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The Innovation Subsidy

The author argues that the dominant challenge for the innovative firm may not be to command marketplace premiums for its innovation, but to strategically identify and opportunistically exploit subsidies for that innovation. For example, Microsoft's final stage of Windows 95 development was effectively subsidized to the tune of $900 million when the company drew upon a highly valuable technical population to test and help improve the quality of its new operating system. An innovation subsidy is the deliberate contributionof a business resource -- money, time, information, expertise, personnel or equipment -- in support of the development of a novel offering with no explicit expectation of a financial return. It is not, however, an outright donation or favor but rather the cost-effective bartering of resources by individuals and institutions that amounts to a gray-market mechanism for mitigating risk. (The article offers other subsidy scenarios referring to Gillette, 3M, IBM. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.)

The core differences in perceived and real risk among economic entities represent the richest source of ideas for opportunistic innovation subsidies. Such scenarios are clearly not merely about money, but about creating and managing relationships that tap the resources of a company's savviest customers. In the management of innovation risk, social capital can be as valuable as financial capital. Seeking out the innovation subsidy challenges firms to rethink the underlying economic relationships between their customers and suppliers.

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