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Hacking Innovation

RB’s Lions Health event saw teams compete to protect children in China from air pollution

Innovation Hack

Competing teams wait with apprehension to deliver presentations to an X-factor-style panel of judges at a hackathon hosted by consumer health and hygiene company Reckitt Benckiser (RB) and the Lions Health festival in Cannes, France.

In June the annual hack saw 30 participants from across the globe dividing into teams and working to develop innovative products that could protect children in China from the health effects of air pollution. The world’s deadliest country for outdoor air pollution, in 2012 over one million people died in China due to its toxic air, according to WHO figures.

“Air pollution is definitely a big problem,” said RB’s R&D category group director and mentor for team one, Mattia DeDominicis. “You can decide what you eat, you can decide what you drink but you can’t decide what you breathe.”

The three teams of ten - made up of R&D scientific and technical experts, creatives and entrepreneurs - were hustled into meeting rooms over the course of 28 hours to not only invent an anti-pollution product, but also to prepare and deliver their pitch for how the product could deliver real change should it be chosen to hit the Chinese market.

“I think those of us in corporations, like RB, are in a very privileged position to make a difference in the world,” said RB’s vice president of global regulatory affairs and team two’s mentor, Zephanie Jordan. “RB has turned its mind to delivering to purpose, which is healthier lives and happier homes, and that is the forefront of what drives all of our strategies.”

RB - which aims to take a ‘purpose-led’ approach - has been running the hacks at Cannes Lions Health since last year, and Louise Benson, executive festival director, said: “I hope to see the hack again next year. We took a bit of a risk when we first ran the hack, but I was blown away. We had no idea whether the delegates would have any interest in it but the room was packed, the energy levels were through the roof, and the team comradery was just amazing. It exceeded all of our expectations. The reason why this hack works so well is that we have the innovation and the R&D smarts of the RB group on one hand, and then we bring these creative catalysts into the mix, and that’s what Cannes Lions is all about. It’s about that serendipity and bringing people together to make creative friction,” she added.

Creativity in action

Lead judge and RB’s executive vice president of category and development, Roberto Funari takes to the stage to introduce proceedings and promises the crowd that they will see “creativity in action”, while team one prepares to deliver their fairy-tale-style presentation.

“The Dream Cocoon protects infants from indoor pollution while they sleep,” begins team one’s Andrea Bistany, who is vice president, associate creative director of healthcare agency Area23. “The main layer of fabric is manufactured using activated charcoal, which gives infiltration properties layering the cocoon with pure, filtered air. It compromises of a rechargeable device, which sits on top of the cocoon, an extractor fan to allow a constant flow of air and a sensor so users can keep track of the air quality.”

There is also an app intended for parents that accompanies the dream cocoon, which analyses the air-quality, provides a real-time battery status and alerts users when the cocoon needs to be washed.

The idea was inspired by “new technologies that are emerging in the fabric space,” said team one’s Kirsty Wood, who is also digital marketing manager for the Movember Foundation. “It’s so prevalent in everyone’s day-to-day lives that we wanted to find something similar but that could be applied in a slightly different way. We pulled some serious hours because we are quite passionate about our idea, and we want to make it work in the long term and not just during this competition,” she added.

Next up it’s team two, who take to the stage to present their own invention. GrowAir is a transparent shield, consisting of tubes that purify air, which is then aimed into the nose and mouth of the child, and it is intended to replace the masks that children in China are required to wear when they go outside. The aim is to bring “childhood back to the child,” describes Global Marketing’s senior brand manager and team two member Dora Du. “Right now, children in China are prisoners of their homes. Our product gives children freedom and enables parents to see the smile on their child’s face. It’s very emotional, but the biggest challenge was having to start off with a high-pressured task with a bunch of people who you don’t know. Not only do you not know them but they come from completely different backgrounds, and not only do they come from different backgrounds but they speak different languages. Getting over the cultural barriers, the technical barriers and the personalities is difficult, but once you get past that tipping point, then it’s magic. And that’s how we got to our product.”

Team three then emerge and tell the audience about speaking to a mother who lives in Beijing. “The older child wears a mask and he goes to school, and even though it isn’t ideal, they have a solution. Whereas the baby goes from the house to the car and back to the house again, which isolates not only the baby, but the mother too,” described the team, which led them on to presenting their product aptly named StrollAir. The product consists of two, lightweight electronic devices that attach on to the side of a stroller. Air is then pulled through the device filters, which clean the air and it is then channelled through the device, creating a bubble of clean air in front of the baby. The rechargeable sensor in the device ensures that parents have fitted the device correctly. The device also comes with an app that provides users with pollution information, battery and filter replacement notifications and an online shop.

“I think we’ve actually come up with something life-changing,” said CEO of Culthealth and team three’s Jeff Rothstein. “We all have so much belief in this product that there was this magical moment when we recognised our concept, and it was spine-tingling. We followed a very regimented, strategic process, and we really looked to find an insight to develop a strategy. We spoke to the mother of young children instead of reading articles about it and it brought the problem to a very real, human level. I think there was a combination of understanding the insight of what parents in China are really facing, with some amazing scientific minds on our team who recognised different types of scientific capabilities in air, and it all came together in this great burst of inspiration in humanity and science. It’s healthcare at its best.”

As the final team ends their presentation, the judges have a tough countdown during which to deliberate and decide upon a winner.

A close call

“All the work was a very close call,” said Funari prior to presenting the winner, “however, we all gravitated towards one idea.”

He explains: “We look for life-changing creativity that we can put into action and all three ideas have the ability to be on the market. I think this year we have strengthened the diversity of the teams, and the solutions are purpose-led but I want to see teams going that extra mile in terms of scalability.”

Funari stands on the stage for the final time as the audience and participants alike await the results.

“The technology and safety solutions brought forward by all the teams show the very best of RB and I’m proud of the company,” said Funari who also recently announced that RB has committed to raising £20,000 to provide protective masks to an NGO in China.

As Funari announces team three as the winner, they cheer and the audience bursts into applause.

“Team three came across very strong and we were discussing the possibility of this product during judging, including the cost, and we realised it is possible. It’s an interesting venture,” concluded Funari, closing the event.

Article by
Gemma Jones

is PME's reporter

15th August 2017

Article by
Gemma Jones

is PME's reporter

15th August 2017

From: Marketing

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