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Building a successful innovation accelerator to change lives

Kurt Bostelaar
January 19, 2024
 min read

The Head of Digital Health and Experience Innovation at a global biopharmaceutical company, rapidly needed help with their innovation accelerator. With their part of the organization focusing on serving the rare disease community, bolstering their innovation and operational capabilities was key in order to focus on what mattered most.

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 could this pharmaceutical company set up an internal innovation accelerator with only one or two staff members to run it? How could they move beyond generating a lot of ideas towards creating innovations that make a real impact?

The solution

The company used Strategzyer’s off-the-shelf innovation accelerator to rapidly design and test innovative ideas.

The impact

Using Strategyzer’s tools, over 100 employees have worked on turning ideas into validated business opportunities that could impact the rare disease community.

Prioritizing innovation at a global biopharmaceutical company

Three years ago, the leadership team of an independent business unit with a focus on serving the rare disease community as part of a much larger pharmaceutical company, mapped out the capabilities they needed to develop. With technology continuing to transform healthcare, the business unit's leaders saw innovation as a key area they needed to prioritize and grow.

The innovation obstacles

After an initial audit of their current innovation practice, it became clear that they faced a few problems. The first challenge was that, despite a lot of ideation forums and brainstorming sessions, there was no structure in place to turn these ideas into actions. If an idea was generated, it often became an orphaned project that struggled to gain momentum because not enough people could dedicate time to it. Also, due to the highly regulated nature of the organization’s work, employees were reluctant to embrace innovation projects that were often seen as uncertain and high-risk.

Another big factor was lack of funding. This meant that innovation projects became people’s side jobs, and making any real progress became difficult. Due to the lack of progress, any funding that was there would get taken away. It became a vicious circle – and this made many people disillusioned about the idea of innovation at the company.

The challenge of launching an innovation accelerator

The business unit wanted to create a hub where all these innovative ideas could live – and give people a real opportunity to work on them. To do this, they created an internal innovation accelerator. They brought in a Head of Digital Health and Experience Innovation to run the accelerator. For the first year, this inddividual – with the help of the VP of innovation – ran the accelerator with some outside contracted help. They had to build the framework on their own, run the coaching, and facilitate all the meetings. For two people, strategizing, designing and executing a functioning accelerator problem was a mammoth task. They did not have the right support and structure they needed to operate sustainably or at scale.

We were doing all the work. It just wasn't functioning in the way we needed it to function. The process became unsupportable. We needed to have outside help. I needed structure. We needed formal coaches. We needed the frameworks already built out.”
Head of Digital Health and Experience Innovation

How Strategyzer helped

The Head of Digital Health and Experience Innovation was looking for a ready-to-run-with process that would instantly boost their innovation capabilities. They also needed operational support. Ultimately, they wanted to be able to focus on driving innovations that could impact and transform the rare disease community.

Our team at Strategyzer provided support and guidance so that the rare disease team could focus on what mattered most. This allowed them to increase the quality of their accelerator – and the pace at which teams were able to progress.

Our accelerator had four components that helped this client the most:

  1. At the process level, our innovation coaches led workshops and offered coaching support.
  2. At an operational level, a customer success manager provided hands-on support to organize meetings, calls, and various touch points so that all stakeholders were informed and involved.
  3. At a partnership level, the business unit of the pharmaceutical company and Strategyzer worked together to collect data on the process to improve our program and to produce better results for the customer.
  4. The Strategyzer Innovation Platform packaged our methodology, training, guidance, and the entire program onto a scalable technology platform that helped the pharmaceutical company systematically produce innovation outcomes.
When I connected with Strategyzer, it was almost like they built the thing we needed. Because there was e-learning, there were lectures, there was coaching support, there was organizational support, there was the platform. The frameworks were built out, there were the books… everything was set. It was a package deal that did everything I needed it to do, so that I could focus my time on really helping the teams out.”
Head of Digital Health and Experience Innovation
Strategyzer Innovation coach Michael N. Wilkens leading one of our workshops.

The results: innovation that changes lives

In partnership with Strategyzer, the rare disease business unit were able to:

  • Build out their innovation framework
  • Develop a stakeholder management model to ensure the program received the right level of support and buy-in
  • Find the right portfolio management model based on their own organizational structure

From this the customer has been able to scale their innovation function and capabilities while operating with only a 1-2 person team. They have now started running ideas through the accelerator with periodic cohorts of 5-7 teams at a time. Each cohort includes a period of working on the design of their ideas followed by real world testing with customers, before concluding with evidence-based pitch presentations. This allows leadership to really evaluate the business opportunity and potential of each idea.

I’m so glad we’ve put a process behind how we’re approaching these innovation projects. Aside from the work done, let’s keep this process going because I’ve probably listened to more innovation in the past 3 hours in a consistent way than probably the last five years.”
General Manager

The rare disease business unit have now run multiple cohorts and have seen over 100 employees go through the accelerator with their ideas. They are well on their way to fulfilling their organizational mandate to innovate – making real progress in their mission “to transform the lives of people affected by rare diseases and devastating conditions”.

A significant number of rare disease patients are children.
Kurt Bostelaar
January 19, 2024
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
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