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New open innovation platform targets SMEs and freelance R&D

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 18-Jan-2013

New open innovation platform targets SMEs and freelance R&D

A new specialist open innovation platform for the food industry launched yesterday, aiming to connect small and medium-sized businesses with highly experienced R&D professionals. (AFE) was founded by Henrik Stamm Kristensen, president of Premium Ingredients, in an effort to speed innovation in the food industry and provide businesses with quick, reliable and economical technically applied solutions. The platform only earns a fee if it is successful in providing solutions, and membership is free.

Patrick Berry, one of the project leaders, told FoodNavigator that while larger companies are relatively new to the open innovation model, AFE appeals to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have been working this way for years – and more and more innovation is coming from smaller players.

“In the last 40 years there has been a huge shift in where the innovation is coming from. We are trying to tap into that,” he said. “…I think in the multinationals it is new but the SMEs have been open innovating and collaborating. They have to or they die.”

Berry added: “The other thing we are trying to tap into is the freelance market.”

He says there is an increasing number of R&D professionals over the age of 50 who have been forced into early retirement, as food and drink companies have looked for ways to cut costs. Many of these individuals have 30-plus years’ experience in the industry, and have worked for some of the biggest names in the business – think Cargill, CP Kelco, and Coca-Cola.

So how does it work?

There is no fee for membership or for posting a challenge, but in order to qualify for full membership, an individual has to have more than ten years’ experience and must be contractually free to work on innovation challenges for any company.

“This means when a challenge does come in, we can attack it very fast,” said Berry.

At the moment, the platform is still recruiting experts, with the aim of building membership to 500 within the next three months.

“We want to be the platform to go to when you have a very specific problem and you are in the food industry,” he said.

Current challenges listed on the site include a call for a food ingredient for nitrification of fish without using nitrates or nitrites, a combined mould inhibitor and stabiliser for meat products, and pizza cheese manufacturing equipment that can be sold in India for under $5,000.

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