Lessons from Corporate Innovators

Priscilla Beal — Global Head, Digital Health Ecosystem & Engagement at Bayer

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Episode 8: Priscilla Beal — Global Head, Digital Health Ecosystem & Engagement at Bayer

Every time I sit down with Priscilla, I come away so impressed. The work she’s doing at Bayer partnering with startups to solve internal challenges is a great model for any large company.

We first met at a local (Pittsburgh) roundtable discussion and then she recently participated in a reverse pitch event at CMU’s Swartz Center which my lab did in partnership with InnovationWorks.

If you are trying to figure out how to work with startups in your organization, I’d strongly consider you to look to Bayer’s G4A program. If you are startup working in Bayer’s industries (pharma, consumer and agriculture) please check out their new challenges for 2019 live April 1st.

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Sean Ammirati: 00:08 Welcome to Agile Giants, lessons from corporate innovators. I’m Sean Ammirati, your host, Co-founder and Director of the Carnegie Mellon Corporate Startup Lab, and partner at the early-stage venture capital fund, Birchmere Ventures. Each week, I’m going to talk to guests who are experts at creating startups inside large corporations. I believe, fundamentally, a startup within a company is the same as one inside the proverbial garage, a group of entrepreneurs trying to make the world a better place using new ideas and inventions. However, I also believe some of the techniques and processes are just inherently different. This podcast is going to explore the similarities and differences.

Sean Ammirati: 00:56 On this week’s episode of Agile Giants, I’m joined by Priscilla Beal. Priscilla’s the Global Head of Digital Health Ecosystems and Engagement for Bayer. She’s had a really interesting few years at Bayer, starting as a project manager on the technology front and ending up growing into leading innovation and running a really fascinating program with her colleagues in Germany, helping the German company interact with global startups across the world solving some of their most important problems. So many corporate executives ask me, “What’s the right way for us to work with startups?” I think it’s a combination of my experience as a venture capitalist and what I’m doing at the corporate startup lab. And, honestly, there are lots of different models that I’ve seen. But I really am impressed with this G4A model that Bayer has developed. G4A started, as you’ll hear in the podcast, as Grants4Apps, because originally it was a program to give startups grants to do app development for Bayer, but has evolved really into a way for Bayer to solve a number of their organizational challenges in collaboration with startups. I think there’s just a ton to take away from today’s episode, and I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed recording it.

Sean Ammirati: 02:09 All right, today we’re joined by Priscilla Beal at Bayer. Priscilla, could you start by giving a quick overview of your career within the Bayer organization? You had a bunch of different roles inside Bayer. Can you talk about what you’ve done here for the last few years?

Priscilla Beal: 02:21 Sure. I started at Bayer four years ago in the custom application space, so working on everything from SharePoint to websites, harkening back much more to my pre-Bayer days as a digital project manager and account manager in the agency space. That parlayed into a global project identifying both content management system and a digital asset management system originally for crop science, and then it grew into a program that was for all three divisions, pharma, consumer and crop. And then Bayer had a reorg, and an opportunity to work in innovation came up. With my background in digital and really focusing on that for the past decade, it really was exciting for me so jumped on the bandwagon and joined the digital innovation team in 2017 and was working on not just G4A activity, so not just external partnering, but also internal innovation engagement, so innovation ambassadors and coaching, internal innovation programs like HYPE where we have employees that actually come up with their own ideas and then apply for internal funding to do business improvement and new products within the organization.

Priscilla Beal: 03:32 And then had the opportunity, in 2018, to join, officially, the G4A team where I did a couple different things. In 2018, my primary responsibility was launching the first consumer health focused partnership program driven by G4A. That was called the G4A Generator, in New York. That was a lot of fun and really also harnessed my marketing background as well to make sure that all the people that knew and all the startups that knew came. The G4A program in total had 1800 applications last year, which is fantastic.

Sean Ammirati: 04:07 Yeah.

