Spearheading the introduction of Paint the Future with its industry-first startup challenge earlier this year our Chief Technology Officer Klaas Kruithof, has the inside scoop. He shares more about what’s happened since the first challenge and what’s next for our growing innovation ecosystem.
It’s been almost six months since the Paint the Future startup challenge 2019. What do you think about it looking back, and what’s happened with the winning startups?
“The global startup challenge was really an amazing experience from start to finish. Probably the most impactful thing for me was to see the shift in energy both within AkzoNobel as employees got excited about engaging with others in this new and collaborative way, and with everyone else once we launched.
“As the startups got to know us and we explored new ideas together, they also got more excited about partnership possibilities and what they could do in paints and coatings. By the time we met the finalists in person at the accelerator event, the energy was at an all-time high.
“I’m proud to say the challenge was a first for our industry, and I’m so pleased it was such a success. That speaks to the level of opportunity in our industry and the huge appetite for collaboration. We received 160 quality submissions. Out of the 21 startups that were selected to attend the accelerator event, we offered joint agreements to five winning startups, as well as an award from our partner KPMG.
“As a company, we learned more about new possibilities in our industry, preparing for acceleration and helping others. Clearly, adopting a cross-functional approach helps us make decisions and accelerates the whole process of working together. And continued commitment from top-level management was vital to being seen as a valuable innovation partner.
“That was something that was really important to us. That’s why the day after the finals event, we met with each winning startup and signed a letter of intent. We were serious about establishing successful collaborations. We set up venture teams made up of cross-functional members and now have an accelerated legal process for joint development agreements.”
What impact will Paint the Future have on the industry?
“I’m going to quote Ally van der Boon here. Ally’s our project lead, and we’re really lucky to have her on the team. She’s our Paint the Future enthusiast. She says: ‘Making innovation in paints and coatings open to anyone, from anywhere, is an important step in disrupting our industry.’ It’s an invitation to do amazing things together, that’s what I really like about it.
“The startup challenge was about setting the stage – our industry is changing. We needed to show people how innovation will be an important part of its transition, why we need to make new connections, explore new ideas and find new solutions that could have applications in paints and coatings.
“It’s something I’m personally very excited about, and the company is as well. Innovation for us is about going beyond: finding new ways to exceed the expectations of our customers, go beyond the scope of their imaginations and become even more sustainable to safeguard our planet for future generations.
“Innovation and collaboration are the only ways to grow in our industry. Paint the Future brings those two things together, and it’s how we’re going to accelerate the launch of new products to solve customer challenges.”
How will you grow Paint the Future now that it’s more than a startup challenge?
“Our next step is to accelerate innovation with suppliers. We’re kicking that off with a two-day event for some key suppliers, who will be invited to submit ideas to our online platform. After, we’ll open the platform up to all our current and potentially new suppliers.
“We’ve also recently announced our first regional startup challenge, happening in 2020 at the heart of Latin America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – Brazil. And of course, our current and new partnerships with universities will start to fall under Paint the Future as well.
“It’s going to be a very diverse and active community offering a number of programs to connect with experts, explore new opportunities together, accelerate ideas, bring solutions to market and deliver impact at scale. We can’t wait to see how it grows.”
Why take this collaborative approach to innovation?
“Paints and coatings is a large industry ready for the next revolution. Paints and coatings are all around you – and you are likely within a meter of our products no matter where you are. In that respect, everything you see and everything you touch is an opportunity.
“The industry as it stands is dominated by molecule and brush focused companies. We know that just scratches the surface of what we can do in paints and coatings. Collaborating with others will enable us all to do more. I really believe growing together is the power of the ecosystem.”
What do you ultimately want to achieve with Paint the Future?
“We want to be the launchpad for great ideas and innovations in our industry. We see Paint the Future as the way to do that. We really need to look along the entire value chain – our success will depend on the diversity of the community and being open to exploring new connections.
“We bring a lot to the table for our partners in collaboration: 200 years of knowledge. Scaling options. Market access. In a way, we are the industry of industries by the very nature of our products. Paints and coatings are everywhere, in all industries. The market is very wide. We cover do-it-yourself to large scale projects, so we can absolutely help others access the market and right contacts, and we can provide resources to scale.”
The million dollar question: how do people get involved in Paint the Future?
“I invite everyone to join our ecosystem at letspaintthefuture.com and sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about our programs. If you want to learn more about getting involved, please connect with Ally van der Boon – she’s a great resource and ready to help. Let’s see how we could work together!”