TopCoder has developed a veritable virtual factory for Harvard Business School, where would-be entrepreneurs work in collaborative mode. It’s a system that enables entrepreneurs to manage their micro-businesses online but which could also be applied to more traditional companies.

In-Company Collaboration Might Usefully Draw on Startup Models

Could the structural organisation of companies move towards the ‘startup’ model? The Harvard Business School (HBS) together with TopCoder, which organises competitive online computer programming, has set up FIELD, a platform for project co-management designed for HBS students, but also, longer term, for real-life entrepreneurs. The goal is to manage a service project on the web from A to Z in open and collaborative mode and – in the longer term – to launch a real micro-business online. This is a method which, transposed to companies, could help staff to react faster and shorten the innovation process. The initiative involves each HBS group preparing a business plan, which, once approved byHBS faculty members, gives it access to the platform. TopCoder assigns each group a ‘co-pilot’ orcommunity of developers to help fine-tune the group project, respond to its needs and draft a cost estimate. Each HBS team and its co-pilotagree on the budget and then the project is launched.

An unlikely partnership

The four phases of the project from the dawning of the idea to the design, the choice of product, and the launch onto the real market all take place with the help of competitive software development among the TopCoder developer-community.  "This concept is very powerful. The type of partnership in play here is very interesting in that having HBS working together with a community of developers such as TopCoder is an unlikely combination,"comments Martin Duval, Founder and President of Bluenove and a specialist in Open Innovation. However, "knowledge sharing through cooperation or bringing two closely linked departments such as Research and Marketing together is happening more and more," he adds.

Companies might use this type of platform

A traditional company might also be able to apply this method. "It’s applicable to online service companies, but it would also be interesting to see the concept transposed to other business areas," Martin Duval tells us. It might also be a good idea to equip the platform with a mechanism for involving users in the process, as the Silicon Sentierlive laboratory has done. "However, we’re still just at the beginning and there are many things we could envisage doing. This solution demonstrates HBS and TopCoder’simmense capacity for anticipating future structural developments in business," he underlines.