Merck Innovation Center as Enabling Space

Conception and realization of the award-winning center for disruptive innovation to serve the entire Merck Group worldwide

Merck is one of the worldwide leading technology companies in innovative healthcare, life science, and performance materials. Using the Enabling Space approach, theLivingCore developed a holistic innovation eco-system – the Merck Innovation Center – steering the whole Merck Group into its future. The guiding question was “What is the future role of Merck for society, in the healthcare context, and in technology?”. theLivingCore did not only develop the organizational and cultural change, but also, in cooperation with Henn Architects, translated the innovation concept into actual architecture. Re-design of the Merck governance structures and of internal processes. Development of a training program involving “Innovation Ambassadors”.

Go beyond innovation! – Project summary XING New Work Award

Already a highly innovative business, Merck has gone one step further and built an innovation center that boasts landmark architecture and a completely new operating system developed with theLivingCore’s innovation and knowledge architects: finely orchestrated space concepts and innovative schemes and structures create an ideal environment for employees to work on strategic questions of the future. Employees thus become innovators renewing the Merck Group from within.

How did the concept come about? What was the motivation behind it?

In the run-up to its 350-year anniversary in 2018, the Merck Group addressed the question in 2014 of how it could best contribute to society in the future. They were quick to come up with the idea of building an innovation center that would be more than just a fancy shell. The basic concept was developed with theLivingCore: First, the Innovation Centre would generate new technologies and businesses that would go beyond Merck’s previous activity. Second, the Innovation Center would be an instrument transforming the process-oriented culture of Merck into a culture of innovation by providing space for rethinking, testing and actively promoting ideas beyond the daily routine.

What makes the Innovation Center so special?

The Innovation Center will enable inside and outside entrepreneurs to develop new, socially relevant concepts. A key challenge was to break up existing structures and processes. A safe ecosystem was created within the company structure. Merck strikes a fine balance between the agility of a startup and the complex processes of a company, promoting synergies between individual business units. To make innovation projects commercially successful as quickly as possible, a “New Business Builder” unit was established, while a makerspace develops prototypes on demand. In addition, the Innovator Academy was founded to nurture a spirit of innovation among employees.

What social or economic impact does the concept have on the company?

The interdisciplinary, cross-unit Innovation Center offers in-house employees and outside practitioners an innovation ecosystem in the form of a structured safe space / free space where they can pursue their individual, innovative projects. Most of these projects are embedded in Merck’s overriding, socially relevant future projects, which strengthens the corporate identity for the whole organization. Furthermore, novel training concepts (offline and on an internal, online platform), formats and incentive models (e.g. optional shares in the project in addition to the regular bonus model) strengthen the innovation mindset and the employees’ entrepreneurial attitude. 

What is the impact on the different areas of the company?

The Innovation Center is innovative because it configures and integrates particular elements into a holistic concept: innovation areas are specified to define the strategic direction. Internal brainstorming programs generate ideas that are then developed into a concrete project portfolio and made ready for the market by applying the novel New Business Builder approach. Merck teams up with external startups and innovators (accelerator program, hackathons etc.) and hones the skills of those involved with specific training and workshops at the Innovator Academy. Prototypes for innovation projects are rapidly produced in a makerspace, and entrepreneurship is strengthened with new types of incentive models for internal founders.

What are the learning of this project?

A building alone cannot generate creativity, free thought, collaboration and, ultimately, innovation. It takes a holistic concept to change a mindset: strategic innovation fields; in-house programs and strong networks with startups / external innovators to generate ideas; an upscaling approach for quickly advancing projects; training programs for nurturing innovation potential. Our enabling space® approach leads the project to success: as a guiding principle, it enables innovation rather than managing it. A strategic project office provided the free space required to conceptualize and design the Innovation Center.

What makes the Innovation Center unique?

The starting points for all of our considerations in this project were a strong belief in the employees’ creative potential; the enabling effect of space on innovation work and social interaction; and a tailored set of formats that are future- and purpose-driven and go beyond the mechanistic understanding of innovation. The Merck board seized the organizational transformation that came along with the foundation of the Innovation Center as a unique opportunity to take social responsibility and propel the company into the future in a holistic fashion. Currently, a number of projects in the mentioned innovation fields are addressing the question of “How to feed the world in the future”.

Related articles:

Merck receives the German Stevie Award 2019 as most innovative company of the year.

Animation-Video Merck Innovationszentrum.

First results become visible. For example, the patented technology “Combination of Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain Technology” was developed in an innovation project within the Merck Innovation Center.

Awarded XING New Work Prize (in German).

Making ideas real (in German) – interview with Michael Gamber (Head of Innovation Center) and Oliver Kläffling (Head of Business Builder).

In the long term, we want to change the culture of innovation at Merck (in German).

Merck’s transformation from a chemical and pharmaceutical company to a science and technology firm (in German).