AstraZeneca sought to deepen the scientific impact of the Biometrics & Information Sciences (B&I) global department by increasing the number of affordable, small-scale (and successful) experiments at the front end of their innovation pipeline.
Typically when companies want to spur innovation, they run “idea campaigns,” focus groups, or a technology platform that serves as an idea repository and provides other process support—but these activities can still be biased or weighed down by politics in terms of how final investment decisions are made. Instead, AstraZeneca sought a way to generate the most value from the knowledge and experience their employees possess throughout the entire "idea to implementation" process.
To address this challenge, Cultivate Labs is actively working with AstraZeneca to run annual crowdfunding campaigns with approximately 400 employees in the B&I department—a new approach that would enable crowdsourcing of new experimental ideas from employees, letting them collaborate and iterate on idea proposals, then internally, crowdfund the ideas that should become actual projects using Company "house money". Cultivate Labs’ Ignite (a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding platform for inside organizations) supported the approach.
AstraZeneca's objectives were specifically to:
The Company’s crowdfunding initiative is reinvigorating the innovation process and removing operational/process barriers by providing a clearer path from "idea to implementation" and forcing people to think "small and fast" with projects that can succeed or fail quickly. The value of the Company’s crowdfunding initiative exceeded their objectives, more specifically it:
By institutionalizing this approach (not just a one-time request), the Company provided a cultural enabler for an “intrapreneurial spirit.” People got energized and motivated when there was a fair and credible opportunity to promote and grow ideas, and develop new projects, not just propose them without a clear feedback loop.
This more “organic” approach of crowdfunding where everyone feels like they have “skin in the game” avoids problems of bias, company politics, and organizational hurdles while making people feel more empowered. For example, a live roadshow where leadership discussed the importance of the crowdfunding initiative, and weekly sessions with project leads of past crowdfunded ideas, were well attended, and participation during all funding rounds was high.
The Company’s old innovation process was losing credibility when a small number of people were deciding which ideas should move forward, or large efforts were put forth to collect ideas, but none were subsequently implemented. Crowdfunding ensured funds were committed up front and people were empowered to decide which ideas should receive investment.
The Company set parameters for ideas (e.g., $10K maximum budget, 1-3 month project timeframe, 5 people or less to complete the project) to generate more experimentation with low-risk, high-impact projects. If they failed, it would be a fast lesson learned at a low cost, but if successful, could lead to greater rewards for the organization. The goal of crowdfunding was to provide seed stage investments for ideas so that those that reached their target could form their teams and create a proof of concept, before maturing into bigger projects that could go on to progress along on the investment lifecycle via other channels in the organization.
By encouraging collaboration (submission of an idea is just the first step!) and providing additional structure in idea development, the Company produced ideas that had business value, were realistic to implement (at least in the first “proof of concept” stage!), and either made the Company more efficient or had the potential to create new revenue sources or solve vexing problems.