Open Innovation Brings Fresh Air into Your Company

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Alfonso Hidalgo
By Paul Arnold
Alfonso Hidalgo is the co-founder and managing director of Infinitec-Activos, a Barcelona-based cosmetics company. His firm lives and breathes open innovation which is contributing to the success of its products.

In his very first tech scouting challenge with IdeaConnection he was awarded $1,000. In this interview Alfonso talks about his experience of open innovation and how he came to be involved in an IdeaConnection challenge.

It was actually by pure serendipity. I was with one of my customers who said that IdeaConnection on behalf of a cosmetic company was looking for a wound healing solution. He told me on the day of the deadline so I didn’t have a lot of time to fill in the forms.

Funnily enough we’ve got a product that was recently patented, and it has a very interesting performance. I filled out the form but was thinking—I wonder if this is the kind of website where I’ll give them some information, receive a thank you email and then never hear back.

Two weeks later I received an email saying congratulations your idea was actually selected by one of our customers so you will get a one thousand dollar reward for your cooperation. I was now thinking—wow! And then I was contacted by Sue from IdeaConnection and she explained their whole model and that they’re not only looking for solution providers. She said that my company could be a user trying to identify solutions.

This is really interesting because our business model is pretty much based on that. We have a small company in Barcelona and what we are doing is sixty five percent in-house R&D, and thirty five percent is R&D we source from outside. This is mandatory, because we always want to keep fresh air coming into the company. We outsource with public research institutes and product companies, and clearly now there is a new window open which is going to be IdeaConnection.

So you are a company that sees value in working outside of your own four walls?

Oh yes. I used to work as a sales director for a company in Barcelona. They were very self-focused as all the R&D was produced by their teams. There was no fresh air coming in. So when I set up my company with my partner we decided that this would not be our approach.

I’m a chemist but I’m a lousy one so I’ve never been at a bench. When we started the company we knew what to sell, we know where to sell it but we didn’t actually have something to sell. So we outsourced research with universities and our first four products were co-developed with university labs. Then we gathered momentum and started hiring our own people.

Does your internal team have a good relationship with external bodies?

When you are in a small company you have to wear different hats. There are only fourteen of us and we see this as a good opportunity to gain more knowledge and to help the company to grow. When the company grows the people inside the company grow as well. We see it as stimulation. It’s really in the DNA of the company as we created it to be like this from the very beginning.

So you haven’t had to instill an open innovation culture. The culture has been there from the very beginning.

Absolutely! You know, people see this as a risk, like it could be a situation where you can lose your own expertise, and for us it’s all the opposite. We are based at the Barcelona Science Park. This is a cluster that houses around eighty five different entities – including pure public research institutes and private companies like ours. It’s mainly biotech, life sciences, biomedical, and pharma companies. We are the only cosmetic company in that cluster. So everybody sees us as a potential partner. No one sees us as a potential competitor.

So we have developed four blockbuster products. Blockbuster for us doesn’t mean we can retire, but they give us a nice turnover and grab consumer interest. And these products came from outsourcing services with either companies or research groups based in the same area.

For us it’s really easy because we understand the cosmetics field. We know what the cosmetic industry requires because we are close to the customers. The companies in this cluster have no clue about how to approach the cosmetics arena. So they see us as a source to get their products to the next level. And then everybody is happy. We get the exclusivity in the cosmetic arena for any technology that we deal with, and they can get a monthly stable payment for the duration of the project. And that’s funds they can use for basic research.

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