Priscilla Beal: 04:08 And then, this year, my role has transitioned back into a little bit more of that engagement role. So the 2019 program is run primarily by colleagues out of the Berlin office. We also have a venture design team that’s coming up with new business opportunities and revenue streams out in Northern California. And my job and my colleagues' job, also here with me in Pittsburgh, is really to make sure that internally and externally everybody is 100% aware of all the really cool things that we’re doing. And I do things like attend conferences, work with our strategic partners to review the applications of all the startups that are applying to our program. You see me on Twitter occasionally, LinkedIn occasionally. And then I get the privilege of having podcasts with you.

Sean Ammirati: 04:51 Cool. And we’ll make sure to link to all your social profiles in the show notes so people can follow you, if they aren’t already. So G4A, for somebody who’s not in the healthcare space, was a new thing when you started telling me about it. I’m sure some people are familiar with it, but some may not be. So can you describe a little bit what the G4A digital health partnerships program is?

Priscilla Beal: 05:14 Oh, happy to. So G4A started as a hallway movement in 2013 in Berlin with a pharma R&D conversation. And it was called Grants4Apps because we were coming up with an app. That’s what people did back then. There was always an app for that. And so we gave 50,000 Euro grant to externals to come up with an app to solve this challenge that had come up in that conversation. And then it really, since 2013, has become what we refer to as a global movement. So since then, we launched a formal program that was called the Accelerator, which was for early-stage startups to have coworking space in Berlin, mentoring, executive mentoring, exclusive networking, pitch coaching, acting coaching, all that kind of stuff. And it also came with this funding “grant”. That matured after some significant success not only for the Berlin specific pharma R&D program that accepted applications globally but then spread to about 13 countries, over the following three or four years, where they are also doing the same thing based on coworking and mentoring and that type of thing.

Priscilla Beal: 06:20 Then, in 2017, we launched another program recognizing that not only Bayer but the startups were maturing in the way that they were leveraging this emerging technology, so AI, et cetera. And so we came up with a program called Dealmaker, which was for more mature startups with a product on or close to market. Again, that was really successful. We did it again last year with a second-year success. And this year, in 2019, we’re really taking all of those learnings from Generator, which I mentioned earlier, the consumer health program, Dealmaker, and Accelerator, and we’re consolidating them into G4A, so now (formally known as Grants4Apps), and really focusing on how we can get these new revenue streams with the in-partnership with these startups in collaboration and co-creation with the division specifically, which I think is a really exciting prospect not only for Bayer employees that have these challenges but for the startups really to get that exposure and that level of expertise from within the organization. And then really making sure not only that we are identifying these new business opportunities, but also making sure that they’re anchored in this behavioral science.

Priscilla Beal: 07:34 Human-centered design is another buzzword that’s out there but I’m proud to say that G4A has been focusing on behavioral design and putting the patient at the center of the discussion since the beginning of the G4A program.

Sean Ammirati: 07:46 Yeah. So there’s a lot in there. So I’m relatively new to learning about what you’re doing with G4A. I think I first heard about it four or five months ago. But I’ve become enamored with it over the last few months. Because companies ask me all the time, “Oh, we really want to work with startups. We really want to bring that innovation from the outside into our organization.” And there’s, I think, a ton of lessons, even outside of health care, for what you guys have done here.

Priscilla Beal: 08:13 Oh, absolutely.

Sean Ammirati: 08:13 So I’m going to call out a couple of things you mentioned, and then I want to drill in a little bit on some specific with you. So one thing that you mentioned that I think is huge is you guys started by just creating some wins. So many companies will spend two years trying to design the perfect partnership program, and then they’re like, “Oh, we were wrong about these three assumptions.” You started with this Grants4Apps. It’s a small thing. And then you can just hear, every year, that momentum built on it. I think another thing is that my sense from hearing you talk about it is that you’ve pulled people in who really treat the startups as peers, which I think is really important. There’s a lot that the startups can add value to a big company and there’s a lot that big companies can add to startups. And when they come in and they see the value in what each other can do, that’s great. When people come in and say, “Oh, we’re going to do a lot and you’re going to learn from us,” either way, the startups can come in arrogantly or the corporates come in arrogantly, I think that doesn’t work at all.

