Sergey Zverev (Managing Director, Colombia & Ecuador Cluster at MSD)

Developing an innovation ecosystem in a top 5 pharma company

Sergey Zverev
Frederic Etiemble
November 10, 2021
#
 min read
topics
Health
Innovation Ecosystem

Designing a global innovation ecosystem from scratch is a daunting task for any leader. But at the same time it’s also the perfect challenge and dream job for anyone interested in innovation right?

Imagine for a moment that you were given that responsibility in one of the leading pharmaceutical companies, what’s the first thing you would do?

This was the challenge facing Sergey Zverev (Managing Director, Colombia & Ecuador Cluster at MSD) Sergey quickly set up a new innovation infrastructure and got to work creating a new culture inside the company. He began fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and implemented new ways of working within Merck’s Emerging Markets. He enabled intrapreneurs on five different continents to explore ideas for innovative access to Merck’s drugs and vaccines and his team’s efforts contributed significantly to creating new growth.

Sergey quickly set up a new innovation infrastructure and got to work creating a new culture inside the company. He began fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and implemented new ways of working within Merck’s Emerging Markets.

At MSD, the journey towards innovation isn't just a buzzword—it's a tangible reality driven by the Emerging Markets Innovation Access Studio (EMIAS). The EMIAS was born out of the necessity to nurture transformative ideas aimed at expanding access to MSD's drugs and vaccines. But it wasn't just about brainstorming; it was about rapid experimentation and turning ideas into actionable projects. Sergey emphasized the need to move swiftly from ideation to implementation, acknowledging the all-too-common scenario of projects failing without a clear understanding of why.

How did MSD start their Innovation Access Studio?

The journey towards innovation at MSD began with a focus on assembling the right team—a team dedicated 100% to the task at hand. Portfolio managers were brought together in a virtual studio, tasked with soliciting ideas from various markets within the emerging regions. These weren't just any ideas. From the outset, MSD emphasized the importance of thinking beyond the status quo, encouraging teams to bring forward ideas that challenged conventional thinking.

The formation of innovation SWAT teams, led by portfolio managers, marked the next phase of the journey. These teams were tasked with taking ideas from conception to execution, embracing an agile approach to experimentation.

The message from MSD's leadership was clear:

Innovation isn't a linear path; it's a journey of trial and error. By collecting thousands of ideas and rapidly testing them, MSD aimed to unearth the few gems that would shape the future of their business.”

With experimentation tools:

As ideas poured in, innovation SWAT teams were formed, bringing together expertise from across the organization. These teams embarked on a journey of agile experimentation, guided by a robust innovation framework. From discovery sprints to validation and acceleration, every step was carefully designed to de-risk assumptions and move ideas forward.

With external Innovation coaches:

External innovation coaches played a critical role in pushing teams to excel, challenging assumptions and ensuring rigor in the experimentation process. Their presence brought a fresh perspective, helping teams navigate the complexities of innovation with objectivity and confidence.

With simple governance:

With a focus on agility and nimbleness, decision-making was streamlined, allowing ideas to flow freely and progress swiftly through the pipeline. It’s all about fewer layers in the decision-making process. This simple governance approach paved the way for nine projects to get start with nine teams.

With constant learning:

Constant learning was woven into the fabric of their culture, with a dedicated focus on capturing insights about every aspect of work and applying them to future endeavors.

What work did MSD prioritize in the first year of their Innovation Access Studio?

In their first year of building an innovation ecosystem, MSD laid down a strong foundation focused on three vital components: Portfolio and framework, Innovation programs, and Exploration culture.

1. Portfolio and framework

In the first year, the focus was on developing volume in the portfolio. This involved creating a structured funnel for innovative ideas originating from both within and outside our organization. Over the course of the year, teams gathered over 180 out-of-the-box commercial models. Through a rigorous selection process guided by Strategyzer’s framework, we honed in on around 30 promising ideas. These ideas were then put through a series of agile sprints to test their viability. While many ideas didn't make it past the initial stages, those that did underwent thorough validation before being integrated back into our organization for exploitation.

