The anatomy of a perfect chemical innovation partner

Published October 8, 2020

A winning chemical or material innovation isn’t just one person’s success story. Its evolution catalogs efforts from researchers, developers, marketers, and some who dwell outside the chemical company, such as chemical innovation partners.

They give you the remarkable opportunity to identify and amend your innovation’s performance gaps before market entry; thus, providing a stronger edge to pierce through and obtain a firm foothold within the intended market.

But, at SpecialChem, we have noticed that many chemical suppliers obsess over catching the biggest fish as innovation partners. This is a dangerous mistake. Read on to learn why this happens and what a valuable partner actually looks like.

Why are big companies not good innovation partners?


You only have eyes for their potential, not for their insights

Chemical suppliers race to get on the good-books of the coveted few in hopes to fast-track their current and future innovations to commercial success. Unfortunately, this fallacy defeats the purpose of innovation partners in the first place.

Their role, pre-launch, is to reveal drawbacks and improvement opportunities within your innovation, because right now, it is just a brittle precursor of what it could be — once refined, your creation is what will take you to success and unfold future opportunities.

You don’t top their priority list

In every sector, a few companies tend to hold monopoly over the entire market — and these are the proposal-magnets all chemical suppliers work hard to partner with.

Knowing that those big companies are juggling to please several innovation proposals at the same time, making it impossible for them to give your precious innovation the full-fledged attention it deserves, would you still want them to test your prototype? Certainly not.

Plus, remember that there is already a lopsided power dynamic in play when it comes to them and you. A viable moonshot innovation can certainly help redress this power imbalance and make you their top priority, but this possibility is very rare.

Until then, that platter of attention that you ordered? Expect to share it with hundreds of other innovation proposals.

You’re lost in a labyrinth of red tape

The industry Goliaths have plenty of corporate-designed chains restraining them. Sure, the strict and convoluted internal structure gives them massive control and minimizes error throughout their day-to-day operations.

But it also adds significant collaboration roadblocks and produces costly delays — specifically in getting your hands on technical and qualitative feedback.

A delay in feedback further triggers a delay in production and market entry, plus having no time left for re-testing the improved product to see if the issues have been fixed. This is problematic, since without thorough validation, your prototype is just a hypothesis — and you don’t want to commercially launch a hypothesis.

They’re just a small fraction of the true market

One size has never fit all — fixating on one mega player is like putting them under a magnifying glass. They look like the whole world, and their pain points, likes, and dislikes feel all-encompassing.

But, pull back a little, and you will realize the illusory mistake — that massive whale was just one creature in an ocean full of other fishes, all with their unique persona and some common underpinning needs. However, if you extrapolate the problems of the whale to the entire market, you would be in for a nasty shock upon market entry.

This becomes even more dangerous if you synthesize custom chemicals just to serve one company’s needs. What happens when they close their doors, if their needs outgrow your product or if another manufacturer comes along and offers a comparable product for a fraction of the price?

Pleasing one big fish isn’t a viable long-term strategy.

You have to make peace with lack of transparency

We are often told to take constructive feedback in stride. But, the problem for chemical suppliers is slightly different — quality, actionable feedback is just as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack.

Big companies aren’t always forthright or detailed about their actual experience with your innovation. They might reduce genuine mountains into molehills, thus, giving you an edited wishy-washy version devoid of technical and qualitative intelligence that holds power to make real change.

There are plenty of reasons for this. They don’t want to tarnish their brand image. They don’t want to be a Debbie Downer by being over-critical, or they don’t want to say more than what they think is necessary (responses often getting consolidated to a chain of Yes-or-No).

You shouldn’t have to cut corners when it comes to eliciting feedback. If your innovation partner rejects your product, then they should explain their reasons, and if they like your product, then they should still tell you why because the “why” helps you gather useful information that can be used to make your product stronger.

What does the right innovation partner look like?


They are mid- or small-sized businesses

We have found that the best chemical innovation partners are medium-sized or even small-sized. These companies aren’t leashed and trapped in a long and complicated chain of command. They are lean enough for their enthusiasm not to suffocate.

And, since they are not drowning in innovation proposals, they have significant time to commit to test your chemical material or compound.

Small- and mid-sized businesses often embrace the family mentality. The employees know each other on a first-name basis, and if problems were to arise at any step, you will be able to hit up the project leaders very quickly. And even talk to the engineers and scientists one-on-one.

They endow knowledge, not promises

Testing your innovative chemical is critical for understanding whether it will deliver on all of its claims, and if it doesn’t, then precisely how far is it from the mark?

On-field tests give you useful wisdom about where your innovation is lacking. This is what your goal should be with an innovation partner— to accumulate vast knowledge about your product’s performance.

True chemical innovation partners focus on technical validation of the product instead of musing over future business opportunities and contract size.

They are eager to test your product

Mid-sized and small companies are hungrier for success. They even crave little breakthroughs — anything that will give them an edge and increase their margin.

It is a symbiotic relationship where they trust in the ability of where your chemical compound can take their product and business. Therefore, they are excited about giving it a chance.

This hunger encourages them to test the product fast, which means you will have the results in your hands much quickly and you will be able to accelerate its market release.

They are transparent across all facets

Great innovation partners aren’t curt on feedback. You can ask them difficult questions like:

  • What did you like about this prototype?
  • What did you not like?
  • If you could, what would you change about this product?
  • Which features of this product disappointed you the most?
  • Would you use this instead of what you are currently using?
  • How much would you pay for something like this?

There are no tough questions, just like there are no ugly answers.

A good innovation partner understands that by being honest about their true experience with your innovation, they are helping you make it better, which will very likely bring them rewards in the future by getting an improved version of the compound from you.

You can scale up for reliable learnings

There is power in numbers — an innovation that is backed with a solid thumbs up from several innovation partners has greater potential to make it than one that has been tested by only one.

For example, your R&D may come up with a coating that touts several features, such as abrasion resistance, chemical resistance, heat resistance, excellent electrical properties, and low moisture absorption, and you have designed it to be used in the aerospace, defense, and automotive industries.

To really validate its technical efficacy, you have to test it with innovation partners across all those intended fields. The ideal number of innovation partners is not one — it is 4 to 20.

Remember, by testing your product with multiple companies that are a good representation of your target customer base, you will also have the opportunity to see whether the findings are replicable, which is important to deduce its reliability and validity.

Key takeaways

Innovation partners are stepping stones to reforming your chemical and material prototype into its best version. They are necessary to solidify your value proposition.

The perfect innovation partners may not have a large presence, with a heavy bag of responsibilities bogging them down — but they are agile, relevant, honest and enthusiastic about testing your compound and materials, motivated by their own interest in making a difference for their own customers.

As a group, they represent an accurate face of the target market. And most importantly — they are happy for you to pick their brains for actionable feedback.


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