First Attempt at Open Innovation

During 2016 and part of 2017 Envisioning Labs ran Test Tube, a crowdsourced innovation initiative with the mantra: "we build innovations that matter". What follows is the email I sent today to all participants in this experiment. The good, the bad and the ugly is all there for the world to see.

We are very open, you see :)


Hi guys,
It's been a while since I last sent a group email to all who participated in Test Tube. As this is the end of the year -and in a way of an era, I consider proper doing it now.
An Experiment
Test Tube was an experiment we embarked on to evaluate whether we could create innovative projects with the talent available to us through our communities. It was also an experimental business model anchored on shared risk and compensation. While we learned lots and enjoyed even more creating prototypes, demos, apps and experiences the reality is that all projects needed a clear financial framework for work to continue. We experimented with The Grunt Fund linked to Asana and even proposed the idea of a micro-financing scheme to Vancity to support experimental innovation (conversation that we might retake in 2018). Despite the best intentions and effort put forth by everyone involved, Test Tube projects took a back seat to paid projects, daily jobs and life in general.
Seeking Support
At its peak, Test Tube saw 8-10 projects and most of them produced proof of concepts from speech recognition algorithms, to cloud platforms, video game arcades, apps for finding missing pets, AR demos and one that evolved into a capstone project currently having 5 UBC students working on it (CO2 capturing). 33 People signed up to the initiative and about half of those met on a regular basis to work on their projects. Because of Test Tube, Microsoft granted us 3 years of business services for free via their BizSpark program just as Code Core Academy offered free web app development.
All this with a group of volunteers that were passionate about building innovations that matter. We knew we had tapped into something valuable and felt the pressure of figuring out a sustainable way to keep it moving forward.
It was at that time that we started talking to key individuals in the innovation scene in British Columbia essentially seeking support not only for Test Tube, but for the larger vision of building a bridge between invention and innovation. We sat down with executives of the Premier's Technology Council, BC Tech, Launch Academy and of course the BC Innovation Council. The answer in a nutshell was the same: we don't support experimental innovation. One director in particular went further suggesting that we should take this model to States because Canada was not ready for it. I did not take that comment lightly, and long story short…I think I burned bridges with that person 😊
Despite all the collective effort, the incredibly fun times and the innovations we created, for the first time I felt they were right, maybe Canada was not ready for this, and what ensued was a mild crisis of mine thinking about quitting it all and moving to the States.
2018 and Beyond
Without going in details (but thank you so much to all who supported me at that time) I opted to stay put and redouble efforts around Envisioning Labs; I understood that I needed to grow from a technologist into an actual entrepreneur seeking to produce value to all my stakeholders.
In 2018 Envisioning Labs will focus on becoming a catalyst that bridges invention and innovation targeting medium to large organizations (domestic and international), and while Test Tube is in hibernating mode at this moment, we are certainly open to business proposals to revive it into a version that creates impact, yes, but also profit for all participating parties.
Thank you
If you read this far either you are bored or waiting for the new year's celebrations 😊 In all seriousness though, I want to thank each and everyone of you for believing in this experiment, for being part of it and for sharing with me personally your passions, your talent, your knowledge and your friendship.
For the countless hours in front of a white board, sipping coffee, building things, going to SPCA, attending workshops, laughing at crazy ideas and then implementing them, building paper prototypes with napkins during a lunch break and the many, many laughs we had together…
Happy New Year, guys!
Oscar Malpica