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SXSW: From Oslo to Mexico, what are the five conditions for innovation?

“We build the dance floor and let the entrepreneurs dance”
Hallstein Bjercke, vice mayor of Oslo, panel discussion on The Oslo Startup Story, SXSW 2015

Austin, Texas, host city of SXSW Interactive, is a city buzzing with ideas during the five days of the festival, but is also rife with innovation all year round. It’s a place clearly suited to attracting and nurturing talent and ideas.

At SXSW 2015 we’ve seen how innovation flourishes in a diverse mix of cities and countries, with talks from the aforementioned vice mayor of Oslo to the ex-president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

The StartUp Lab: Just one initiative that Oslo has introduced

It’s got us thinking about the conditions for innovation, i.e. what needs to be in place for ideas to thrive. NASA scientist Christopher McKay lists the 5 components of an ecosystem which are necessary to create and sustain life as:

  1. Energy (sunlight and/or chemical energy)
  2. Water
  3. Temperature
  4. Atmosphere (e.g. gases)
  5. Protection from ultraviolet solar radiation

So, with this as our inspiration (and without too clumsily shoehorning the analogy) we’ve set out to define the 5 conditions for innovation and how they allow companies and entrepreneurs to drive business value through new ideas.

People: You must have an environment that allows you to attract and retain talented people. For example, this might be the quality of life in a city – Oslo is a consistently high performer on lists of the world’s most liveable cities. If you’re any doubt that people are the most important component, David Cohen, co-founder of start-up accelerator Techstars, lists “team” as 3 of his 6 most important requirements for a successful start-up!

Stable economic conditions: A boom isn’t essential, as there are still opportunities to be exploited in recessions, but there needs to be a degree of stability and available funding to get new projects off the ground. In Mexico where new automotive manufacturing plants are being built, this is seeing a surge of local innovate entrepreneurs spring up in an ecosystem around the plants, providing new services and making car parts previously imported from abroad.

Training and education: Easy access to opportunities to improve knowledge and skills will allow talented people to develop. Oslo’s university tuition is state funded and fee free, even to foreign students. While in Mexico they entering into public/private partnerships with companies like AT&T to train over 30,000 Mexican students in IT.

Free and open communication: Transfer and cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge is key for ideas to prosper. This comes from both a socio-political freedom but also technical empowerment. Norway’s high digital penetration (95% internet penetration, fourth highest globally, Nielsen/Gfk 2013 data) is a clear catalyst for innovation.

Lack of heavy handed regulation: A.k.a. “we build the dance floor and let the entrepreneurs dance.” Oslo’s refreshing philosophy reduces the interference and a culture of trust. Norwegian business transactions are built heavily on trust and contracts are often no more than 1 page long!

So, what are the implications for advertisers and agencies? How do we encourage innovation? We must similarly create an internal ecosystem which reduces barriers and provides a rich, fertile ground for ideas to bloom.

James Schad, Innovation Director, Vizeum
Keep up to date with the Vizeum Innovation Team’s exploits over in Austin at SXSW by following the latest updates from Chrissy and James on Twitter using #southbyviz