Embrace technology for radically improved innovation

Digital innovation is a core topic of CIEX 2021. Having impressed us and the audience during our start-up panel at CIE X2019, we asked Anita Schjøll Brede CEO & Co-Founder of IRIS.AI back to talk about digital innovation and machine learning at CIEX 2021. While preparing for the conference, we sat down with Anita to talk about her topic, expectations and motivations.

CIEX: Without giving too much away –what is the core message of your talk and what would you like delegates to remember?

Anita Schjøll Brede: The world is moving fast – much faster than we might grasp on a daily basis. Topics like AI, Machine Learning and digitalization have by now made their way into our board rooms, executive meetings and in some cases into our day to day operations. But what do they really mean? Centruy-old innovation leaders in other industries have become obsolete because agile and disruptive players have entered the market and within few years bypassed the market caps. So what prevents fully digital players to to so in the chemical industry? Is there anything inherent in this industry that prevents disruption? What can large players do to stay relevant into the future?

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

Anita Schjøll Brede: Innovation, disruption, AI and the future is near and dear to my heart – both as the CEO of an AI company developing smart tools for Chemistry R&D, as faculty in Artificial Intelligence at Singularity University, and as Board Member of the Katapult startup accelerator programs. This is what I surround myself with on a daily basis, and sharing my vision of the future to open the dialogue is always exciting.

CIEX: What motivates you to join CIEX 2020 and what are your expectations?

Anita Schjøll Brede: I thoroughly enjoyed my time at CIEX in 2019, which was my first. I loved what I saw there. An industry which in many ways is so far behind the more digitally native industries. Yet an industry that is now realizing the monumental impact exponential technologies will have on their research, development, commercialization and markets. All the players I spoke with and listened to in 2019 were in the early process of turning their massive organizations around. That willingness to change, to confront the inherent slowness, to embrace the future is exciting. And it’s so fascinating to get to play a small part in it.

For 2021, I am hopeful to see some early fruits of this work. To see the rate of change, and to exchange experiences. I come at this from the small, agile AI player side. Being able to spar some really large challenges with corporate giants in an open and welcoming forum such as CIEX is powerful.

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?

Anita Schjøll Brede: Digital innovation is a big and fluffy word that means a lot of different things to different people. I see an industry that has realized that the old incremental innovation systems that have been in place for decades are no longer serving them. There is an outspoken need for more agility and flexibility. To be able to fully embrace the potential embedded in new technology for radically improved innovation. At the same time there’s an inherent inertia embedded in the industry, that my organization get to meet with on a daily basis. New technology for innovation efforts is not enough.  New, cross-organizational innovation mindsets are needed, and that can be much harder than developing AI.

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

Anita Schjøll Brede: The agility and flexibility needed to remain relevant also in the future is difficult for massive corporations. But it is not impossible. My experience is that a mindset open to broad collaboration – internally and externally – within innovation is essential.  Opening up for more experimentation, flexible processes, smaller project teams with larger autonomy and agency to try (and to fail) are keys to transformation. It is my belief that any company building and sticking to 5-year plans (rather than 5-year visions) is going to get in trouble. There needs to be room to change course, rapidly.

CIEX: Anita, thank you very much. We look forward to hearing more at CIEX 2021 this October in Frankfurt!

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

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CIEX 2021 will take place on October 6&7 in Frankfurt/Main and online. Due to the current social distancing measures seats at the live conference are limited. Book your ticket at https://ciex-eu.org/. 2021 Presenters include senior representatives from Dow, Braskem, Evonik, Clariant, Du Pont, BASF and many more.


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