EMD Serono has cooperated with BioMed X to open an innovation center where talented young scientists conduct research projects
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Open Innovation describes an innovation culture that aims to integrate talented individuals from outside the company into the development of new products. EMD and BioMed X GmbH, which is based in Heidelberg, Germany, have further developed this approach into a completely new innovation concept.
An innovation is more than just a good idea. Apart from being a marketable product or service, it must also occur at the right time and satisfy a particular demand. When all of these conditions are satisfied, commercial success will follow. Real innovations are not easy to achieve. That is why every company is interested in discovering ways of promoting innovation. Open Innovation, the approach adopted by EMD, encourages external talent from science and research to contribute their input.
EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of EMD, is already using this concept in the “Innovation Cup”. In this summer school, which takes place every year, young scientists from around the world form diverse teams, in which they work out innovative therapeutic concepts over the course of a week. EMD researchers and managers are on hand to support their endeavors.
“By calling for ideas for a research topic worldwide, we ensure that many scientists contribute their input.“
BioMed X GmbH
“The concept is unique for three reasons: crowdsourcing, open innovation, and incubation,” says Christian Tidona, who is the managing director of BioMed X GmbH. Tidona has already helped several startups to grow to maturity. The terms refer to the special structure of the concept. “Crowdsourcing” means that people are asked to voluntarily contribute their ideas.
“Open innovation” underlines the fact that outsiders are also involved in the innovation process, while “incubation” stands for optimal conditions. “By calling for ideas for a research topic relevant to the pharmaceutical industry worldwide, we ensure that many scientists contribute their input,” says Tidona. “Correspondingly, the brain pool and thus the creative potential is much larger than when just a few people are involved.”
The project teams realize their ideas in a first-class scientific environment. That is also the reason for the close relationship with the top-class location Heidelberg. In addition, the teams are supported by mentors from inside and outside the company. Betz und Tidona have coined the term “outcubation” for their jointly developed innovation concept.
It is a fitting description because the top talented people work outside the company as if they were in an innovation incubation. For example, they also attract additional sponsors. Clearly defined rules governing confidentiality protect the rights of each sponsor.
Three project teams are currently working in Heidelberg. They were selected in a five-day assessment center. Applications from hundreds of young talented people from more than 60 countries were received in response to the call for ideas on the topics relevant to EMD. Ultimately, just under three dozen applicants were able to form small groups that further developed the potential solutions they had submitted.
“Scientific expertise, creative energy, the ability to lead, and enthusiasm for product-oriented research were the key criteria when it came to selecting the team leaders,” says Betz. The talented scientists were able to apply for three categories: group leader, post doc or research associate. The latter corresponds to the status of a Ph.D. candidate. Following the assessment center, the designated heads of the groups selected colleagues from the applicants who were present for specific positions.
EMD Serono is sponsoring the three project teams, initially for a period of two to four years. BioMed X takes care of establishing a close relationship with the stimulating environment at the Heidelberg innovation hub. At the end of the sponsoring program, EMD Serono can integrate the projects into its own research activities if it wishes.
If EMD Serono decides not to take advantage of this option, the project remains at BioMed X, which has the right to independently further develop the work. In this way, the partners are sharing both the advantages and the risks. It is an approach that makes the new innovation concept interesting for both participants.
So what exactly motivates young, highly talented people to apply to conduct product-oriented research at the interface between the pharmaceutical industry and academic research? “The heads of the groups have a permanent contract of employment at BioMedX and can develop their careers in many directions,” explains Tidona.
“They will be able to publish their results and thus retain a foothold in the world of academic research. They will be also able to participate in courses that prepare them for corporate management. This know-how can be useful if they decide to found their own startup or switch to the pharmaceutical industry. In other words, their options are open.”
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