Since early January we have been running the second edition of Imagine Chemistry, our online challenge through which we invite startups, scale-ups and researchers to work with us to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the chemicals industry today. This relatively new initiative is just one part of a collaborative innovation strategy we have embedded throughout the AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals organization to leverage our internal capabilities and increase our output.

By Peter Nieuwenhuizen, March 2, 2018

For starters, we have the Deventer Open Innovation Center, or DOIC, here in the Netherlands. With the DOIC we are making the infrastructure and equipment we have at our research site in Deventer available to startups, scale-ups, and other innovative companies. In doing so, we aim to create a symbiotic research ecosystem by bringing in interesting companies we can support and whose fresh perspectives will in turn positively influence on the way we work.

We also have our Scouting, Screening, and Venturing process, which helps us efficiently route and assess proposals from outside parties who want to collaborate with us, as well as leverage our external network when we are looking for capabilities we don’t have in-house. This approach led us to Enerkem, a Canadian startup with whom we will partner to convert household waste to methanol at our site in Rotterdam.

But we don’t just work with technologies that are ready to go to market. Through our partnership with venture capital firm Icos, we are able to seek out potential startup collaborators, secure funding, and provide hands-on assistance to help them commercialize their technologies. We also collaborate with universities in the Netherlands, Sweden, and the US, sponsoring PhD students and post-docs to work on long-term R&D projects around specific challenges. For example, through the Chemical Building Block Consortium, chaired by Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa, we partner with Dutch universities, Shell, and BASF to tackle research topics related to chemistry and energy.

While we’ve gotten pretty good at seeking out and forming solid partnerships, eventually we realized that it is impossible for us to find everyone we should be working with. Imagine Chemistry has become our solution: a big flag we are waving to let the outside world know that we are looking for new ideas.

Through Imagine Chemistry, we offer startups and scale-ups access to market and to capabilities to help them figure out how to commercialize their products and technologies. In return, they are not only helping us find solutions to challenges faced by our business – they are also opening our minds and reinvigorating our business with their infectious energy and enthusiasm.

After an exciting journey of self-reflection and experimentation, we think  we have the necessary groundwork in place and are ready to further enhance the way we do our business. I firmly believe that complementing our expertise and resources with the ideas and energy of outside collaborators will help our company achieve its maximum potential and pave the way for a more sustainable chemicals industry.

This year’s Imagine Chemistry Challenge is accepting submissions until March 10th. If you think you’ve got an idea that can help us make the chemicals industry more sustainable, join the Challenge at challenge.imaginechemistry.com.

If you’ve got an idea you think we might be interested in which is outside the scope of Imagine Chemistry, you can submit it via our Open Innovation page at www.azkonobel.com/about-us/openinnovation.