Why together is better for innovation
At TechInnovation 2021, enterprises went digital in search of innovative solutions and valuable partnerships globally.

While trade secrets and confidential recipes remain a part of commercial success, in recent years, companies have become more open to collaboration and sharing information.

One example of such collaboration is crowdsourcing, where the work or ideas of a group of people come together to solve a problem. This can mean anything from a company asking its customers for ideas for new products, to apps combining GPS data from drivers to create real-time traffic maps.

For instance, Unilever may never divulge the secret to its ice-cream success, but at Crowdsourcing @ TechInnovation 2021, the consumer goods giant revealed that they are open to partnering with innovative organisations for other aspects of their business.

Seeking sustainable product design

In light of the ongoing global climate crisis, consumers are more aware than ever of the importance of sustainability and waste reduction. To keep up with the shifting market and increased demand for sustainable goods, companies are looking for new and achievable ways to reduce waste.

At Crowdsourcing @ TechInnovation 2021 on 28 September, three renowned companies posed challenges to innovators centered around sustainability.

As part of their goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable hearing aid company, the first presenters, WS Audiology, one of the world’s top producers of hearing aids, aims to incorporate more recycled material into the plastic jewel cases of their products. However, their team has met with frequent obstacles: making the cases out of 60 percent recycled materials while still achieving the right colour to align with branding requirements has proved challenging, as Mariana Villar, Sustainability Manager at WS Audiology, explained.

“We had a lot of issues searching for a polymorph or another type of material that is white in colour,” she said. “So we are looking to pair with another company, startup or a development company to deliver a more sustainable material like bioplastic.” 

Dropping consumption and emissions

Similarly, Unilever, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of ice-cream including brands like Cornetto and Magnum, is also crowdsourcing to bolster its sustainability efforts. To store their ice-cream, the company uses standard freezer cabinets, of which over three million have been deployed all over the world.

“We are looking to reduce the energy consumption of these ice-cream cabinets,” said Berty Jacob, Unilever’s Senior R&D Manager. “These cabinets contribute to almost 10 percent of Unilever’s greenhouse gas footprint.”

This is partly because the cabinets’ glass fronting, which entices customers by allowing them to see the products inside, makes for poor insulation.

Aside from waste reduction, sustainability also emphasises the importance of nature-based solutions. To combat the effects of climate change and to shift to more sustainable practices, energy giant Shell is looking to become carbon-neutral by 2050. The launch of its new Agriculture and Forestry division will play a key role in this effort. One of the division’s top priorities is measuring, reporting and verifying carbon levels in soils.

At this briefing session, Shell revealed how they hoped to adopt methods to more accurately measure the carbon sequestered in soil and to also reduce the amount released in the air due to farming and harvesting.

These challenges highlight the importance of events like TechInnovation, where multinational companies can search for cutting-edge solutions while smaller businesses expose their fresh ideas and tech to major players on a global stage.

Engagement through tech

While many businesses are turning to crowdsourcing to find emerging technologies, others are using design innovations to engage with their audiences. During the Design Think Tank segment at TechInnovation 2021, some of these companies spoke about ongoing projects that aim to elevate the quality of life for different population segments, in the spirit of open innovation.

Life science company Gloobe is dedicated to providing non-pharmacological therapies for diseases like gestational diabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels become elevated during pregnancy.

“The problem in Singapore is that one in five pregnant ladies will have a tendency to have gestational diabetes,” said Muhammad Khairul Bin Sukor, Gloobe’s Product Development Manager. “Unfortunately, many gestational diabetic patients do not attend important follow-up appointments.”

To address this, Gloobe is looking to engage expectant mothers through a gamified platform that encourages patients to learn more about their condition, share important clinical data and reach out to healthcare providers.

Alternatively, Food Culture Singapore, an e-commerce platform for local food brands, is looking to use digital technology to connect businesses with customers amid the pandemic. Food Culture Singapore aims to not only help local businesses go digital and engage their customers through e-commerce, but to help them meet customers in-person as well with regular events.

According to Magdalene Teo, the company’s E-Commerce Assistant Manager, Food Culture regularly engages customers with roadshows and exhibitions. Unfortunately, these events that have been halted due to COVID-19 restrictions. To achieve similar levels of engagement without meeting in person, Food Culture is looking for tech innovations that allow brands to interact while staying safe and socially distanced.

Similarly, established non-profit organisation Tsao Foundation is looking to engage seniors with hybrid programmes that entertain them while keeping them safe from COVID-19. Dr Su Aw, Research Fellow at Tsao Foundation, spoke about the many activities that they organise for seniors—from learning programmes to community libraries. However, in the wake of the pandemic, their community building efforts have been paused as less than a quarter of the senior population they work with own a laptop.

Through such partnerships, both industry players and innovators can benefit from the fruitful partnerships formed and the power that can come from collaboration and the meeting of minds. After all, as we have well discovered over the past few years, together is infinitely better.

Do you have an innovative solution capable of improving sustainability or engaging audiences? Click here to find out more about Crowdsourcing @ TechInnovation, and here to find out about Design Think Tank 2021.