Corporate Open Innovation Portals, Part II: Two Successful Case Examples

Jos Tissen of Unilever, based in the Netherlands, and Shawn Heipp of Elmer’s Products, based in Ohio, USA, have something in common. Each manages his company’s corporate innovation portal, the website used to encourage technology solution submissions from external customers, suppliers, inventors, and businesses. Tissen and Heipp describe their unique portal implementation choices and their results to date.

This article, the second in a two-part series (click here for the first article), helps readers understand the considerations involved in establishing a corporate Open Innovation portal (OI portal) by looking at the Unilever and Elmer’s Products case examples. Both Jos Tissen and Shawn Heipp work for their company’s Innovation organization – groups responsible for speeding open innovation practice in each firm – and are the individual point persons for their OI portal activities. The article closes with common features/similarities between the two companies’ experiences to date and parting advice for peers considering innovation portals at their own companies.

Unilever Overview

I was amazed to see the response.

Unilever is a large multinational company with over 100 years of history and recognizable brands and products around the globe. The company’s 2013 annual report stated revenues of €49.797B. Unilever are so committed to Open Innovation that 55% of the company’s product pipeline comes from Open
Innovation activities. Despite this history and track record, Jos Tissen was surprised.

Jos Tissen,</br>Products, Inc. </br>Foods Category </br>Open Innovation Manager, </br>UnileverTissen, Foods Category Open Innovation Manager, was amazed to see the response to Unilever’s Open Innovation submission platform. In the two and a half years since Unilever opened their portal for business, they’ve received over 3,500 idea submissions. “Even when you think that everyone knows Unilever and could guess what technology areas we focus our work on, you still have to tell people what you want – you really have to ask,” muses Tissen.

Tissen, an chemist by training and a technology scout in the company’s Open Innovation organization, remembers the meeting in which he volunteered to coordinate the site and serve as point person for distributing the submissions internally. “We were already working with yet2.com on some technology scouting projects. The decision to do an OI portal was an expansion of those activities,” he said. Unilever launched their idea submission portal, Collaborate to Innovate, in 2012.

Elmer’s Overview

Shawn Heipp</br>Innovation Technical</br>Manager, Elmer'sAcross the ocean, Elmer’s Products, Inc., a mid-sized company based in Ohio, U.S., has been providing “adhesive-based solutions for fueling creativity in the classroom, at home, in the workshop and at the craft table” for over 65 years. In 2011, Elmer’s moved to organize a dedicated Innovation team, to improve innovation function within the company and to move the company closer to an Open Innovation business model, tapping into external resources for growth and expansion.

Charged with reaching out to the inventor community to support open innovation activities, Innovation Technical Manager Shawn Heipp wanted to engage inventors more fully, encouraging them to share good ideas with the company. To figure out the best way to do so, Heipp explored best practices among companies known for encouraging inventors. That’s how he initially learned
about innovation portals.

“Elmer’s has engaged with inventors in the past, but we wanted a way to drive traffic to one centralized place, building awareness that Elmer’s is truly an ‘inventor-friendly company,’” says Heipp. “We wanted to build an organized system to receive submissions and also to start a deeper dialog – to let inventors know we can be a great partner to help commercialize their ideas.

At the time, Elmer’s had already been working with yet2.com on some technology scouting initiatives, and when he learned that yet2.com also offers innovation portal services, he moved ahead. Elmer’s launched its Open Innovation Portal in May, 2013. Through their portal, Elmer’s seeks technology ideas from inventors as well as from large and small businesses, and even universities.

Re-cap: Important Portal Considerations

In the first article in this two-part series, published in June, 2014, we outlined a series of important considerations to weigh when evaluating/deciding to implement an Open Innovation portal. This second article looks closely at our two case companies – Unilever and Elmer’s Products — to see how they made their system design decisions and how the portals are working for them today.

Briefly re-capping the Important Considerations we identified in Part I for an Open Innovation Portal:

  • Outcome goals – are you seeking Ideas or Solutions? “Ideas” tend to be product related — such as product feature extensions, new product ideas, etc. “Solutions” refer to technical solutions for business or process challenges. Some companies use idea portals as a customer touchpoint – engaging customers in product feature conversations (e.g. what color would you like your next phone or pair of sneakers to be?) while others focus more on seeking expertise around certain technical challenges (e.g. seeking a lubricant that adheres to x materials under y conditions).
  • Preference for a Collaborative vs. Direct methodology: do you want idea submitters to be able to see, react to, and build upon, one another’s ideas (collaborative), or would you like each submitter to submit their ideas confidentially – i.e. only your company can see each one (direct)?
  • Managed Internally or Outsourced? Do you want to design and manage a homegrown system for yourselves, working with IT, Marketing, and key Open Innovation players to implement a customized system, or would you prefer to customize an existing external platform that can hook into your website and other systems? Secondly, do you want to manage both the site marketing and filtering internally (identify staff who can take this on), or would you like external help to leverage your staff time (up front cost but time savings for your staff)?
  • Sensitivity to Intellectual Property (IP) protection: the level to which IP contamination is a concern. Some companies use third party resources to do a first-pass filter of technology submissions to ensure submissions and any attachments contain only public, non-confidential information. Usually there is a trade-off between the amount of legal language used to advise customers not to send confidential information and the number of submissions received.
  • Must Commit to Marketing: as with any website, you won’t get the traffic you wish to the site unless you invest in activities to drive that traffic. For OI portals, that can mean publicizing the launch of the portal, reminding the public and potential submitter communities that you are seeking solutions to specific problems, and, potentially, much more.

Learn more about corporate innovation portals and the two successful case examples from Unilever and Elmer’s. This second article looks closely at our two case companies – Unilever and Elmer’s Products — and how they made their system design decisions and how the portals are working for them today.

By Emma Hughes

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About the author


Emma Hughes, VP & Managing Director, Europe, yet2.com. She has been with yet2 since 2000 and manages the European region, generating new business and delivering on technology exploitation/acquisition licensing and innovation projects for many Global 1000 and SMEs across Europe. Emma has worked on a wide range of IP consulting projects, in biomedical, material sciences and consumer product areas. Work has included technology and technology need identification and evaluation, marketing and target strategy development and furthermore generating and facilitating cross-industry/regional connections for licensing deal activities. Since graduating with a BA Honours degree in the Healthcare field, Emma has gained over 15 years of business and management experience, working in business development, marketing, operations, and contract management positions. Emma utilizes her technology transfer experience and European network to drive technology acquisition and exploitation for yet2’s global clients, facilitating business development through technology transfer.

About Yet2.com


yet2.com provides turnkey Corporate Open Innovation Portal solutions to F100 clients as part of its broader array of Open Innovation services for an international corporate client base. To learn more about yet2.com’s portal services, go to our website, or contact us at europe@yet2.com and we’ll be happy to send you more
information or schedule a conversation.

Photo : Idea Concept by Shutterstock.com

  • http://www.slideshare.net/sanjayabr10 Sanjay Abraham

    Often people think that having a digital suggestion box ( say an email ID dedicated to ideation) is enough to drive innovation. Thats not true. Innovation Management needs more specialized solutions not only to ideate but also through the idea graduation process and of course the actual implementation of the qualified ideas too.

  • http://www.creax.com/ CREAX

    We couldn’t agree more Sanjay. It’s also our impression that an idea box only gives meagre results. If participants are triggered by specific challenges, we see much better results.

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