The idea that to innovate you must collaborate has become an article of faith in the 21st Century global economy.
As we move through a period of intense change driven by advances in digital technology, and with added concerns over our collective impact on the environment, there’s a sense that the most valuable and disruptive ideas can be hatched by small and medium-sized organisations working in partnership with bigger players…
Innovate Manchester: Facilitating Innovation
Aimed as supporting the region’s forward-looking businesses, Innovate Manchester was created by MIDAS and GC Business Growth Hub.
Taking place across the region and part of GC Business Growth Hub’s wider Innovation Service, Innovate Manchester is a series of unique and pioneering events; aimed at helping its local SME community, as they help overcome whatever challenges are facing our large collaborative partners.
Innovate Manchester consisted of a series of open access webinars featuring expert panel discussions and focused Innovation Labs, where a business’ specific challenges were identified and discussed. The events became an essential platform for both SMEs to also identity collaborative approaches to help potential partners innovate their products, services and business operations
Just one example of successful collaboration, Innovate Manchester initiated and helped accelerate the ongoing collaboration between GC Business Growth Hub collaboration partner and Italian pharmaceutical company Chiesi Farmaceutici S.p.A., which has over 400 people based in their UK affiliate located in Heald Green, and the smart waste software provider Dsposal, an SME also based in Manchester.
An opportunity to make a positive change
Chiesi came with a compelling challenge for SMEs to discuss: over 70 million inhalers are used in the UK every year to treat respiratory conditions, of which most will be disposed of as household domestic waste.
The majority of inhalers are made from plastic casings and some contain an aluminium canister and fluorinated gas propellant. As there is no separation process for an inhaler’s components at municipal waste processing plants, all the device’s constituent parts often end up in landfill sites. Not only does this constitute a significant amount of waste material, but the propellant that remains in some inhalers can leak into the atmosphere.
Chiesi is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its products and supply chain - and one of its key objectives is to avoid inhaler devices being consigned to landfill. To this end, Chiesi decided to explore how the waste processing system could be managed in order to capture and recycle the inhaler’s component parts after it has been thrown away.
The Innovate Manchester event was the ideal opportunity to share the challenge and draw on the expertise of a wider circle of SMEs that they otherwise wouldn’t have engaged with.
One of the SMEs in attendance that took up the challenge was Dsposal. Chiesi’s problem resonated with the business strongly, as not only does it specialise in modernising waste processes and circular economy service design, but its team have a lot of combined expertise in pharmaceuticals, the healthcare sector and supply chains.
This combination of skills and experience meant that Dsposal was uniquely well-placed to work on the issue at hand.
Facilitating a collaborative approach.
Through the delivery of immersive Innovation Lab sessions, virtual workshops, expert-led talks and dedicated break-out sessions, Dsposal got to grips with the question posed by Chiesi and worked through how waste management software and behaviour change campaigns could be utilised.
Being embedded in the waste industry, Dsposal was able to advise on how the sector operates and the obstacles that would need to be overcome.
Dsposal considered the problem as part of the bigger system – and how changes to one aspect of the waste system will impact others, helping to ensure that the eventual solution would be fit for purpose.
Consultants at MIDAS and GC Business Growth Hub facilitated follow-up sessions between the two organisations, where a ‘proof of concept’ scheme is now in place and is currently being piloted.
Overcoming the challenges
The new concept was launched in January 2021 and will run for 12 months, at the end of which the results will be evaluated and shared with relevant stakeholders for consideration and to assess the feasibility of upscaling.
The connection built between Dsposal and Chiesi through the Innovate Manchester programme has grown into a strong working relationship. Since the Innovation Lab, supported by GC Business Growth Hub, the two businesses have developed an opportunity with Innovate UK and an additional Manchester-based SME, Reply, on a human-centred research project around designing sustainable plastic solutions
Dsposal’s ability to look at people’s behaviours around waste has been an important aspect of helping Chiesi understand how inhalers are used and how people feel about them. This has highlighted a number of opportunities to make the devices more environmentally friendly by rethinking how they’re designed, operated and disposed of when no longer needed or usable.
At a cultural level, being exposed to Dsposal’s insights expanded Chiesi’s thinking and its appetite to tackle a challenge it had previously believed was too difficult to overcome.
For Dsposal, a key learning has been that, aside from its software development capabilities, its institutional knowledge of the waste industry is a key asset that has value for other businesses. This awareness of how its in-depth understanding of supply chains and waste management, combined with a systemic problem-solving approach, can support other organisations in their circular economy or sustainability ambitions and has encouraged it to engage in similar collaborative projects.
A bright future together
Moving forward, Chiesi is willing to explore new avenues with Dsposal to further improve the sustainability of inhalers and both businesses are looking forward to an effective long-term collaboration.
Chiesi is particularly aware that navigating the waste and medicines regulations remains a difficulty for pharmaceutical companies and having an established relationship with an expert SME in this area will be highly advantageous.
“The exercise with the team and our relationship with Dsposal has been an extremely positive experience enabling us to accelerate our plans for inhaler recycling which is a key component of our B-Corp programme in the UK,” a Chiesi spokesperson said.
Sophie Walker, founder of Dsposal, commented: “The opportunity that was unlocked through the Innovate Manchester programme has been really beneficial for Dsposal. It established a productive relationship with Chiesi, laid the foundations for our successful Innovate UK bid and opened our eyes to a whole new revenue stream. It’s been brilliant.”
SMEs looking to access specialist support and engage with large organisations to develop new products and services can contact us for more information:
- Call us on 0161 359 3050
- Email us at BGHinnovation@growthco.uk
Innovate Manchester is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020, as part of the GC Business Growth Hub Innovation Support Programme.