The Industrial Research Institute (IRI) provides regular events where global technology leaders from public and private organizations and federal laboratories network to share their knowledge and experiences in order to effectively manage and lead technological innovation within their organizations. The key issue at each IRI meeting is how best to be positioned to innovate. Creative individuals can do wondrous things with their time and resources, helping think up new ways of doing old things, as well as creating new products and services for which there is no precedent. But creativity is merely an approach to a problem; a methodology. Innovation is when that individual’s new or improved solution becomes a viable product that is then brought to market. Innovation is therefore a process which cannot be performed in a vacuum; it demands collaboration.

The innovation ecosystem is a bustling marketplace where scientists, engineers, technologists, researchers, designers, programmers, suppliers, and many more, come to meet and exchange ideas and best practices. IRI gives industrial R&D and innovation professionals an opportunity to meet people who hold similar positions across diverse industry segments. By so networking, mining companies may learn how consumer product companies manage global supply chains; chemical companies find solutions to establishing R&D labs overseas from aerospace industries which faced a similar challenge the year before; and, a telecommunications company may discover how they can improve their organization’s knowledge management system by implementing a technique used by a Department of Energy research lab. The unifying factor at such meetings is the management of innovation systems, regardless of industry.

Large industrial organizations possess remarkable resources, but are also constrained by a need to justify R&D expenditures to shareholders. Federal laboratories serve to fill a sizeable gap in basic research which many industries often struggle justifying. The basic R&D efforts of federal labs serve as massive reservoirs of creative ideas and products, but federal labs are often missing the next link in the innovation chain: the capital to scale and commercialize. Without collaboration and face-to-face meetings between federal labs and industry representatives our innovation ecosystem suffers. Industry is deprived of creative solutions and products while lab personnel spend many hours inventing useful new things only to shelve them, perhaps indefinitely, because no one in industry knows they exist.

Federal labs, due to their organization, budgets, and mission, tend to manage their R&D facilities differently than industry. Learning how a federal lab organizes its creative systems provides insights into new ways of organizing and managing specific types of R&D labs built by industry, and vice versa. These exchanges accumulate knowledge and insights with time and become invaluable to our economy’s innovative output, making any discontinuation in collaboration, regardless of duration, ultimately prohibitive to long-term R&D. It is essential, therefore, that federal labs continue to be active participants at our organization’s meetings and events.