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The 90 Day Finn Program, created by Helsinki Business Hub, works to help foreign companies grow and develop their business in Helsinki – and thereby attract upcoming talent to Finland. Part of this year’s program is The Adjacent Possible, and Open Innovation Studio recently launched in Finland. Meet William Carbone, Co-Founder & CEO, as well as Nick Sgobba, CTO.
Could you please introduce The Adjacent Possible and the team?
The Adjacent Possible is an idea factory that is designed as an Open Innovation Studio that generates new ideas. These can become patents, products or even companies. Our mission is to connect global technology ecosystems that co-develop common IP applications from different perspectives. You could say that we are serial innovators who create and license intellectual property. Therefore, we can add value to a large variety of projects ranging from aerospace to quantum computing, and material sciences.
I have spent the last decade at IBM as a tech leader and business executive. My last position was as a quantum ambassador for Aerospace and Defence. I also co-led software development teams that worked for the International Space Station. I co-founded The Adjacent Possible with my friend Vlad. He is an open innovation scholar with a strategy consulting background. Nick, our CTO, is our intellectual property expert. He was a prolific inventor at IBM and has co-developed dozens of key patents during the past four years. I know him from my experience at IBM, where we also co-filed some of those patents.
Why did you start The Adjacent Possible? What problems or challenges did you see in the world that you wanted to solve with your idea?
Our company was co-founded by me and Vlad in May 2021 in Helsinki. One of the major challenges that companies face is that up to 85% of their successfully filed industrial patents are left-on-the-shelf technology (i.e., they are never commercialized).
Another critical aspect is that only 12.5% of patents are filed by female inventors worldwide. We believe that there is a need for a paradigm shift in innovation management. We create positive-sum games by leveraging technology and creativity to increase the number of successful female inventors. We want to empower them to co-create future innovations. This can be triggered by social innovation: female inventors trained in interdisciplinary groups on the basics of the patenting process and supported by our organization to file and license their inventions. To achieve that, we cooperate with a large and diversified network of experts in order to sustain our serial innovation and to have an impact on a local and global level to reduce inequality of opportunity.
What’s the biggest impact you have seen on both your customers and the industry you work in?
Especially in times of economic downturns, organizations look for opportunities to reduce short-term costs, while still maintaining their innovation potential and ensuring their long-term competitiveness. Another important pain point from a business perspective is that IP is not-easily accessible: not universally available to small and medium enterprises and small organizations. Finally, in a post-pandemic scenario, finding new elements of re-innovation is crucial to our society for a sustainable and timely recovery.
At The Adjacent Possible we believe we can challenge the status quo. We spent the last 12 months validating and building an alternative. We named it the Idea Exploratorium, an AI-driven pipeline able to generate novel ideas, by combining a number of data sources ranging from existing patents, business challenges, industry trends and emerging technologies. It is our proprietary methodology that allows us to navigate into this data universe to identify patents that can be re-engineered for use into different industries. We do so by embracing the so-called “accelerated discovery” trend, in which parts of the scientific process are automated—which will drive new generations of information technology, produce important advances in science, and create new opportunities in business.
What challenges have you faced along your journey and what are your biggest learnings?
Our journey is slightly different compared to other high- or deep-tech startups. The nature of the problem we are solving is non-obvious and requires some background to be understood, it is also a new frontier in science. It is not always easy to sell an intangible product. This was our first challenge when explaining the concept to investors and individuals who were not from the industry. We made some progress, and we were able to package it into a 3 minutes pitch.
How do you work with innovation within your organization at large?
We act as a concierge into the data universe, helping to accelerate discovery, scouting, nursery and nurturing potential applied IP and science driven initiatives in one domain to be translated into high potential sustainable adjacent businesses. We stimulate & grow practical science and business in cross-industry contexts. The major differentiating argument for our approach is its complementary (not supplementary) nature. Using our service represents a set of “small, safe-to-fail bets” with a potential of “significant returns”. It doesn’t replace any of the existing R&D methods, but it can potentially repurpose any of their end results (i.e., industrial patents) to adjacent industries.
What’s in the pipeline that you’re currently working on?
One project that we are currently developing is in the foodtech domain. We are joining a consortium together with various international stakeholders and artists to explore how digital technologies & applications can (1) make the food chain from farm to table more transparent (2) build connections between different stakeholders in the food chain and (3) promote more informed and sustainable consumption patterns. Moreover, we are in the process of filing a dozen of key patents, and at least a couple of these have the potential to become spinoffs. We can only share that we plan to work in the space of AI and food tech, with an eye on the key emerging technologies. Stay Tuned!
Why did you apply for the 90 Day Finn Program?
I had been previously selected as one of 15 CEOs (out of 5300+ applications) for the 90-day Finn program that was initiated by the Helsinki Business Hub. In terms of what a company like ours requires to operate effectively and efficiently, Finland (and Helsinki in particular) offers everything we could have imagined and more. We were looking for a vibrant innovation ecosystem environment, access to accelerators, and visionary long-term-oriented investors. We were very happy to join the Kiuas Accelerator in June, and we-ve spent 8 insightful weeks together with 24 other startups and dozens of mentors and investors.
How do you see your role in being a part of the Epicenter community?
We have connected with many other companies that are hosted in the same building, even during coffee breaks. Networking is key to enabling the business and the spaces in Epicenter are designed to stimulate creativity and interesting conversations that often result in valuable follow-ups. In particular, in the context of the 90 Day Finn program, the Epicenter is the main place for value co-creation, sharing ideas and actively participating in networking events, such as Epi-breakfasts and sessions.
Why your interest in Finland as a country?
Finland is a technology-driven country. The resources, capabilities, and existing innovation ecosystems are impressive, but there is still a significant potential for sustainable growth and development, in particular, in the aftermath of the current global pandemic. The output of our Open Innovation studio is intellectual property in various industries. Our business model requires a highly efficient patent law infrastructure and related capabilities, a global mindset, a diverse group of technology-driven companies (SMEs and multinationals), and a venture capital infrastructure. We find everything we need in Finland.
Discover more about The Adjacent Possible.