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.”