AkzoNobel's Imagine Chemistry initiative seeks new ideas from startups worldwide.
In January of 2017, AkzoNobel launched Imagine Chemistry, a strategic initiative developed in conjunction with KPMG to help solve real-life chemistry-related challenges1.
A startup challenge for the global chemical industry is at the heart of this initiative. This year's response has been outstanding, with hundreds of ideas submitted by numerous startups along with scientists, research groups and students.
In June, the finalists were announced. Each one will work closely with AkzoNobel in a unique approach to innovation based on openness, shared intellectual property (IP) and a highly collaborative process for effective development.
From January to March 2017, participants submitted solutions through a dedicated online challenge platform powered by KPMG. Over a thousand participants from all over the world - from Australia to Brazil and Poland to Nigeria - joined the platform. More than 200 ideas were submitted to the seven challenges by chemistry.
A jury made up of AkzoNobel business and R&D leaders and prominent international experts then selected the most promising ideas to join the finals at AkzoNobel's Research, Development & Innovation Center in Deventer, The Netherlands, June 1-3, 2017.
Three finalists were selected on the basis of technical excellence, sustainability, and business objectives:
Ecovia Renewables: developing cost-effective, bio-based chemicals and fuels2.
Industrial Microbes: upgrading methane to chemicals using synthetic biology.
Renmatix: using water-based chemistry instead of enzymes, solvents, or acids for deconstructing plants into sugars and polymers.
In addition, seven other startups were awarded prizes, along with expert advice and several months of support at AkzoNobel's development center.
Established chemical companies have always worked with smaller companies to gain new technology, market entry or expertise in highly specialized areas. But AkzoNobel's Startup Challenge is unique in three ways:
Openness: Oftentimes, startups operate in `stealth mode,' striving to keep their ideas and strategies from their potential competitors. At the AkzoNobel Startup Challenge Finals event in June, all presentations were open to all attendees so teams could learn more about the technology and entrepreneurship.
Shared IP: The Challenge respects the IP rights of both parties. What is created together during the event is jointly owned by AkzoNobel and the startups. As the organizer, AkzoNobel has the first right to use, further develop or exploit this IP together with the startup. If AkzoNobel decides that it is no longer interested in the IP, the startup has the right to use it themselves or with others.
A collaborative approach: Professionals from AkzoNobel work actively together with the startups. For the finalists, AkzoNobel provides access to customers, investors, subject matter experts, mentorship, an accelerator program, and additional support. The collaboration takes on many forms, such as a joint development agreement, having AkzoNobel as a launch customer, organizing partnerships or investing in the startup3.
Following the success of the first year's Startup Challenge, Imagine Chemistry will be launched again in 2018, when the finals will be held at AkzoNobel's research facilities near Gothenburg in Sweden.