Why a Hull consumer healthcare giant is turning to local tech startups

The Digital Powerhouse, Healthtech & Biotech

Kane FultonKane Fulton, August 4, 2017

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

Collaboration between corporates and digital tech startups in the North can help the former innovate and generate fresh ideas, while providing the latter with business mentorship and experience.

What’s more, the Digital Powerhouse Report suggests that such startups can play a vital role in helping the region cope with an oncoming wave of ‘digitisation’, where more industries are likely to face the same fate as the media and publishing sectors.

Few digital hubs in the North understand this more than Hull’s C4DI (Centre For Digital Innovation), which doesn’t merely encourage collaboration between tech startups and local industry players from a variety of traditional sectors – it’s the beating heart of C4DI’s business model.

Global consumer health and hygiene company, and C4DI company member, RB, (formerly known as Reckitt Benckiser), is the latest prominent Hull company to launch such a collaboration initiative.

Called the RB Mentorship 100 Programme, it will invite C4DI’s members to its new £105 million Centre for Scientific Excellence, to receive at least 100 hours of mentorship on everything from product development to project management. In return, RB aims to learn about the fast-moving world of digital and the emerging tech trends within it – from machine learning to the Internet of Things.

RB, which owns many household healthcare brands including Strepsils, Durex, Nurofen and Gaviscon, is also working with C4DI on plans for a health-tech accelerator for digital tech startups and scale-ups based both within and beyond Hull’s boundaries.

We spoke to RB’s senior R&D manager Scott Seville to find out more.

What is the RB Mentorship 100 programme?

Scott Seville: We want to dedicate at least 100 hours of mentorship over the course of six to nine months to support C4DI and its members in any way we can help. This could cover product development, business partnering, regulatory strategy or project management. We want to ensure our new Centre for Scientific Excellence is an attraction hub for future talent and innovation partnerships in the region so supporting C4DI is really important to us. One of the advantages of being a big company is the access we have to a wide variety of skillsets and capabilities, which we want to share with the wider community.

What would you say to C4DI’s members who are thinking of joining it?

I’d ask them to think what their biggest challenges are, and how our business knowledge, experience and skillset could support them. For example, we can provide lots of insight and advice on how you access a big business, what a big business is looking for, and how to pitch to and engage with one. Alternatively, they may need support on a more functional level looking at HR, coaching, personal development or project management. One of the biggest advantages of our site in Hull is that it’s one of our largest healthcare development centres globally so we have access to many different resources.

In return, what would you like to learn from participants on the programme?

We want to learn more about the fast emerging areas of digital, connectivity and the Internet of Things. We have a large number of scientists, chemists, biologists, and microbiologists, and we recognise that the world is changing into a digital space. For that reason we need to upskill our workforce which we can hopefully achieve with the C4DI team and its members.

What’s the next stage for the programme?

We have a relationship manager and support team in place who will drive the programme forward and have already identified 20 senior RB mentors to be part of it. The next step will be to open a dialogue and start connecting the right people to ensure we reach those that want to be involved.

What are your plans for the health-tech accelerator?

We want to work up to it and validate the business plan over the next six months. We have an aspiration and desire to offer value and really commit to it. It’s really about understanding how we attract the right kind of scale-ups and startups to C4DI, and what RB can offer.

Is it open to startups outside of C4DI?

Absolutely — I think that’s what we will need to validate the programme. How can we attract the best talent to Hull, and what would such a digital health programme look like? Hopefully there will be some applicants from the area, but we also want to tap into the broader ecosystem and network, to show them exactly what Hull and the wider Humber Region can offer.

What does “digital health innovation” mean to RB?

As a consumer-led company we believe digital health innovation has to benefit the consumer and empower them to improve their health, rather than innovating just for innovation’s sake. This could be in the form of a digital connected device, or a new digital-connected or subscription service that enable consumers to proactively lead a healthier life. We really want to be inspired and provoked by what’s out there.

Did you look at similar accelerators and programmes to gain an idea of what you could achieve?

Over the last 12 months, we’ve been exploring different models to connect with startups and scale-ups, looking at many different service providers, accelerators and incubators. We are keen to partner directly with organisations that share our vision. From what we’ve seen at C4DI they have the facilities and network to provide a really compelling package to the right start-ups and scale-ups.