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Lab sustainability models

Blog Post

Why use it?

As well as the innovations, the labs themselves needed to think about sustaining and/or scaling. Most grant-funded programmes stop when the grant stops, but not those who have prepared for financial sustainability from the outset.

What is it?

Dan McClure created simplified lab models for innovation teams to consider. The four models show features of different innovation lab sustainability strategies:

  1. Continue Grant Fundraising
  2. Commercial Innovation Lab Model
  3. Sell Solutions to Recognised Problems
  4. Fit within a Bigger Ecosystem (Puzzle Piece)

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The green areas mark areas of revenue and support; the red areas are potential challenges a lab might face when applying the strategy.

These models give a simplified view of existing innovation lab archetypes around the world at a level that can be grasped by teams running or supporting their first lab.

How we used it.

In order to get the lab teams grappling with these models, we ran a simple ‘pros and cons’ exercise where the teams collectively created a list of pros and cons for each lab model in terms of implementation in their own contexts.

We then set a ‘futurespective’ exercise - which fortunately for the benefit of richer content followed a discussion on ethics - to think ahead to 5 years time for each lab and describe their sustainable lab as it could be in that year. The teams then worked back during the previous years to outline the steps needed to be taken to achieve that future success for each year.

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The example above is for Maarifa Kona lab which covers two rural labs in northern and eastern Kenya. The future model was a hybrid of the models - research centre (grant-based) and innovation centre (commercial / selling successful products).

Feedback /our own reflections.

The feedback was that these models and the exercises which went with them provided a “useful discussion” and “framework”. However overall the labs’ understanding of these models was superficial.

People have referred back to their business models on monthly cross-lab calls. This is particularly hard in an untested sector with most lab staff new to innovation labs. This is certainly an area labs could do with more support in future.

Improvements and recommendations.

We have updated the lab sustainability models review tool to add in advice on when each model might be appropriate. Considering both market and execution risk (as defined in portfolio map), we suggest indicators in the market and the team’s expertise - either explicit expertise or available to draw in - as guides to which model is right for any one team.

Overall, these models are already new - so to improve much more on these tools to weigh up the models is tough. There is going to need to much more maturation of the sector including practitioners who are able to stay the course through one or more lab lifecycles to really gain the kind of expertise needed to ‘predict’ the most likely sustainable future of a lab in any given context in 5 years time - and to provide differing perspectives and opinions.

Keep reading:

DEPP Innovation Labs DEPP Labs key document

  • by Zofia Piotrowicz