How do we create a world where we can feed a population of 9 billion, and keep all those people healthy? These are probably the most obvious questions being asked around nutrition and health these days. The Blue Tulip Awards are looking for the most important innovations in these themes. The answer is “it’s complicated”, according to this years’ jury leads for respectively nutrition and health, Kees de Gooijer and Fenna Heyning.
Disrupting the entire chain
Innovating in healthcare is not straightforward and Fenna Heyning knows all about it. Trained as a hematologist, she is currently head of STZ-ziekenhuizen, a cooperation of some of the best Dutch hospitals. Their goal is to improve patient care by stimulating education and research. “Innovation in healthcare is always a bit more complicated than in other areas. Any technological breakthrough is just a link in the chain. It’s important to foster these innovations, but they only work when all links change along with it. Some of the most disruptive innovations in other areas managed to successfully connect several links to each other. Take Booking.com for example, in the travel business. You can book a hotel room, but also a table in a restaurant or a tour of a city. These are all different things, but at the frontend, they seamlessly connect to each other.”
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‘Opportunities for deep learning’
An example of a similar disruption could be the Dutch digital patient’s file (EPD), which stores medical information for every patient, only accessible for relevant medical professionals. Not quite as easy to use as Booking.com, but Heyning sees the bright side. “It’s a great development, but we’re currently in phase one of digitisation of all this data. We need to go to phase two and three, to improve interoperability between medical organisations and employ smart analytics. It offers fantastic opportunities for deep learning, to connect all this clinical knowledge. It’ll give us so much more thinking power than the smartest doctor currently has.”
Innovation within boundaries
“In the past decades, we’ve emphasised the importance of protocols and guidelines in healthcare. Which is great, it increased the safety of patients. But at the same time, we’re aching for someone to get creative once in a while. To start a trial with a new prototype. I’m not saying we should let go of these protocols, but we should be creating little corners within them where you can just try stuff. In which it is not a problem to fail. There are many opportunities to do so, without endangering lives.”
Inspiration in nutrition
Kees de Gooijer has already found the corners of innovation in his field. De Gooijer is Chief Inspiration Officer for the centre of knowledge and innovation for the Dutch agricultural sector (TKI Agrifood). As such he is involved in several student competitions that accelerate ideas in the nutrition and agricultural sector. “There are several startup programs at some of the excellent universities in The Netherlands. And we organise competitions for students as well, where they can pitch their ideas.”
However just like in healthcare, technological innovation in the area of nutrition can never stand alone, says De Gooijer: “Even the quest to feed 9 billion mouths is too simplistic. Our challenge is a lot broader than that. We need to make sure it is also healthy for those people. And for the environment as well. In the agricultural world, we need to move from maximum production to optimal production.”
The Netherlands has a long history of innovation when it comes to producing food. The tiny country is the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter, after the United States. A claim that needs some nuances, says De Gooijer: “To be fair, a lot of our exports are previously imported. But we are blessed with a stellar geographical location in a fertile delta. And we learned to make very good use of that.” For example, the level of innovation in the horticultural business is extremely high. “If you drive through the northern parts of Italy, there are Dutch cultivation systems as far as the eye can see. Currently, precision agriculture is one of the main technological challenges, along with personalised nutrition. It’s innovation with a big impact and we’re always willing to share these ideas.”
Gathering and translating data
However, these high-impact innovations won’t come easy, as single technological innovations are not easily implemented. “If you want to develop new technologies for agriculture, the only two questions the farmers will have are: what will it cost me and what will it yield? It can take years before you have a definitive answer. It usually involves gathering a lot of data, and translating that to instructions for the new smart machinery.”
What innovation to look for?
So a singular, technological innovation in either field is not the most exciting to look for. During the Blue Tulip Awards, both experts will look for something broader. Heyning: “Sure, you can produce a smart wearable and put it on the patient. But the real question is: what are you going to do with the actionable insights? The important thing is to make sure somebody does something with the data. This means changing the system. Technology is advancing, but the challenge is to bring it to the people.”
Impact of an idea is what matters
In the end, both experts agree that any new idea should be judged based on its possible effects. “It’s all about impact. Generally, during a good pitch, I instantly feel the vibe. I’m not looking for fully developed ideas. It is important that an idea has an impact on the entire chain,” says De Gooijer. Heyning adds: “What’s the impact of an idea on the life of a patient? Of his or her partner, or of the caretaker? Those are the things I am looking for.”
The Blue Tulip Awards are an ecosystem-driven program that has four main events throughout the year, with prizes awarded to winners at each of the different stages of the event. Prizes include feedback from partners and other innovators, personal coaching from one of the judges, the opportunity to pitch your innovation at the Blue Tulip Awards, or an acceleration package designed for your business. The finals will take place during the Accenture Innovation Summit on April 17th 2020.