Sean Ammirati: 09:09 Let’s talk a little bit about how it works. So pretend that I’ve got a consumer digital health startup and I want to come work with G4A. And I’m just getting started, so at the earliest phase of your progression that you can work with. What’s the way that I would engage with you? How would I reach out to you and start that conversation?

Priscilla Beal: 09:31 So the easiest way to become involved with G4A and Bayer is through partnerships. So on April 1st we’ll be launching the 2019 partnerships. It’ll open for applications. And so, as you said, going through the step-wise, apply to the program. It’s open for two months. It closes May 31st.

Sean Ammirati: 09:52 And what’s the website for that?

Priscilla Beal: 09:55 G4A.health.

Sean Ammirati: 09:56 Okay, perfect.

Priscilla Beal: 09:56 Thanks for the plug.

Sean Ammirati: 09:57 Yeah. And we’ll link to that as well.

Priscilla Beal: 09:59 So they apply to the program. It’s open for two months. We then have a series of review gates. So there’s an initial review by the G4A team and the challenge owners. Then we move into another phase with a little bit more of a deep dive where, when we’ve identified companies that we think have promising potential with the challenges that we’ve issued, we then bring in what we call a sprint. So we’ll invite these companies to Berlin to sit in a room, their lawyers, our lawyers, legal/medical regulatory, the challenge owners, and really flush out these use cases. One of the challenges that I think a lot of life science organizations have, a lot of accelerators have, and a lot of startups feel that those organizations have is this, “Yeah, I’ve got cool technology,” but it’s the bright, shiny object approach. It’s, “I want to do something with blockchain. I want to do something with AI.” And so they go out searching for a solution, or searching for the problem to use the solution.

Sean Ammirati: 11:00 Right.

Priscilla Beal: 11:00 And so one of the things that we’ve done is turned that on its end. So we bring the startups in and we make sure that the ones that we ultimately do pick and fit with the challenge can hit the ground running on day one. Once we’ve signed the LOI and the NDA, and everything’s in place, they know exactly what it is that they’re going to accomplish, in the growth track, by the end of three months and, in the advanced track, by the end of five months. Not only do they know the use case and how Bayer and the startup will partner and co-create this prototype or this business model, or what have you, but then they also know funding comes in this time, these are the dates. It’s just a very clear process that we take the startups through. It’s a little bit long for that reason. So we go through all of that in the August/September timeframe and then “winners” are announced the first week of October.

Sean Ammirati: 11:48 Got it. Okay. And the challenge is … You pull challenges from across Bayer, is that correct?

Priscilla Beal: 11:54 We do. So, historically, the majority of our challenges have been pharma focused, and even further still in the R&D space. That remains true for several of the challenges this year. But we also have consumer health since we engaged with the division last year in the Generator. So, yeah, our challenges this year range from everything from ophthalmology, radiology, cardiovascular, pulmonology, women’s health, that’s one of my favorite challenges. And so we’re in the process of finalizing them now. And then, yeah, if you know of a startup that has expertise in those areas, then send them our way.

Sean Ammirati: 12:36 Perfect. Okay, so how do you get people inside Bayer to play ball with you on this and they give you the challenges?

Priscilla Beal: 12:43 Because we’ve been doing this for so long, we are well-known enough that either we have repeat customers that come back …

Sean Ammirati: 12:53 That makes sense, yep.

Priscilla Beal: 12:53 … because they’ve had success, but we also, as I mentioned before, the role that myself and my colleague Julie play with engagement, and then also in support of the amazing people that we have all over the world for G4A, have really deep and incredible relationships with all of these stakeholders within pharma and consumer. We participate in strategy development with them. We have something internally at Bayer called the Digital Compass that we’re working on identifying these core areas of technology as a global organization, not just within G4A or a specific division. So we have input on that. So we have consistent and ongoing conversations, not just when we’re developing challenges, with these people. And I think because we’ve established that relationship with them, and there’s that reciprocity, that people jump at the chance to partner with startups doing these really cool niche tech things that Bayer, as a large organization, frankly doesn’t have the resources to do.