2. Innovation programs

Simultaneously, our focus on Innovation programs was centered on fostering intrapreneurship. EMIAS served as a beacon, inviting ideas from employees across more than 50 markets. Clear communication about the studio's purpose and the time commitment required from contributors was key to its success. By encouraging participation and dedicating resources to nurture these ideas, we ensured a steady flow of innovative concepts ready for exploration.

3. Exploration culture

Lastly, we dedicated efforts to cultivate an Exploration culture. Through regular assessments, we gauged the innovation-friendliness of our environment. This introspection allowed us to identify areas for improvement and address key blockers hindering our experimentation journeys. By fostering a culture of agility and nimbleness, we aim to create an environment where innovation thrives alongside our core business activities.

How is leading innovation different compared to other leadership roles?

Innovation leadership, as Sergey and Fred articulated in this webinar, requires a fresh perspective and a disciplined approach. Sergey advocates for a methodical, hypothesis-driven approach to decision-making, enabling leaders to navigate uncertainties efficiently. Whenever you start a new venture, ask yourself: what are your key 10 assumptions? Which are the most critical? Which are the easiest and fastest to check? Sergey also emphasizes the importance of ‘not falling in love with your babies’. Maintaining objectivity is crucial for fostering adaptability in the face of challenges. You may need to retire ideas not supported by evidence.

What were the biggest surprises as an Executive Director of EMIAS?

Sergey's tenure revealed surprising insights into the speed and adaptability of innovation. One project retired within six weeks, a fraction of the time it would typically take. This accelerated pace, combined with structured learning from failures, highlighted the efficiency of EMIAS's approach.

Another revelation was the resilience of teams: a project initially abandoned due to visibility concerns was resurrected through innovative pivoting and discovering a new value proposition, then prototyping and testing it using the assumptions driven approach. Eventually, they pivoted and transformed the project into something viable for the company.]

What advice would you give to someone taking a leadership role in corporate innovation?

Firstly, assemble a strong team of innovative thinkers committed to improving the way companies work. Whether from startups or within the organization, these individuals play a pivotal role.

Secondly, it's crucial to secure endorsement and support from top leadership to align innovation initiatives.

Lastly, adopt a test-and-learn mindset, leveraging assumptions-driven approaches to iterate and refine ideas gradually. Remember, innovation is a journey that requires patience and adaptability; don’t expect to do everything in a day. Start small, scale wisely, and tailor your approach to suit the unique needs of your company.

Fred and Sergey also addressed participant questions regarding how much time employees should commit to innovation within their company, and what rewards and incentives look like within an innovation-friendly environment.

Put yourself in Sergey Zverev's position, entrusted with leading innovation initiatives in a top pharmaceutical company. Sergey wasted no time in initiating transformative changes. He promptly laid the groundwork for a dynamic innovation ecosystem and instilled an entrepreneurial mindset within the company. By introducing innovative work practices across Merck's Emerging Markets, he empowered intrapreneurs worldwide to devise inventive solutions for improving access to Merck's vital medications and vaccines. Sergey's visionary leadership not only spurred significant growth but also catalyzed a cultural shift towards innovation, setting a powerful precedent for the company's future endeavors.

Make sure to download our whitepaper where we show the three ways you can make innovation predictable, through a repeatable ecosystem.

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About the speakers

Sergey Zverev
Managing Director, Colombia & Ecuador Cluster at Merck

Sergey Zverev is a corporate leader with 14 years’ experience in life science industry with a broad expertise including strategic and operational roles across various divisions and functions (sales & marketing, government affairs, market access, key account management). 

