Innovation through cross-industry collaboration: Pre-conference Interview with Evonik’s Head of Corporate Innovation Strategy

Having been at every single CIEX event since our launch five years ago, Dr. Daniel Witthaut, Head of Corporate Innovation Strategy at Evonik is certainly one of our strongest supporter and a much valued speaker. So we were excited to catch up with him ahead of his presentation this October in Frankfurt as part of our CIEX interview series.

CIEX: Dr. Witthaut, first of all thank you for all your support over the past five years. We are very excited to have you back in 2021 with your talk on “Driving innovation in sustainability by cross-industry collaboration”. Without giving too much away –what is the core message of your presentation and what would you like delegates to remember?

Daniel Witthaut: The core message of my talk will be that we need to have cooperation to address the challenges but also to reap the potential benefits in the area of innovation for sustainability. Sustainability is part of the business strategies in almost all businesses and there are many examples where co-operations are working very well. But certain mindsets are necessary to explore the full benefits of innovation ecosystems and I will share our experience at Evonik and invite other companies to collaborate.

“I see a huge potential for innovation to deliver on the UN Sustainability Development Goals”

CIEX: Why did you choose the topic of your talk?

Daniel Witthaut: The topic resonates very well with my experience and perspective on transformative innovation. Especially in the area of sustainability, e.g. I see a huge potential for innovation to deliver on the UN Sustainability Development Goals. I believe that these challenges are so demanding, that industries let alone companies cannot solve these issues by themselves. These topics need to be addressed in collaboration between companies, science, policy makers and society in general. Since the topics of co-creation and sustainability not only resonate very much with my heart and experience but with a lot of things that we do at Evonik it was a perfect match to talk about at this year´s conference.

Driving innovation in sustainability by cross-industry collaboration

CIEX: What motivates you to join CIEX 2021 and what are your expectations?

Daniel Witthaut: It will be the fifth time that I join the the CIEX conference. The conferences in recent years have been a very good opportunity to cultivate existing contacts. At the same time I managed to establish new and inspiring ones each year. I have the same expectations for this year´s conference. I am looking very much forward not only to the presentations but also to good discussions during the breaks.

“Innovation is one of three levers for profitable growth”

CIEX: The need for innovation has been a continued topic for the chemical industry. How would you sum up the current state of the industry, specifically with a focus on its innovation efforts?

Daniel Witthaut: At Evonik as a leader in specialty chemicals, innovation is one of three levers for profitable growth. Therefore our focus on making our innovation efforts better and better will constantly continue. Innovation efforts in the chemical industry will remain on a high level and I believe this development will continue. What I believe is changing is that the collaborative work for transformative innovation will increase across industry borders. It will more and more include start-ups. While incremental innovation will certainly remain necessary to defend a company´s competitive position, transformative innovation will be essential for substantial growth above market growth rates.

CIEX: What must (chemical) industry leaders do to remain competitive and prepare for the future?

Daniel Witthaut: I believe leaders must find the right balance between short term and long term oriented decisions. Certainly the current COVID-19 crisis has significant impact on several -but fortunately not on all- businesses. Leaders must weigh cutting costs, driving productivity, and implementing safety measures and so on against supporting innovation driven growth. Here we have to find the right approach to address today´s challenges. At the same time we cannot forget about the long term and sacrifice long term efforts for short term benefits. Sufficiently supporting innovation these days will be a key for unlocking growth after the crisis. I remember that Evonik developed very well after the financial crisis in 2008 / 2009 as Evonik did not lay off people and kept the R&D budgets at the same level during the crisis years.

CIEX: Thank you very much Dr. Witthaut. 

You can find the recorded presentation on our CIEX blog. It also contains more than 100 case studies and images captured from past CIEX conferences. Your next chances to join a CIEX related event are during our Virtual – CIEX Data Summit (May 10, 2022) and live CIEX (Frankfurt, October 5 & 6), 2022.

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