Case 1: ECRP – external crowdThe Evonik Call for Research Proposals (ECRP) is a newapproach to open innovation at Evonik Industries AG thataddresses scientists at universities and research institutes tofind solutions relevant to the company’s research needs. Thetopic of the first call in 2013 came from one business unit ofEvonik who called for research proposals (ECRP) concerningnew methionine synthesis without using the toxichydrocyanic acid. The task was to find a synthesis approachfor the “dream reaction” involving the efficienttransformation of 3-methylsulfanylpropanal to methionine.Methionine is defined as an essential amino acid that cannotbe synthesized by human and animal organisms and thereforeneeds to be externally conveyed 38. Most producedmethionine is therefore used in animal feed (2013: 600,000 t).In general, the methionine content of natural ingredients isrelatively low. Therefore, many animal feeds primarily lackmethionine or lysine. That is why additional methioninecould improve growing conditions.
Furthermore, the aminoacid spectrum has to be tailored to individual requirements. Ifone amino acid is missing, the animal will be unable to useall the other amino acids for protein synthesis and growth.However, the call for proposals is not limited to thisapproach, but is also open to other possible approaches oralternatives to the current synthesis or biochemicalapproaches to methionine are also welcome. The calldescription also determined very clearly what kinds ofsolutions were not of interest, such as investigating solutionsmodifying the existing production process or solutions thathave been published previously or are under consideration forpublication elsewhere.
Attractive ideas could enter intoresearch cooperation agreements financed by EvonikIndustries AG. Additionally, the three best proposals willreceive monetary awards.Evonik explicitly invited academic researchers withexpertise in the field of organic chemistry, biochemistry andcatalysis to submit ideas. They contacted 62 universities and162 chemistry professors from all German universities and8912016 Proceedings of PICMET ’16: Technology Management for Social Innovationresearch centers such as Max Planck Institute and LeibnizInstitute for Catalysis via e-mail and brochures on theScientific Forum Chemistry of the German Chemical Society(GDCh). But the purpose was not only to target theprofessors, but also the students/PhD students, who mightalso have an idea to solve their problem. Therefore, the callalso contained an appeal for students to contact theirprofessors to discuss their ideas for submission.
To addressyoung researchers, the intention was to build a network withpotential future employees. Furthermore, additional targets ofthe ECRP project was to gain visibility at the Germanuniversities, and especially to strengthen Evonik’s reputationin chemical competencies. Another aim of the open call to allchemical professors was to identify experts and cooperationpartners the company had never heard of before.The call started on August 1, 2013 with e-mails sent out toall the predefined professors. The e-mail contained threedocuments: 1) request for proposal, 2) proposal submissiontemplate, and 3) rules of participation.
The call was open forthree and a half months until November 15, 2013, whenproposals could be sent back to the e-mail [email protected] One month later, September 1-4,additional brochures were distributed on the GDCh ScientificForum Chemistry, where Evonik had a recruiting booth. Theresponsible manager for ECRP from the business unit wasalso at the booth to give further information about the call.
Overall, 13 submissions and 15 ideas were received by theend of the call: 3 x one-pot synthesis; 2 x biocatalysis; 1 xenantioselective synthesis; 2 x photochemistry; 1 xheterogeneous catalysis; 4 x others. The evaluation meetingfollowed directly after the online submission on November18. Seven experts from the research department ofmethionine discussed all the ideas in a full-day workshopusing four evaluation criteria:1. Novelty and creativity, describing whether the proposedresearch concept was unknown so far and exhibits a highdegree of creativity;2. Probability of technical and commercial success,determining whether technical and commercial success isexpected when implementing the proposed researchconcept;3. Quality of project proposal, investigating whether theproposal was well explained and contained all theinformation necessary to describe the current researchstatus with all references needed and time schedules ofresearch progress and resources; and4. Open innovation and collaborative research approach,identifying whether other research groups and expertswould be involved besides their own research group andEvonik during the proposed research project.Following the evaluation, three top ideas were nominatedfor possible research cooperation financed by EvonikIndustries AG and these winners were also invited to theaward ceremony on December 17 to receive their monetaryrewards: 1st place: €10,000 + Evonik day; 2nd place: €5,000;3rd place: €2,500.
After six months of negotiation, Evonikdecided to cooperate with all three universities for one yearfor proof of concept. Figure 2 illustrates the whole process ofECRP