Frederic Etiemble
Author, Speaker, Advisor

Fred is an executive advisor on strategy and innovation. He works with courageous leaders on how to develop an innovation culture, explore new growth engines and transform their businesses.

by 
Sergey Zverev
Frederic Etiemble
November 10, 2021
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Developing an innovation ecosystem in a top 5 pharma company
Webinars

Developing an innovation ecosystem in a top 5 pharma company

Developing an innovation ecosystem in a top 5 pharma company
Webinars

Developing an innovation ecosystem in a top 5 pharma company

November 10, 2021
#
 min read
topics
Health
Innovation Ecosystem

Designing a global innovation ecosystem from scratch is a daunting task for any leader. But at the same time it’s also the perfect challenge and dream job for anyone interested in innovation right?

Imagine for a moment that you were given that responsibility in one of the leading pharmaceutical companies, what’s the first thing you would do?

This was the challenge facing Sergey Zverev (Managing Director, Colombia & Ecuador Cluster at MSD) Sergey quickly set up a new innovation infrastructure and got to work creating a new culture inside the company. He began fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and implemented new ways of working within Merck’s Emerging Markets. He enabled intrapreneurs on five different continents to explore ideas for innovative access to Merck’s drugs and vaccines and his team’s efforts contributed significantly to creating new growth.

Sergey quickly set up a new innovation infrastructure and got to work creating a new culture inside the company. He began fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and implemented new ways of working within Merck’s Emerging Markets.

At MSD, the journey towards innovation isn't just a buzzword—it's a tangible reality driven by the Emerging Markets Innovation Access Studio (EMIAS). The EMIAS was born out of the necessity to nurture transformative ideas aimed at expanding access to MSD's drugs and vaccines. But it wasn't just about brainstorming; it was about rapid experimentation and turning ideas into actionable projects. Sergey emphasized the need to move swiftly from ideation to implementation, acknowledging the all-too-common scenario of projects failing without a clear understanding of why.

How did MSD start their Innovation Access Studio?

The journey towards innovation at MSD began with a focus on assembling the right team—a team dedicated 100% to the task at hand. Portfolio managers were brought together in a virtual studio, tasked with soliciting ideas from various markets within the emerging regions. These weren't just any ideas. From the outset, MSD emphasized the importance of thinking beyond the status quo, encouraging teams to bring forward ideas that challenged conventional thinking.

The formation of innovation SWAT teams, led by portfolio managers, marked the next phase of the journey. These teams were tasked with taking ideas from conception to execution, embracing an agile approach to experimentation.

The message from MSD's leadership was clear:

Innovation isn't a linear path; it's a journey of trial and error. By collecting thousands of ideas and rapidly testing them, MSD aimed to unearth the few gems that would shape the future of their business.”

With experimentation tools:

As ideas poured in, innovation SWAT teams were formed, bringing together expertise from across the organization. These teams embarked on a journey of agile experimentation, guided by a robust innovation framework. From discovery sprints to validation and acceleration, every step was carefully designed to de-risk assumptions and move ideas forward.

With external Innovation coaches:

External innovation coaches played a critical role in pushing teams to excel, challenging assumptions and ensuring rigor in the experimentation process. Their presence brought a fresh perspective, helping teams navigate the complexities of innovation with objectivity and confidence.

With simple governance:

With a focus on agility and nimbleness, decision-making was streamlined, allowing ideas to flow freely and progress swiftly through the pipeline. It’s all about fewer layers in the decision-making process. This simple governance approach paved the way for nine projects to get start with nine teams.

With constant learning:

Constant learning was woven into the fabric of their culture, with a dedicated focus on capturing insights about every aspect of work and applying them to future endeavors.

What work did MSD prioritize in the first year of their Innovation Access Studio?

In their first year of building an innovation ecosystem, MSD laid down a strong foundation focused on three vital components: Portfolio and framework, Innovation programs, and Exploration culture.

