Archive for the Tag 'Shell'

GameChanger: Open Innovation through Angel Investing

Point: Create an internal venture fund to incubate revolutionary ideas.

Story: This week’s Innovation Summit at the Shell Technology Center Houston (STCH) highlighted the need for innovation and collaboration to solve society’s most pressing challenges. As the world’s problems become more complex, the best way to tackle them is with a cross-disciplinary approach.

What are some ways that companies can foster this multidisciplinary collaboration to achieve breakthrough innovation? One way is to create an open mechanism inside the company that solicits promising ideas regardless of where they come from — including outside the company — and offering seed funding that’s outside of the company’s traditional R&D programs to give them time to develop.

GameChanger

Shell is doing this with its GameChanger program, headed by Russ Conser.  GameChanger seeks out and invests in early-stage ideas that could potentially revolutionize the energy industry. GameChanger plays the role of an angel investor; a panel screens ideas and selects ones to fund. Idea submissions can come from any Shell employee as well as from outside the company.

Shell actively solicits ideas from academics and entrepreneurs alike through its web site www.shell.com/GameChanger.  Ideas that pass the initial screen receive seed money — $25,000 to develop a robust proposal and on up to $500,000- $1 million a year to actually test and develop ideas that graduate into projects.

Example

For example, Erik Cornelissen, a research scientist, was in a toy store looking for a gift for his nephews when he saw a science toy that many of us have seen before: a dinosaur that grows in size when placed in water. A nifty, fun gift. But Erik made a connection back to a perplexing problem that had plagued Shell and other oil companies for a long time. Specifically, oil wells contain water, not just oil. Over time, more and more water gets pumped up relative to oil.  Not only does that make the well less productive, but it pumps water that increasingly is becoming a scarce resource itself. The question is, how to detect that water and prevent it from mixing with the oil?

Erik realized that the same principle behind the dinosaur toy — a material that expands upon contact with water — could be applied at the oil well. Erik needed to identify a “swellable elastomer” that would seal off the pipe when water started to mix with the oil flowing through it. The idea was not difficult to articulate or explain, but finding this kind of material proved long and difficult. GameChanger provided Erik with the time and funding he needed to go through hundreds of experiments to find the elastomer that fit the demanding conditions at the oil well site.

Results

About 40% of Shell’s core Exploration & Development R&D portfolio has evolved from ideas submitted to GameChanger, and 70% of the GameChanger portfolio includes collaboration with people outside of Shell.

Since its inception in 1996, GameChanger has funded 3000 ideas, investing $350 million and resulting in 250 commercial projects, said Gerald Schotman, EVP, Innovation, R&D and Chief Technology Officer at Shell.

Action

• Publicize clear and explicit selection criteria, so external submitters know what you want and will fund.  For example, GameChanger uses 3 primary criteria:

  1. Novelty: is the idea truly and fundamentally new and different? (There’s no point in funding ideas that would qualify as traditional R&D projects.)
  2. Value: Could the idea create substantial new value if it works? (Wild ideas are welcome, but ultimately they need to deliver value if they come to fruition.)
  3. Credible Plan: is there a plan to manage risks prudently? (New ideas are risky, but many risks can be identified up front and plans can be put in place to stay ahead of them.)

• Have an end game for how you’ll commercialize an idea that demonstrates feasibility. For example, GameChanger uses 3 commercialization strategies:

  1. Move the idea into the company’s internal R&D portfolio.
  2. License the idea externally.
  3. Spin off a new company to bring the idea to market.

No Comments »Capital, Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, open innovation, R&D, Strategy

Shell, HP, Clorox & CSC: Protecting Open Innovation from Corporate Antibodies

Point: By picking where open innovation occurs and what it communicates to the rest of the organization, innovators can protect open innovation efforts from corporate antibodies

Story: All organizations, especially large ones, have an “immune system” in the form of an army of fine-tuned antibodies that root out risk and threats to the smooth-operating status quo.  These antibodies help drive efficiencies, attack waste, promote uniform performance, and prevent infection for foreign ideas.

That’s good for efficiency, but innovation requires taking risks and changing the status quo to create more value.  That makes innovation a prime target for the cleansing action of antibodies.  Open innovation is especially prone to antibody response because it involves foreign ideas.  At the December 2009 Open Innovation Summit, presenters from HP, CSC, Clorox, and Shell described how they avoided corporate antibodies at their companies.  The techniques addressed who participates in open innovation, where they operate, and what they communicate so that innovation succeeds and doesn’t get killed by antibodies.

For example, Russ Conser, Manager of EP GameChanger at Shell, offered a good metaphor for where to do open innovation.  He showed an image of a young girl building a castle in a sandbox under a large umbrella. The sandbox metaphor works on two levels.  It provides a protected place for innovation to do its value-creating experimental work.  The sandbox also is the container for the innovator’s gritty sand, protecting the larger organization from the risky rough ideas.

Phil McKinney, SVP and CTO at Hewlett Packard, concurred — HP put its OI in a quiet corner of the Personal System Group. The sandbox creates an antibody-free zone for innovation work and protects the larger organization from the early-stage risks of innovation.

When communicating about open innovation efforts, innovators’ communications can either attract attacking antibodies or help pacify them.  What innovators and their representatives say determines how antibodies react. For example, Lemuel Lasher, Chief Innovation Officer at CSC, cautioned that innovators shouldn’t be too quiet or too secretive, especially when the facts are on the side of the innovator.  Innovators should be provocative as long as they don’t provoke too strong an immune reaction.

Ed Rinker, Manager of the Technology Brokerage Group at Clorox, used hard-hitting facts to convince his organization to deviate from its brand strategy.  Consumer trends toward gentle green and natural products seemed antithetical to the Clorox brand of strong cleansers.  Rinker used facts like marketing tests that proved  consumers preferred GreenWorks with the Clorox name on the product to convince the antibody nay-sayers.

The most-cited communications recommendation, used at HP and Shell’s programs, is communicating what the innovators did and not what they are doing or planning to do.  This focuses the discussion on the new products, new customers, new revenues, and new profits generated by innovation, rather than on the potentially risky or disruptive projects underway by the innovators.  Shell’s Gamechanger Group continues to thrive after 12 years inside the billion-dollar giant because they show results.

Action:

  • Find an ‘air-cover’ executive who provides the umbrella of protection for innovation
  • Use a quiet corner or sandbox where innovators can generate results without interference or creating risk
  • Describe the good projects you did, not the risky projects you’re doing or plan to do
  • Live on the boundary between sufficiently provocative and excessively provoking

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5 Comments »Case study, Innovation, New Product Development, open innovation