We recently hosted the third webcast episode of a mini-series we’re doing with Rhapsody Venture Partners on Lean Startup in the hard sciences where we spoke with Jason Whaley from Rhapsody and Chris Thoen, former CTO of Givaudan, the world’s largest flavor and fragrance company and former Managing Director of Open Innovation at Procter & Gamble. They spoke with Lean Startup Co. faculty member Hisham Ibrahim.
In Hisham, Chris, and Jason’s conversation, they discuss:
– How to bring the small startup mentality to big corporations
– The importance of ambidexterity in leaders so they can maintain the right balance between managing the core business and continuing to innovate
– The importance of open innovation in order for companies to grow in today’s fast-paced marketplace
And much, much more…
Chris Thoen spent nearly the entirety of his 32-year career working in science and innovation, and he’s done so while deftly balancing between working for large corporations and small startups – often finding ways to work with both types of companies at the same time.
When he was fresh out of college, Chris’ first job was at a small biotech startup in Belgium. It was not only a good transition from University life to professional life, but it was a great introduction to how young companies can really work. But after a few years, he wanted more of a challenge and the ability to continually innovate on new ideas, which led him to his next job at Procter & Gamble.
“Essentially every six months you [were] on a new project,” Chris recalls, “You’re doing something different, they’re stretching you as a scientist, or potentially as a manager.”
The fast-paced nature of the company suited Chris and he spent the next couple of decades of his career working on projects – big and small – for the company. One of the highlights of his career was working on what he describes as essentially a “startup within the corporation” called Clay Street. For 12 weeks, he and 11 other colleagues from different functions of the organization, worked exclusively on a single project. It’s something that Chris still thinks about fondly. “It was so empowering, so aspirational,” he says.
From there Chris went on to lead Procter & Gamble’s Connect and Develop Program – or what he calls their “open innovation program” – where he worked to stretch targets and figure out how to go outside of their own company walls to make new things happen.
Most recently, he was the leader of science and technology at Givaudan, the world’s leading flavor and fragrance house. While he was there, he became a founding partner of MassChallenge Switzerland, an accelerator that takes no equity and helps startups hone their business and prepare their pitches for investors. Because, according to Chris, it’s important for large companies to find ways to ensure they continue to re-innovate and reinvigorate themselves with new ideas.
“We wanted to link with startup communities to get that stimulus…that boost of energy for our own management team to really see….how other people develop new ideas and novel propositions and how you could work together to bring those ideas to the market.”