The many benefits of innovating through collaboration.

It may sound like the latest buzz word, but open innovation is based on a very simple principle - that businesses are stronger when they integrate external knowledge into the innovation process. 

We spoke with Claire Charlton, Wincanton’s Head of W2 Innovation, to find out more. 

What is open innovation? 

Open innovation is based on the idea that no organisation has all the answers internally, and that, by opening up to external sources of knowledge and ideas, we can all achieve better outcomes faster and more efficiently.  

"It's not about sitting on bean bags and brainstorming - or expecting success every time. It is not about one group winning at the expense of others or focusing only on internal continuous improvement. It is about recognising the opportunities and challenges that the changing technology landscape presents, and finding the best partners to co-create solutions that helps everyone involved.”  

How does Wincanton use open innovation? 

"Wincanton has been on an open innovation journey since 2017. When we launched our W² pronounced ‘W-squared’, meaning ‘the power of two’) programme, we recognised the pace of change that was happening in the way that people lived and worked, and also the role that technology has in shaping the supply chain of the future."

W² is a structured framework to collaboratively solve problems and create value through various external ecosystems, such as customers, suppliers, start-ups, universities, and research institutes."  

I describe W² like Wincanton’s agile speedboat, whilst we are still tethered to the ‘mothership’ of Wincanton we can go and explore new territories and new waters in a low risk and agile manner.”  

What is Wincanton’s W² programme?  

“W² is made up of three components: for start-ups; for stakeholders and industry partners; and for our wider ecosystem of colleagues, customers and local communities.  

W² Labs is our start-up accelerator programme that scouts, selects, and supports promising start-ups that can address Wincanton's strategic opportunities in areas such as robotics and digital transport. Entrants are chosen to pitch their ideas to our panel of experts and, if successful, enroll on our 10-week programme which provides mentoring, access to data, and proof-of-concept opportunities for the start-ups, while allowing Wincanton to test and learn from new technologies.  

W² Partner Network brings together a network of strategic stakeholders, including suppliers, academic and trade organisations, and industry partners that collaborate with Wincanton on innovation initiatives. For example, Wincanton is an industry partner for the Department for Transport's Freight Innovation Fund, working with Connected Places Catapult to provide an operational test bed for new technologies.  

And our W² Innovation Centre, based in Corby, Northamptonshire, is an interactive physical space that facilitates innovation and collaboration, where Wincanton's customers, colleagues, and partners can meet, ideate, test, and learn. The centre hosts workshops, events, and showcases, and provides a platform for horizon scanning, idea generation, and viability assessment.” 

What benefits has Wincanton seen from employing open innovation? 

“Open innovation brings multiple benefits to our business, customers, colleagues and partners. It enables us to differentiate ourselves as a leader and innovator in the logistics sector. Additionally, it helps us to add value to our customers’ supply chains and promotes a culture of organisational learning, where colleagues can experiment, fail fast, and feed back. The same applies to the start-ups that enter the programme, by helping them to grow their business and attract investment. 

When it reaches its full potential, the programme creates new revenue streams and business opportunities by commercialising and scaling the innovations that emerge from the programme.”  

What are the benefits to the participants? 

Jake and Luke from Returnal, one of this year’s innovators, talked about the value of W²  Labs to them: 

“All too often businesses talk the talk, but the level of bureaucracy that inevitably slows progress within huge organisations often leads to limited practical applications. Programmes of this nature filter the solutions with the highest potential for change, and strip away the bureaucracy to quickly identify meaningful opportunities.

In the world of innovation and start-ups, speed is often key, and the W² programme is evidence that Wincanton recognise that fact and are prepared to invest in nurturing the right conditions. Without it, so many great innovators wouldn’t get the opportunity they need.” 

The W² Labs  programme

The Labs programme is delivered by Wincanton in collaboration with L Marks, a global innovation expert. Daniel Saunders, the chief executive of L Marks, shares his insights on open innovation from his unique position as the bridge between the start-ups and larger corporates:  

“Business leaders are realising that open innovation is not just an option, but a necessity in today's competitive landscape. As has been proven time and time again, the secret to successful innovation is the willingness to be open to collaboration and experimentation.

It was the partnership between Wincanton and L Marks that created W2 Labs, and its been this programme that has enabled Wincanton to identify a wealth of new ideas and the partner with entrepreneurs to test and validate game changing technologies.

For the startups, they have had the unrivalled opportunity to validate their solutions with access to world-class experts and mentorship.  These partnerships are developing new relationships and the power to transform industries.” 




  • Thought leadership
  • Innovation