1. Portfolio and framework

In the first year, the focus was on developing volume in the portfolio. This involved creating a structured funnel for innovative ideas originating from both within and outside our organization. Over the course of the year, teams gathered over 180 out-of-the-box commercial models. Through a rigorous selection process guided by Strategyzer’s framework, we honed in on around 30 promising ideas. These ideas were then put through a series of agile sprints to test their viability. While many ideas didn't make it past the initial stages, those that did underwent thorough validation before being integrated back into our organization for exploitation.

2. Innovation programs

Simultaneously, our focus on Innovation programs was centered on fostering intrapreneurship. EMIAS served as a beacon, inviting ideas from employees across more than 50 markets. Clear communication about the studio's purpose and the time commitment required from contributors was key to its success. By encouraging participation and dedicating resources to nurture these ideas, we ensured a steady flow of innovative concepts ready for exploration.

3. Exploration culture

Lastly, we dedicated efforts to cultivate an Exploration culture. Through regular assessments, we gauged the innovation-friendliness of our environment. This introspection allowed us to identify areas for improvement and address key blockers hindering our experimentation journeys. By fostering a culture of agility and nimbleness, we aim to create an environment where innovation thrives alongside our core business activities.

How is leading innovation different compared to other leadership roles?

Innovation leadership, as Sergey and Fred articulated in this webinar, requires a fresh perspective and a disciplined approach. Sergey advocates for a methodical, hypothesis-driven approach to decision-making, enabling leaders to navigate uncertainties efficiently. Whenever you start a new venture, ask yourself: what are your key 10 assumptions? Which are the most critical? Which are the easiest and fastest to check? Sergey also emphasizes the importance of ‘not falling in love with your babies’. Maintaining objectivity is crucial for fostering adaptability in the face of challenges. You may need to retire ideas not supported by evidence.

What were the biggest surprises as an Executive Director of EMIAS?

Sergey's tenure revealed surprising insights into the speed and adaptability of innovation. One project retired within six weeks, a fraction of the time it would typically take. This accelerated pace, combined with structured learning from failures, highlighted the efficiency of EMIAS's approach.

Another revelation was the resilience of teams: a project initially abandoned due to visibility concerns was resurrected through innovative pivoting and discovering a new value proposition, then prototyping and testing it using the assumptions driven approach. Eventually, they pivoted and transformed the project into something viable for the company.]

What advice would you give to someone taking a leadership role in corporate innovation?

Firstly, assemble a strong team of innovative thinkers committed to improving the way companies work. Whether from startups or within the organization, these individuals play a pivotal role.

Secondly, it's crucial to secure endorsement and support from top leadership to align innovation initiatives.

Lastly, adopt a test-and-learn mindset, leveraging assumptions-driven approaches to iterate and refine ideas gradually. Remember, innovation is a journey that requires patience and adaptability; don’t expect to do everything in a day. Start small, scale wisely, and tailor your approach to suit the unique needs of your company.

Fred and Sergey also addressed participant questions regarding how much time employees should commit to innovation within their company, and what rewards and incentives look like within an innovation-friendly environment.

Put yourself in Sergey Zverev's position, entrusted with leading innovation initiatives in a top pharmaceutical company. Sergey wasted no time in initiating transformative changes. He promptly laid the groundwork for a dynamic innovation ecosystem and instilled an entrepreneurial mindset within the company. By introducing innovative work practices across Merck's Emerging Markets, he empowered intrapreneurs worldwide to devise inventive solutions for improving access to Merck's vital medications and vaccines. Sergey's visionary leadership not only spurred significant growth but also catalyzed a cultural shift towards innovation, setting a powerful precedent for the company's future endeavors.

Make sure to download our whitepaper where we show the three ways you can make innovation predictable, through a repeatable ecosystem.

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Developing an innovation ecosystem in a top 5 pharma company

Designing a global innovation ecosystem from scratch is a daunting task for any leader. But at the same time it’s also the perfect challenge and dream job for anyone interested in innovation right?

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