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Open innovation speeds up R&D processes and helps enterprises stay competitive

TechInnovation 2016's Day 2 started off with SPRING Singapore Chief Executive Poon Hong Yuen addressing a packed conference room of innovators, entrepreneurs and potential investors. Attendees came from the world over to share their latest innovative technologies, as well as to listen in on how the experts maintain their competitive edge through open innovation.

Mr Poon recalled how something as ubiquitous as Google would be called nothing more than science fiction by naysayers just 10 to 15 years ago. “The very same things referred to as science fiction are the things that we take for granted now,” he said. Google could unearth the answer to just about any question, from the best restaurants in Singapore, to traffic alerts, just from speaking into the app on a mobile device.

New technologies could one day change the way companies work, said Mr Poon, and this year's TechInnovation showcases over 300 enabling technologies that would help small-and-medium enterprises solve their problems, and to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals.

Innovation is central to specialty chemicals company Evonik Industries, said Director of Innovation Networks & Communication Dr Reza Ghahary. Evonik aims to be the most innovative company in the world, said Dr Ghahary. But as a chemicals company competing with giants like DuPont and Dow Corning, remaining innovative is necessary to success.

That is why Evonik embraces Open Innovation, which sees the company collaborate with non-chemical companies in an effort to stay ahead. Though “Industry Cross Innovation”, these non-chemical companies include their key customers, or companies in a different part of their value chain. “The need for open innovation and collaboration is due to shorter product cycles, globalisation, and pressure for higher research & development efficiency,” said Dr Ghahary.

The culture of innovation is an overarching theme at Evonik. In 2015, it spent €434 million on R&D expenses, with 2,700 employees toiling away in its labs to improve on its product offerings. With innovation as one of Evonik's key characteristics, the company regularly collaborates with local and foreign universities. Besides, Evonik has planned to invest €100 million into selected startup companies which offer innovative and high potential products.

One project that is part of Evonik's Industry Cross Innovation concept is its partnership with Siemens. Siemens is working with Evonik and other various chemical companies in a project called Carbon2Chem, to come up a method of producing steel that would produce zero carbon dioxide emissions.

Germany is the largest steel producer in the European Union, producing 42.7 million tons of the metal last year. The goal of Carbon2Chem is to convert by products of steel production, such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane, into reusable materials for chemical companies, instead of incinerating these gases and contributing to carbon dioxide emissions.

Xander Sim, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of diagnostics applications firm Cell ID, said pursuing open innovation does have its challenges. External partners might not share the same vision or passion for innovation, he said. He highlighted this from his experience in persuading printing companies to collaborate with Cell ID to apply functional printing to his diagnostics products.

Sim succeeded, and eventually developed an affordable roll-to-roll printable platform on which diagnostics kits could be reproduced on a large scale. With more of Cell ID's diagnostics applications being used for medical testing, more patients could be treated. “Some diseases are not curable, and it's always better to detect them early so treatment could begin as fast as possible,” said Sim.

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