Innovation through give and take

Publish Date

13 JUN 2021


Kai Beckmann


In the digital age, companies are dependent upon recognizing new technology trends early on. Exchanging ideas with others is emerging as a key element of this.

The success of open innovation initiatives shows that collaboration with students, start-ups and external partners is an increasingly important driver of innovation.

Innovative strength as a survival strategy

In today’s modern, globalized economy, the innovative strength of companies is more vital than ever before. Just think of companies such as Nokia or Kodak. These former industry leaders failed to embrace the development of smartphones and digital photography and were knocked out of the ring by the competition. Innovation cycles are becoming shorter and shorter owing to global networks and the knowledge available on the Web. That is making it more difficult for individual companies to maintain a knowledge edge. I’m convinced that what may at first seem like a threat is also a source of major opportunities. Companies can become far more innovative by making use of the openness of the modern economy and so-called Open Innovation approach.

Most people probably see Open Innovation mainly as the integration of external knowledge into the internal innovation processes of a company. But the full potential of the approach will only unfold if companies not only take in external knowledge but also open themselves up to and share their knowledge with external parties. Open Innovation has no restrictions in terms of the potential collaboration partners – whether customers, suppliers, research institutes, students or start-ups. Everyone can be considered as a potential source of ideas when the aim is to co-develop new projects.

A look outside the company is worthwhile

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany supports the open exchange of innovative ideas across a wide range of support programs and awards. Great examples of what open innovation can look like in practice include our “Innovation Cup”, our “Research Grants” funding programs, or the “Future Insight Prize”, which is awarded as part of the Future Insight Days.

The Innovation Cup is just around the corner again. From June 26 to July 2, 2021, we will bring talented students from the fields of life science, computer science and business together with experts to jointly develop ideas for medical challenges that have not yet been solved, e.g. in the fields of oncology or autoimmunity, and translate them into concrete, marketable plans. During a one-week summer camp, participants learn the basics of research and development work in the pharmaceutical industry and have the opportunity to network with each other and with alumni of past competition rounds. First place in the Innovation Cup involves prize money of € 20,000. For the best ideas, implementation in practice will be evaluated following the competition. The best participants may even be offered a permanent position at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. Applications for the Innovation Cup 2022 will be open again as early as November.

The Research Grants are intended to stimulate innovative research in challenging and promising areas. Fellowships are available for up to € 450,000 per year for up to three years. Areas of research include digital innovation and bioelectronics, as well as drug discovery. This year's application is open until August 31.

In 2020, the award went to researchers in the field of antibacterial resistance of antibiotics. This year the topic is “Food Generator”. It is about contributions to feeding the growing world population – without exception, topics that directly affect people's lives. This is precisely where research and innovation, as we now clearly feel, is necessary for survival. For this reason, too, the winning team will receive prize money from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany of € 1 million to drive the further development of its project. Participation in the 2021 Future Insight Days, which will be held online, is free of charge.

Knowledge is silver, shared knowledge is gold

There is no shortage of creative ideas, we just need to find them – also in exchanges with others. That's why we are now also specifically looking for start-ups to find the right partners for our topics and innovation ideas. With the EMD China Accelerator at our Innovation Hub in China we continuously select start-ups that want to enter the Chinese market or develop a product for it. However, start-ups from all over the world can apply for the program. Our objective is to join forces in order to realize innovative ideas and learn from each other while building sustainable partnerships.

Pursuing open innovation with others definitely seems to be worthwhile. In a study that the market research firm Lünendonk conducted with the auditing firm EY, nearly half of the companies surveyed stated that they are already pursuing their own Open Innovation strategies. 94% of these companies stated that they have already achieved visible success through Open Innovation and developed marketable products and services in collaboration with external partners.

We at EMD see Open Innovation as a firm element of our strategy. Programs such as the Innovation Cup or the Future Insight Prize are ideal examples of how Open Innovation is lived at EMD. I’m very curious to see the ingenious ideas that these and other initiatives will lead to in the future. By no means should we dismiss Open Innovation as a fad. That’s because learning from one another has never been as crucial as in the digital age.

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