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Mar 27, 2014 • By

Open innovation lessons and pitfalls

It’s been seven years since we officially adopted our open innovation strategy, known as the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN).

Since then, many of our most successful new product launches have incorporated open innovation, such as Fiber One 90-Calorie Brownies, Yoplait Greek 100, Progresso Light soups and Nature Valley Protein bars, which were named the ‘Most Innovative Product of 2013’ by Consumer Goods Technology magazine.

Last fall, Mike Helser took on the role of senior manager of G-WIN. Having worked on the G-WIN team for six years prior, Mike has experienced our open innovation journey first-hand, and recently shared several key lessons and potential pitfalls in an in-depth interview with Innovation Leader, a digital publication for innovation executives.

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Here are a few highlights from the interview:

Innovation Leader: Let’s talk motivation. General Mills created its “Worldwide Innovation Network” to team up with innovators outside the company. Why?

Mike Helser: We launched the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN) because we believe there are innovation partners outside our walls who have the expertise and capabilities to help us more effectively meet the needs of our consumers. Simply put, open innovation helps us deliver bigger innovations to the marketplace more quickly.

IL: If you had to do it again, what pitfalls would you avoid?

MH: One thing we’ve realized since launching G-WIN is that it’s important to be specific and transparent about the challenges you’re looking to solve in order to identify the right partner for the project.

For example, it’s one thing to say that you’re seeking “packaging solutions” – as we may have done early on in our efforts – and another to say that you’re looking for ways “to use renewable content in flexible packaging films and rigid containers.”

IL: So, greater clarity … 

MH: Absolutely. And a mechanism for that communication. In the fall of 2009, we launched the G-WIN online portal, through which we publish our clearly articulated technical challenges and invite visitors to create and submit non-confidential proposals. During the first year of launching this more robust and clearly articulated site, we connected with more than 1,000 inventors from around the world and received more than 500 proposals.

IL: Were there any other tangential, ancillary benefits from developing G-WIN?

MH: We’re particularly proud of the benefits that our partners realize because of our commitment to being more externally-focused. The open innovation partners we work with at General Mills represent a broad spectrum – from large corporations to small businesses to individual inventors. Since launching G-WIN, we’ve made new connections and built lasting relationships with thousands of companies and individuals across the globe. We’ve actually covered some of those successes in our blog, including one with a young inventor named Mark King (whom The New York Times just profiled) and another with an existing supplier, Shearer’s Foods.

To read the complete Innovation Leader interview, click here. (Note: you’ll need to register for a free online account to access the full article.)

To learn more about the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, visit Generalmills.com/win.