledge sharing and other capabilities like intelligence and technology. Open innovation invites collaboration, and the only way in which we can collaborate is if there’s a network that invites collaboration and continuous support via community building.

This is why I launched, to create a community where I have the opportunity to share perspectives on innovation, inclusion, intelligence and startups – through the lens of a young, black African millennial woman in technology. I’ve created a platform that has allowed me to meet people from across the globe in technology, finance and innovation.

What are your 3 tips for community building?

  • Know why you are building

It takes an innovative and passionate village to raise and scale innovation solutions. As you are building your network, know why you are doing so and how your innovation village can support your innovation agenda.

  • Map the Market

Keeping track of cultures, opportunities and environment of the market will assist you in navigating the right people to start building relationships with. Understand where you fit in and embed yourself in these spaces. This should include collaborative spaces like coworking spaces, networking events, professional networks and groups, accelerators and incubators, government innovation-driven institutions.

  • Build Trust

Collaboration works when cabilities are shared. A collaborative mindset creates opportunity for all stakeholders involved.

Collaboration is a key player in building communities and relies on a supportive, growing network and Open Innovation is how we remove the scarcity mentality and share the power of collective thinking to create social and economic development.

To learn more about Dubese's community and her efforts in Open Innovation, check out her website or connect with her on Linkedin here.

Join our next Master Class event at MEST Incubator Cape Town on 12 July! RSVP to the 7 Steps to Funding for Startups talk here.