Getting Scientists Thinking More Like Businesspeople

By Scott Kirsner |  January 2, 2020

What role should quick wins play in your innovation or R&D portfolio? That’s the question we set out to answer with a survey and a set of qualitative interviews for our research report: Quick Wins: Data and Case Studies on Delivering Results Fast.

Below is one of the case studies from the report with Alex Byelashov, VP of Innovations & Brewing Solutions at John I. Haas. John I. Haas is North America’s top supplier of hops to brewers. The company is headquartered in Washington, DC, with an innovation center in Yakima, Wash. It is part of the family-owned Barth-Haas Group, the world’s largest supplier of hops.

InnoLead members can access the full 40+ page report, which includes 15 other case studies, here. Not a member? Learn more about joining, or become a registered user to access a limited number of free articles. 

Too often, the R&D staff of an organization takes a rather narrow approach on product development — that of only dealing with the “technical” aspects of an endeavor. They shouldn’t necessarily be faulted in this, for it is certainly their primary purpose. However, I wanted my technical staff at Haas to broaden their scope to consider the business fundamentals, such as determining costs, and perhaps even the pricing, of a potential new product. This approach surprised many in the group because it represented such a paradigm shift from conventional thinking. Some asked, ‘Why do I need to do this? It’s a commercial task.’ 

Including a business mindset in the thinking of the technical team will actually keep development work focused on the value proposition for the ultimate user, the customer. It also helps in communicating with other departments in the organization, particularly with the group that will take the innovation from the technical realm into commercial reality. 

Our first opportunity to advance this approach was with the development, and ultimate commercialization, of a product called Incognito. Incognito was designed to deliver a unique hop aroma and flavor to brewers, but as a substantial benefit, it also helps brewers save on their brewing process yields dramatically. Furthermore, Incognito is a cost saver: it’s a concentrated liquid product, resulting in lower shipping costs than the hop pellets it’s designed to replace. 

Alex Byelashov, VP of Innovations & Brewing Solutions at John I. Haas.

So I asked the technical team some key points to consider: Why would brewers want to use this product? What would it cost to make, and what would we do with the by-products generated in the process? Finally, how would we price it? This last point was particularly crucial, because we needed pricing that benefited customers as well as our own bottom line; if the price was wrong, the entire project may need to be re-done, and it was better to realize that from the start. 

It took some time to gather and crunch the data, but my team took the lead to build costing models that compared Incognito to existing product alternatives as well as measured the economic benefits Incognito delivered to brewers. With this basic information regarding costs and benefits, we presented our models to Haas’ collective management to be considered, challenged, and fine-tuned. 

With the technical team’s non-traditional input, not only did we provide an impetus for continuing of the project, but we also helped introduce Incognito to its initial users (the early adopters), explain how it brings value to the customer, and show the distinctive features that set it apart from other products. 

Sales orders of the product have been impressive, even before Incognito’s official commercial launch in May 2018. I believe Incognito demonstrates the effectiveness of our new paradigm in innovation.