Case field of organic chemistry, biochemistry and catalysis

Case 1: ECRP – external crowd
The Evonik Call for Research Proposals (ECRP) is a new
approach to open innovation at Evonik Industries AG that
addresses scientists at universities and research institutes to
find solutions relevant to the company’s research needs. The
topic of the first call in 2013 came from one business unit of
Evonik who called for research proposals (ECRP) concerning
new methionine synthesis without using the toxic
hydrocyanic acid. The task was to find a synthesis approach
for the “dream reaction” involving the efficient
transformation of 3-methylsulfanylpropanal to methionine.
Methionine is defined as an essential amino acid that cannot
be synthesized by human and animal organisms and therefore
needs to be externally conveyed 38. Most produced
methionine is therefore used in animal feed (2013: 600,000 t).
In general, the methionine content of natural ingredients is
relatively low. Therefore, many animal feeds primarily lack
methionine or lysine. That is why additional methionine
could improve growing conditions. Furthermore, the amino
acid spectrum has to be tailored to individual requirements. If
one amino acid is missing, the animal will be unable to use
all the other amino acids for protein synthesis and growth.
However, the call for proposals is not limited to this
approach, but is also open to other possible approaches or
alternatives to the current synthesis or biochemical
approaches to methionine are also welcome. The call
description also determined very clearly what kinds of
solutions were not of interest, such as investigating solutions
modifying the existing production process or solutions that
have been published previously or are under consideration for
publication elsewhere. Attractive ideas could enter into
research cooperation agreements financed by Evonik
Industries AG. Additionally, the three best proposals will
receive monetary awards.
Evonik explicitly invited academic researchers with
expertise in the field of organic chemistry, biochemistry and
catalysis to submit ideas. They contacted 62 universities and
162 chemistry professors from all German universities and
2016 Proceedings of PICMET ’16: Technology Management for Social Innovation
research centers such as Max Planck Institute and Leibniz
Institute for Catalysis via e-mail and brochures on the
Scientific Forum Chemistry of the German Chemical Society
(GDCh). But the purpose was not only to target the
professors, but also the students/PhD students, who might
also have an idea to solve their problem. Therefore, the call
also contained an appeal for students to contact their
professors to discuss their ideas for submission. To address
young researchers, the intention was to build a network with
potential future employees. Furthermore, additional targets of
the ECRP project was to gain visibility at the German
universities, and especially to strengthen Evonik’s reputation
in chemical competencies. Another aim of the open call to all
chemical professors was to identify experts and cooperation
partners the company had never heard of before.
The call started on August 1, 2013 with e-mails sent out to
all the predefined professors. The e-mail contained three
documents: 1) request for proposal, 2) proposal submission
template, and 3) rules of participation. The call was open for
three and a half months until November 15, 2013, when
proposals could be sent back to the e-mail account
[email protected] One month later, September 1-4,
additional brochures were distributed on the GDCh Scientific
Forum Chemistry, where Evonik had a recruiting booth. The
responsible manager for ECRP from the business unit was
also at the booth to give further information about the call.
Overall, 13 submissions and 15 ideas were received by the
end of the call: 3 x one-pot synthesis; 2 x biocatalysis; 1 x
enantioselective synthesis; 2 x photochemistry; 1 x
heterogeneous catalysis; 4 x others. The evaluation meeting
followed directly after the online submission on November
18. Seven experts from the research department of
methionine discussed all the ideas in a full-day workshop
using four evaluation criteria:
1. Novelty and creativity, describing whether the proposed
research concept was unknown so far and exhibits a high
degree of creativity;
2. Probability of technical and commercial success,
determining whether technical and commercial success is
expected when implementing the proposed research
3. Quality of project proposal, investigating whether the
proposal was well explained and contained all the
information necessary to describe the current research
status with all references needed and time schedules of
research progress and resources; and
4. Open innovation and collaborative research approach,
identifying whether other research groups and experts
would be involved besides their own research group and
Evonik during the proposed research project.
Following the evaluation, three top ideas were nominated
for possible research cooperation financed by Evonik
Industries AG and these winners were also invited to the
award ceremony on December 17 to receive their monetary
rewards: 1st place: €10,000 + Evonik day; 2nd place: €5,000;
3rd place: €2,500. After six months of negotiation, Evonik
decided to cooperate with all three universities for one year
for proof of concept. Figure 2 illustrates the whole process of