How Collaboration Contributes to Innovation

By Iris Gonzalez
An image of Dale Bracey

Dale Bracey has been with Rackspace since 2004 when he started working with the company’s data center hardware inventory. Today, Bracey is a technical account manager who has worked with many San Antonio startup entrepreneurs over the years. Bracey shares his views on the evolution of San Antonio’s startup scene and how he has seen firsthand the benefits of collaboration fostering innovation.

San Antonio’s innovation startup community is growing and relatively young in its evolution. In the early stages of most startup ecosystems, you see specialists emerge to focus on their area of expertise. We now have many entrepreneur and innovator groups focused on a single interest, like filmmaking, video game production, bioscience, or information security. Each is hyper-specialist in their respective areas of knowledge and expertise.

The next step needed in our startup ecosystem is the evolution of generalists. When there are mostly specialists, too many experts working together in an industry silo can lead to too much consensus, shared experiences, and convergent thinking. Groupthink does not promote innovation.

Generalists typically need to collaborate with different experts to innovate and create products that require multiple inputs.  That’s why generalists who have that “just enough knowledge to be dangerous” curiosity and vision to drive and cultivate creative development help form a sound foundation for any startup ecosystem. More generalists and more collaboration across San Antonio’s startup community can help drive innovation. The value of different associations can trigger the development of something new, bigger, better.

One collaboration that looks promising is between Gabe Garza’s Reckon Point and Mark Solis of Reality Devs. Both founders are teaming to leverage their respective capabilities to create something new.

Reckon Point provides highly accurate indoor GPS scanning of buildings and other spaces using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances), while Reality Devs specializes in augmented reality with expertise in object recognition (the ability to identify the form and shape of different objects and their position in space caught by a device’s camera). The team is exploring the development of a new conference room reservation system for Geekdom working with Innov8 Place’s Stefanie Young.

Collaboration also expands your social circle of connections to make things happen. RealCo’s Michael Girdley heard Sridhar Kamma pitch his original idea in Austin for Apposphere. Kamma had conceived of a cloud-based app for businesses that bundled 10 different applications into one large cloud-based platform to address every part of the business lifecycle, from customer relations management (CRM) to billing. One of its applications was the artificial intelligence (AI)-fueled generation of new customer prospects. Girdley encouraged Kamma to pivot the startup to focus solely on the AI-generated customer leads because no one else is doing it. The result is FunnelAI, a startup company Kamma moved to downtown San Antonio to become RealCo’s third company in its accelerator.

Creative production can also happen from “chains” of connected ideas that flesh out the original thinking with different contributors speeding up those chains of connected ideas to something powerfully innovative. OpenStack is a perfect example of how collaboration led a handful of developers to build a solution for their needs that morphed into a larger collaborative open source software platform. OpenStack is now backed by some of the biggest companies in software development and hosting, as well as thousands of individual community members.

OpenStack is a set of software tools for building and managing cloud computing platforms for public and private clouds. It started in 2010 as a joint project of Rackspace and NASA intended to help organizations offer cloud-computing services running on standard hardware. The effort started with developers and engineers working together but grew to include tech writers, project managers, marketing and others, drawing in generalists to help evolve OpenStack to something greater.

OpenStack is managed by the OpenStack Foundation, a non-profit that oversees both development and community-building around the project. One of its largest users and contributors is CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. CERN uses OpenStack to run data collection and other projects for their Large Hadron Collider. Just one CERN project is reported to contain over 250 petabytes of data for their research.

“OpenStack is a perfect example of collaborative software,” Rackspace’s principal architect of private cloud solutions and OpenStack Foundation Board member Egle Sigler explained. “Most developers work for different, sometimes even competing, companies. However, if you attend any of the OpenStack events such as OpenStack Summit, OpenStack Days, or a PTG (project team gathering) you would not be able to tell that there is any competition.”

OpenStack is open source software, which means anyone who chooses to can access the source code, make any changes or modifications they need, and freely share these changes with the community at large. OpenStack benefits from thousands of developers all over the world working together to develop the strongest, most robust and secure product possible, all powered by innovation stemming from collaboration.

A recent Nielsen study looked at the impact of collaboration in the concept development early stages of innovation. The study found that more collaborators typically create a larger pool of ideas, which means more opportunities for higher-impact innovation. It’s time for San Antonio to encourage more generalists to join the startup community for bigger, better collaboration that hopefully will lead to the next “OpenStack” level of innovation.

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