Open Innovation: Beiersdorf’s Intimate Approach to External Partnerships

Michael Fruhling rececently spoke with Dr. Horst Wenck, Beiersdorf's Corporate VP of R+D, about his company's approach to open innovation. One key is its OI web portal, which carefully cultivates a qualified set of external partners. Once a relationship is established, Beiersdorf forms a 'project house,' where qualified partners are deeply immersed in its current technical needs and challenges and the corporate intelligence it has gathered to support its OI priorities.

Biersdorf is a multinational skin care company, best knowns for its Nivea brand. Despite its long tradition of external collaboration required due to its low backward integration, Beiersdorf (BDF) has admittedly taken a bit longer than some others to become visibly active in the open innovation marketplace. They decided that they needed to offer something meaningfully different to distinguish themselves.

As a relatively smaller player in the OI field, they decided that size matters and changes what Horst refers to as “the nature of approachability.” Beiersdorf would pre-qualify its partners before accepting proposals. Rather than having a totally wide open door, and admitting an unfiltered array of external inputs with widely varying quality and submitter qualifications and to make users waive their rights to confidentiality, BDF decided to take a more intimate approach.

For its new OI web portal “Pearlfinder” BDF identifies and cultivates a qualified set of partners, who decide and agree in advance to enter into a confidential relationship with the company which is likewise obliged to fully respect the partner IP. This narrows the field of prospective partners considerably, but BDF is aiming to be selective for quality reasons and to increase success likelihood.

Once this relationship is established, it can become highly immersive for the invited parties. Beiersdorf deeply informs them about the currently pressing technical needs and challenges and the corporate intelligence that constitutes the background rationale behind these.

Taking an uncommon (but not unprecedented) approach, BDF organizes what they refer to as a Project House, where BDF works intimately with the partner(s). In fact, in some instances the partner is resident on premises doing their work and research. Beiersdorf scientists have also worked in the partner labs on other occasions. Intellectual property matters are clarified up-front and are handled in a spirit of partnership.

Horst emphasized that trying to excessively obtain IP from a joint effort isn’t the Beiersdorf strategy, partners should have a broad room to maneuver and build their business.

Horst volunteered a successful BDF Project House program: Nivea Black and White Deodorant resulted from a collaboration with an external partner from the specialty chemicals arena. Beiersdorf recognized through extensive consumer and netnography research that fabric staining caused by interactions between deodorant and underarm sweat was a consumer dissatisfier.

They researched the staining phenomena and its causes, and then scouted whom they felt would be an appropriately qualified partner to help solve the problem. This process yielded Evonik as their partner, with whom they jointly developed the anti-stain technology for the new deodorant. Resulting product sales have exceeded expectations.

By Michael Fruhling

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