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Enabling world-wide access to life saving technologies

Kurt Bostelaar
August 11, 2023
 min read

Sergey Zverev, the newly appointed director of MSD’s innovation studio, reached out to Strategyzer. He was looking for help setting up their new innovation unit. MSD was looking to create an innovation arm that could find transformative new business models.

Companies that are prepared for disruption are constantly reinventing themselves. They don’t believe they are invincible. The main task of leadership today is to constantly reinvent your organisation.”

The challenge

How do you establish a collaborative innovation unit within a complex multinational company? How can you scale successful projects across markets in a heavily regulated industry?

The solution

Strategyzer partnered with MSD to design an intrapreneurship program. We provided ongoing support in how to run and coach innovation sprints. We guided MSD in how to set up their innovation organization.

The impact

MSD has successfully developed new projects, pilots, and businesses. The most impactful are being scaled across markets. This work has led to an entrepreneurial culture shift. They have seen a tangible difference in the ways employees are engaging with their work.

Driving access to drugs and vaccines in emerging markets

MSD is a 130 year old pharmaceutical company with 69,000 employees. They generated $59.3 billion in revenue in 2022. A few years ago they launched a new commercial innovation studio with Sergey Zverev at its head. Its focus was to broaden access to cancer treatments and vaccines in emerging markets. It was set up to act as an internal consultancy. It would help the more than 50 different markets and MSD subsidiaries in the emerging markets regions to innovate.

There were a number of goals related to its launch.  

  1. Explore transformative ideas with a peak potential annual revenue of $5M+ per year
  2. Establish an entrepreneurial culture
  3. Develop and upskill innovation team members

The challenges of a commercial innovation accelerator

As Sergey and the team got established, there were a number of challenges they needed to address to be successful. Collaborative innovation projects are difficult to do across markets in a complex multinational company. This was even more true in a heavily regulated industry such as pharma. There were also two main corporate innovation blockers they needed to address.

  1. Decision making: Transformative ideas carry a high risk profile. This often makes it harder for them to receive approval.
  2. Prioritization: Innovation often can get overlooked. The core business takes focus and priority in regards to bandwidth, leadership support, and budgets.

How Strategyzer helped

Strategyzer provided guidance on how to create a thriving internal innovation system that could rapidly validate potential ideas. We helped MSD to establish simple governance structures that allowed for faster decision making. They could then move swiftly with initial idea selection and project funding decisions along the way. From the start the team at MSD also secured leadership support which was critical for success.

Sergey and the team used the first year to establish a volume of projects in their innovation pipeline. They did this using a portfolio approach that started with many ideas but which funneled down to include only the most impactful. They recruited six team members to be 100% dedicated to the innovation studio who coordinated what they called “innovation SWAT teams” for approved ideas. Strategyzer supported these teams and provided coaching during innovation project sprints. An essential part of the overall process was consistently retiring or pivoting over half of the projects after the first innovation sprint. Only the most promising ideas moved forward and received further funding. In their first year alone they had 180+ ideas submitted. SWAT teams ran 30 of these ideas through the first 3 month sprint phase. Of these, 10 had directional evidence that the idea was going to work. Teams progressed with these ideas with another sprint. Of these 10, 4 projects were of high impact. Teams put these 4 through a final acceleration sprint in the first year.


The elements around bringing rigor to the way we drive innovation is quite unique to the way that Strategyzer works and has definitely been one of the main value adds that we couldn't have figured out ourselves.”
Monica Maestre
Innovation Lead MSD

Scaling results

Over the next 12-18 months they continued to bring more projects through their innovation studio. In this time MSD promoted Sergey to another area of the business and Monica Maestre stepped up to lead the studio. At this point they had evaluated hundreds of ideas, established pilots with patients, and had a handful of initiatives gathering real traction. The process they had installed had found transformative ideas and would continue to surface more. Their original goal to expand access to cancer treatments and vaccines was proving successful.

Monica observed that, “we saw this evolution going from this very strong focus on innovation and uncovering new ideas - to scaling and how do you monetize those quickly and how do you accelerate the process.” The focus now began to shift to scaling impactful projects. They wanted to accelerate projects that had been found to significantly increase patients' access to drugs and vaccines. They experimented with the best model for scaling these new business models and built out a framework for how to do so effectively.

One of the big learnings for me is that sometimes what you are scaling is not the solution. What you are scaling is a way to solve that type of problem. And that's what we've seen with this project that we are scaling in seven markets - is that the solution actually looks quite different from one one place to another, but the concept is the same.”
Monica Maestre
Innovation Lead MSD

Creating a collaborative exploration culture

A continual goal for MSD was to push for more of an entrepreneurial culture that was nimble, agile, and collaborative. This was an uphill battle within a multinational with the status quo resulting in siloed departments and markets. Monica and the team strove to create processes and rhythms of working together that would allow innovation to succeed and scale. As more and more employees across markets participated in entrepreneurial projects they began to see a cultural shift taking place.

There was no solution being provided [for the collaboration challenges] and by us existing we were able to create this setting that enabled us to really embrace the cross-functional culture. And now it's something that is being done in a more institutionalized way.”
Monica Maestre
Innovation Lead MSD
Strategyzer Innovation Coach Paris Thomas

Innovation outcomes

The team at Strategyzer is grateful to have been able to come alongside and support the work MSD have done to expand access to their health solutions in emerging markets. In only a few short years MSD established an innovation studio that has explored and scaled groundbreaking ideas while fostering a culture of innovation throughout the organization.

The experience [partnering with Strategyzer] has been very positive and this is because of a number of reasons, which includes the expertise, the credibility, and just the level of service and interaction that we got.”
Monica Maestre
Innovation Lead MSD
Kurt Bostelaar
August 11, 2023
It was a tremendous amount of work and we are extremely thankful to the whole team at Strategyzer. We learnt so much: three years ago we didn't really know how to start, and now I think we have built robust program that generations after us can continue to run.”
Henning Till
Head of Corporate Innovation, Bayer
innovation projects were submitted, which had to be funnelled own
of these ideas ran through the first 3-month sprint phase.
ideas had directional evidence that the idea was going to work. Teams progressed with these ideas to another sprint.
projects were of high impact. Teams put these 4 through a final acceleration sprint in the first year.
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