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Igniting Innovation: Grace Chew of Hydroemission

A whiff of success through open innovation

· TechInnovation

Photo courtesy of IPI Singapore.

Understanding your core competency and aligning your goals with collaborators are key to open innovation, says Grace Chew, CEO of Hydroemission.

More than just a buzzword, sustainability is now becoming a key differentiator for companies. By taking into account the environmental impact of the products and services they offer, enterprises can appeal to a wider consumer base that is increasingly aware of the consequences of human activity on the natural environment.

Putting eco-friendliness at the centre of its operations is Hydroemission, a Singapore-based company that specialises in controlled release technology allowing active ingredients such as scented oils and antibacterial compounds to be released at a predefined rate. Because these controlled release systems are biodegradable and do not require any power supply to be activated, the environmental footprint of Hydroemission’s products is kept to a minimum.

For its creativity and commitment to green solutions, Hydroemission has received multiple awards, including the Best Innovation Award at the Emerging Enterprise Awards in 2011 and the Green Innovation Award at the 2012 Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards. Grace Chew, founder and CEO of Hydroemission, shared with IPI how its willingness to embrace open innovation has enabled it to better serve its clients and collaborators, which include businesses from Japan, India, Hong Kong, Europe and the United States.

1. What is the core competency of your company?

Hydroemission specialises in the development and manufacture of products based on controlled release technology for environmental applications. Controlled release technology is an approach based on materials science to dose active ingredients into the environment at predetermined rates and duration to bring about the desired treatment effects, without the use of machinery or equipment.

Currently, Hydroemission’s technology is being implemented in the following areas: condensate and cooling water treatment, mosquito larvae control, grease remediation, ambient scenting, odour management, air purification, agricultural pest control and oil mining.

2. How has open innovation contributed to the building up of this competitive advantage?

Controlled release technology, combined with appropriate applications and expert knowledge of active ingredients, is powerful. When strategically leveraged, it offers extraordinary potential to boost performance and capability across diverse fields and industries.

Open innovation is proving fundamental to the development of successful product lines because it facilitates creative collaboration between Hydroemission and its development partners.

Hydroemission has two types of product lines—finished products and development projects. Finished products are conceptualised internally, then manufactured and packaged and made ready for sale. Development projects, on the other hand, are collaborations between Hydroemission and a partner.

So far, we have observed a high success rate with development projects. We attribute that success to the fact that partners are committed to providing a use case, possess good knowledge of an active ingredient, and even contribute the marketing and distribution channels.

3. Was there a turning point in your company's history that convinced you that open innovation was the right way to grow?

For 14 years, Hydroemission’s revenue stream came from developing, manufacturing and selling finished products to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for resale into respective markets. Such products were mostly ‘me-too’ applications with a technological differentiation brought about by Hydroemission’s controlled release technology. The company was sustainable and profitable, but its growth was slow.

In 2014, Hydroemission joined IPI’s open innovation portal and began to participate in events such as TechInnovation. At first, it was mainly a way for Hydroemission to procure specialty active ingredients. But soon, Hydroemission began to receive inquiries into its technology from established market players. That eventually led to collaborations and the co-development of unique controlled release products for use in specific industrial segments.

Obviously, these collaboration projects have a relatively long lead-time, but the volume of business is substantial, and we expect them to contribute to quantum leaps in the company’s growth.

4. How do you encourage a culture of open innovation in your company?

When a technical need emerges in the production or R&D department, we first evaluate whether it fits within our area of core competency. If it does not, we quickly begin to scout for new partners and technologies that can help us to fulfil that particular need.

Meanwhile, in the marketing department, open innovation is one of the key means to broadcast our technology to potential clients and partners.

5. What are some key lessons that you have learnt in the process of engaging in open innovation?

In order to successfully engage in open innovation, you need to clearly define your company’s core competency—how it creates value, and whether it has adequate and appropriate intellectual property protection.

The next step is to identify collaboration partners with similar business values. Having a shared vision and mutual trust helps build a mindset and culture that supports open innovation.

Grace Chew is a keynote speaker at TechInnovation 2018.

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