Imagine Chemistry 2017 finals conclude

Collaboration with start-ups will help AkzoNobel and industry become more innovative and sustainable.

In early June, the Imagine Chemistry 2017 Challenge finals drew to a close with an awards ceremony at the AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals research laboratories in the Netherlands, during which ten winning start-ups were invited to collaborate with AkzoNobel further. It marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another, both for the start-ups who participated and for AkzoNobel.

The Imagine Chemistry Challenge was launched earlier this year, inviting start-ups and researchers to help solve real life challenges faced by AkzoNobel’s Specialty Chemicals business. Over 200 submissions were received from around in the world aimed at helping the business become more sustainable through areas like plastics recycling and eliminating wastewater from chemical sites; ultimately 20 start-ups were invited to join the finals in Deventer.

During the event, the finalists enjoyed a program introducing them to the culture of AkzoNobel and its approach to innovation, as well as one-on-one expert sessions designed to assess potential fits between their start-ups and AkzoNobel’s businesses and ways AkzoNobel could support their journey towards commercialization. A jury of experts from inside and outside AkzoNobel then evaluated the start-ups based on the proposals they submitted as well as feedback resulting from the two days of collaboration.

A variety of prizes were awarded, tailored to what the jury thought the start-up needed most in order to take the next step towards bringing their product to market. These included the top prize of a joint development agreement, partner or research support, and a voucher to work rent-free in the Deventer Open Innovation Center. The full list of winners can be found here.

The jury’s main criterion for selecting winners was not just the novelty of a start-up’s idea, but rather the fit between their business and AkzoNobel, as well as the likelihood of a successful – and collegial - partnership. While the three joint development agreement winners - Ecovia, Industrial Microbes, and Renmatix - all focused on very different areas of sustainable chemistry, what they did have in common were proven technologies that made sense in AkzoNobel’s portfolio and the kind of passion, integrity, and desire for partnership based on true collaboration that AkzoNobel could relate to.

The enthusiasm of the start-ups was infectious. Noah Helman of Industrial Microbes explained, “Like all teams, we are excited and honored to be here. We want to see our product come to market and help make the world a better place.” Jeremy Austin of Renmatix summed up winning thusly: “We think this is a really good fit and we will work well together. In the end, everyone will win.”

Jeremy was not alone in this sentiment. During one of his speeches, Thierry Vanlancker, Executive Committee Member Specialty Chemicals, observed, “It’s pretty clear to me that there are no winners and losers in this Challenge.” His assessment was echoed by both start-ups and experts alike, many of whom raved about the event being both useful and also exciting in the way it was making the way forward clearer for everyone involved.

“We started Imagine Chemistry because we wanted to get infected by the passion of start-ups,” explained Peter Nieuwenhuizen, Global R&D Director for Specialty Chemicals. “We wanted to show our colleagues – and ourselves – that it's good to look outside for new ideas. Now that Imagine Chemistry is over I can say wholeheartedly that we achieved this. We look forward to working with these start-ups and to incorporating this new way of working into the way we approach innovation at AkzoNobel.”

“Innovation through partnerships with start-ups is central to our growth strategy, and will be critical to our ability to keep meeting customers’ needs and reach our goal of being carbon neutral by 2050,” says Thierry. “The winners’ ideas have the potential for global impact, and we are eager to work together to make industry more sustainable and help make people’s lives more liveable and inspiring.”

Imagine Chemistry is planned as a series of events designed to embed open innovation in AkzoNobel’s way of working and forge partnerships with start-ups whose ideas present new opportunities for growth. Following the success of this year’s edition, Imagine Chemistry will take place again in 2018, when the finals will be held in Sweden.