As a world player, Cargill has everything it needs to prepare for future challenges. Yet it took the first steps toward open innovation within our own country. The collaboration with TomorrowLab delivered quite a few aha moments, and more…
Two top managers of Cargill Food Ingredients & Bio-Industrial Europe, Middle East & Africa are sitting around the table. Nils Sips is R&D Director - Technical Services & Go to Market. Jeremy Bentham is the Go to Market Director. Joachim De Vos is present as the Managing Director of TomorrowLab. He finds it important for the people from Cargill to take the floor. Why are we so interested in open innovation, and what does it deliver?
The skills you need today may be outdated within three years
‘The markets where Cargill is active are changing very fast. That means that we, too, have to go market sooner. We have to be even more alert, come up with more varied ideas. This can be done in many different ways. The traditional manner in which we looked at innovation was mainly inward- focused. Via open innovation, we are trying to turn that into a more comprehensive outward-oriented process. We still have many traditional relationships with our suppliers, but there is more than that. You can look at one supplier after the other, equipment manufacturers, universities, start-ups, and so on. That way you tap into a source of knowledge that we don’t yet have, or that can complement our existing knowledge,’ explains Jeremy Bentham.
‘The skills you need today may be outdated within three years. So you have to be able to build your teams’ skills quickly. It is also more interesting to reach farther than usual into the future. But how do you connect to external parties? You have to set up a well-balanced process for that’, adds Nils Sips.
Around the table with the competition…
TomorrowLab introduced a very pragmatic project plan. First, coordinate within the internal organization, collect information, arrange interviews, workshops and brainstorming sessions, and look at new ‘open’ business models. Ultimately, two business models survived a ‘stress test’. A group of ten important external stakeholders were asked to assess these two models. It was notable that even a direct competitor was present at the discussions.
TomorrowLab was the neutral catalyst in the process. Jeremy Bentham: ‘Naturally, you can’t talk to other companies about what innovations they are developing, but you can talk about the way in which they are doing it. We are in a process that is non-competitive. If you take the right approach, it’s a win-win situation.
This programme has certainly opened the eyes of our people
The competitor of today may be a partner in ten years’ time. We also have many clients who are forward-looking. With one of them, we now have started up a multipartner project. If you had asked us a year ago, we might have said “no”. Now the mindset is much more open. All the feedback we received has given us the courage to move forward’.
In search of a global team
The multipartner project is but one of the direct outcomes of the exercise with TomorrowLab. In the meantime, a team has been set up on a global level, which is searching for opportunities outside Cargill and that will also connect to the outside world on a much wider scale than before. Other forms of partnership are also contemplated, and even start-ups have been considered.
‘A spin-off of all the ideas we have looked at is the increasing and also faster trend toward bio-industrial applications. Companies are in search of sustainable solutions for their products. They are switching from a petrochemical to a bio-industrial product. That idea was already discussed at our company, but has been sped up by this process. We have built our strategy around this, which is also evident from the name of our business: Cargill Foods and Bio-industrial ingredients.
This is our way of indicating that we will look much more broadly than just at food. Naturally, a name isn’t everything, but it does help bring about the cultural shift.’
Sharing everything, including mistakes
Nils Sips: ‘Large companies which we thought were mainly focused inwards now seem to be further along in terms of innovation. Some of the companies began as much as fifteen years ago, but have publcized it. This programme with TomorrowLab has certainly opened the eyes of our people. The large number of companies that are embracing open innovation also surprised us.
Their focus on the outside world was a major “aha moment”. They are now so far ahead, that you can learn a great deal from them. They were also prepared to share everything about how open innovation has been organized at their firm, the pitfalls, the successes and the entire trajectory.
That was another aha moment’. Jeremy Bentham adds: ‘What we learned is very valuable. The process is ongoing, because we are not there yet. We heard from an external partner that it can take up to ten years before open innovation is up and running. It also involves a change and adaptation of the corporate culture. Yet we are already seeing the change in our company. The first steps have been taken, and there is certainly more to come, that’s precisely what makes this process exciting’.