INNOFOOD aims to strengthen the role of Ho Technical University (Ghana) and JKUAT (Kenya) as innovation drivers for the food processing in their respective countries in regions. Funding has been granted by Nuffic under their InnoCap window.
Research done by students often remains unused and SME companies do not have access to expensive R&D. The project offers an approach to open up the university to private sector partners who are in need of applied research to innovate their businesses, while at the same time improving the usefulness of students’ research in food processing.
Our approach uses the open innovation funnel model in which the knowledge institutes act as the converging space where internal and external ideas come together to feed and guide an R&D agenda that reflects and stays abreast of market trends. The initiative uses a blended approach, combining face-to-face and online training, coaching and peer learning.
- Piloting an innovative process to capture market needs directly involving private sector: a call for challenges for local and Dutch companies active in food processing in the region;
- Piloting an innovative approach to translate challenges into R&D projects: an innovation jam where researchers, students and entrepreneurs can conceptualize innovative solutions in multidisciplinary teams; For an example of the Innovation Jam at Ho Technical University, see this video.
- Developing the capacity of academic staff to translate innovations into marketable R&D projects and find appropriate sources of funding to carry them out;
- Developing the capacity of the academic staff to manage acquired R&D projects maximizing their potential to lead to marketable products and services;
- Exposing commercially interesting R&D developments to the market (entrepreneurs, SMEs, investors and business support initiatives) that can support their market introduction.
- Promoting the inter-regional collaboration and cross-fertilization of knowledge on food processing between the two involved education institutes.
MDF’s role as project manager, with a focus on capacity building of the institutions and the departments involved, was matched by the business development advice of BoPInc for the companies involved. Involving our staff in Ghana, Kenya and the Netherlands ensured an easy exchange of learnings.
The biggest challenge has been getting businesses engaged in the process (as the RoI for them is not yet possible to determine and is very much dependent on their own engagement) but, eventually, after observing results, there was a willingness to engage in the process.
This pilot project triggers change at institutions; renewed capacity of lecturers, students apply research, potential for uptake in curriculum, lessons and research.
The biggest lesson was to trust the process, for example; trust that an innovation jam where very diverse people are brought together is able to cut across hierarchies (e.g. students vs lecturers), disciplines (food scientists vs business students) and across professional backgrounds (entrepreneurs vs academics) to lead to innovative ideas.
At both institutes, there is an interest in institutionalizing (parts) of the approach, as they understand that it offers new ways to relate with the market players in a way that is advantageous for both parties. There are talks of including this research trajectory in the curriculum and to find ways to engage businesses to (partially) finance the research or support them in different ways.
For more information and the latest news on the project, please see the project website.