Sean Ammirati: 13:50 That’s perfect. Okay, so that makes sense. Another part of your process that I think many other corporate entrepreneurs would be jealous of is this sprint process that you talked about. Most organizations don’t have … Most corporate innovators don’t love working with legal. It seems like you’ve figured out a way to get legal in the process in a defined way, or the team at G4A in general has. Any times on getting legal, regulatory, all these other groups that you need to get involved early on, pulling them in?

Priscilla Beal: 14:23 You said the key work, early and often. So we have, again, great relationships with our legal, medical and regulatory folks, as well as with the actual challenge owners within these therapeutic areas. And part of it comes from the learnings that we’ve had. I wouldn’t say that those relationships have been stellar from the start. But, over the six, seven years that we’ve been doing this now, have really established really great processes and now involved basically everybody, give them more information than really they probably want so that they’re always informed and they always know what phase we’re in and where we are and with whom we’re speaking.

Sean Ammirati: 15:06 That’s awesome. Yeah, I think people forget that people are people sometimes.

Priscilla Beal: 15:10 Absolutely.

Sean Ammirati: 15:11 And if you pull them in early and have those conversations, things will go better.

Priscilla Beal: 15:15 And the other thing, I think, is people get I think a little scared when you talk about those subjects, especially for large life science and pharma organizations. But at the end of the day, as you said, people are people. And they’re there to help Bayer be successful. They don’t say no just off the cuff. They’re saying it because they’re not only trying to protect the company but they’re trying to protect you, they’re trying to protect the startups. And it’s all coming from the same place, we all want to help the patient get better faster. And so I think just understanding that is really key. And that’s one of my favorite things about G4A is that we really do have this sincerity and we love what we do and we have a passion for what we do. And so we really apply that and treat people like friends and family and colleagues, and really shy away completely from those more combative perspectives.

Sean Ammirati: 16:10 Yep. I think you guys have also done a really good job, just one other element of the program, not just working internally at Bayer, but you’ve also got a bunch of external partnerships as well. And so how do you guys go about thinking about who to partner with externally? And then how do you think about setting those up?

Priscilla Beal: 16:28 A couple different ways, and it really depends on the need. So, from a visibility perspective, obviously we have a lot of external partners that themselves have access to a wide range of audience, especially when it comes to the digital health space. Conversely, we have partners that are specifically involved in radiology, access channels, whether it’s subject matter experts, key opinion leaders or publications. We also are working with VCs. So as we are also maturing G4A year after year, bringing in that perspective of the equity that Bayer as an organization can take in companies versus just the straightforward investment that we make in these companies as part of partnerships. So it’s really based on the need. But, yeah, we’re partners with VCs, with other incubators like Plug and Play, for example.

Sean Ammirati: 17:20 Sure.

Priscilla Beal: 17:20 And startup health. So people that are like-minded. And, again, going back to what I said before about this reciprocity and the sincerity, it’s not just a financial partnership. We really do share startups with each other. We share ideas and networking and supporting each other a lot.

Sean Ammirati: 17:38 Yep. I think most groups would know to go talk to Plug and Play, for example.

Priscilla Beal: 17:42 Right.

Sean Ammirati: 17:43 They’ve got a strong brand at this point. How do you think about going and finding those more niche ones? Like, “Oh, we need a partnership in radiology.” Does that come from you and your colleague, Julie, or does that come from the business unit? How do you think about setting those up?

Priscilla Beal: 17:56 Yeah. Most of those are done through the expertise of the divisional people in the therapeutic areas.

Sean Ammirati: 18:02 Got it. And so they make the intro to you?

Priscilla Beal: 18:03 Absolutely.

Sean Ammirati: 18:03 And then you guys step in and help them understand how this is a win-win, all that kind of stuff from there.

