A growing range of public, private and civic organisations, from Unicef through Nesta to Tesco, now run units known as ‘innovation labs’. The hopeful assumption they share is that labs, by building on openness among other features, can generate promising solutions to grand challenges of the future. Despite their seeming proliferation and popularisation, the underlying innovation paradigm embodied by labs has so far received scant academic attention. This is a missed opportunity, because innovation labs are potentially fruitful vehicles for leveraging openness for radical innovation. Indeed, they not only strive to span organisational, sectoral and geographical boundaries by bringing a variety of uncommon actors together to embrace radical ideas and out-of-the box thinking, but they also aim to apply the concept of openness throughout the innovation process, including the experimentation and development phases. While the phenomenon of labs clearly forms part of a broader trend towards openness, it seems to transcend traditional conceptualisations of open innovation (Chesbrough, 2006), open strategy (Whittington et al., 2011), open science (David, 1998) or open government (Janssen et al., 2012). What are innovation labs about, how do they differ from other innovation efforts and how do they embrace openness to create breakthrough innovations? This short exploratory paper is an introduction to a larger empirical study aiming to answer these questions.