Priscilla Beal: 18:10 Yep. Yeah, similar to how I mentioned before, Bayer’s really good at big things, commercialization, scaling, process, drug delivery, et cetera. It’s the niche things that we are looking to partner with so that we can have that mutually beneficial relationship and success with these startups. The same goes for our relationships with our pharma and consumer health colleagues. They are the experts in their area. And so we really rely on that granular level of expertise and specificity when it comes to the channels that we’re looking to engage and the objectives that we’re looking to obtain, and then the context they have that will help enable G4A and the challenge they’ve delivered, that we’re working on with them, for success.

Sean Ammirati: 18:52 Awesome. Okay, let’s step up a level and just talk about healthcare innovation in general. So, obviously, not specific to Bayer now, just in general, what do you think are some of the unique challenges to doing innovation in the healthcare space?

Priscilla Beal: 19:07 For right or for wrong, I think a lot of it has to do with how data has been managed over time and how that has become an industry in and of itself.

Sean Ammirati: 19:19 Interesting.

Priscilla Beal: 19:19 So when you think about privacy laws and you think about the actual data that a patient doesn’t own, and then you think of all the challenges that the healthcare industry has around that data, whether it’s medical records, whether it’s insurance issues, whether it’s connected devices and how I’m storing data on my iPhone, through my iWatch and how I consume that data as a consumer versus how my physician might be able to leverage that data and when I share it with him or her, all of these things. But I think, in one word, data would be my answer for the biggest one.

Sean Ammirati: 19:58 Sure.

Priscilla Beal: 19:58 Because it really just spreads across all of these things that right now are these endemic issues that the healthcare industry I think is having.

Sean Ammirati: 20:05 That’s really interesting. Yeah, which I think also is a huge opportunity if you could crack that, if you could figure out that.

Priscilla Beal: 20:12 Yeah, and everyone’s trying.

Sean Ammirati: 20:13 Sure, sure. So maybe outside of that, what are some of the other things that are, in your mind, exciting opportunities for innovation and health care? I’m sure there’s some other things that you’re excited about in terms of healthcare opportunities.

Priscilla Beal: 20:27 So, extending on that data, I think the possibility of allowing more ownership not only of data but of your own well care as well as your sick care. I think there’s some amazing innovations out there that are helping women, for example, go beyond the pill.

Sean Ammirati: 20:47 Sure.

Priscilla Beal: 20:47 Whether it’s for menstruation, whether it’s for birth control, whether it’s for hormonal challenges. So those, obviously, personally impact me sometime during my life. And I think that really excites me. And seeing the evolution of things like digital contraception and things that my daughter is going to be able to benefit from five, 10 years from now …

Sean Ammirati: 21:10 Sure.

Priscilla Beal: 21:12 … that will allow her to really have empowerment over herself, over her body, over her mind, over her emotions, that will be enabled by technology rather than prescribed by technology.

Sean Ammirati: 21:24 Yeah, that’s awesome. One of the things I like to say is my definition of an entrepreneur is someone who sees things in the world that aren’t as they should be and builds products and services that make the world as it ought to be. And one of the things, when you use that definition, is that we have great models for helping two entrepreneurs in a garage go through an accelerator to do that type of entrepreneurship. I really think, especially in health care but there are a lot of industries where this is true, there are other parts of innovation that make sense to be done more in close partnership like what you guys are doing with G4A. So it’s just cool to see the passion around that.

Sean Ammirati: 22:01 Let’s finish with a different type of question. This is how I like to end all of these. So most of the audience are either entrepreneurs or corporate executives, but I do also have students, a lot of my students listening to it, just given who I am and one of my many jobs.

Priscilla Beal: 22:17 Do they get extra credit?

Sean Ammirati: 22:18 They don’t. But it probably does get them brownie points, if nothing else. So I always like to ask people for career advice. And I was looking through your LinkedIn last night, and you’ve had quite an interesting career path. So you have a Masters in Art History, started teaching art history, and then went through this whole iteration to evolve to ultimately having a pretty amazing impact on how a global company does innovation. If someone was just starting their career today, and they said, “Man, I want to follow that,” where you’ve ended up, what advice would you give them in terms of how to approach their career and the things they should think about?

Priscilla Beal: 22:54 Do what you love. So I loved history. I grew up around the world with a father that read seven books at once. We would go to castles. He would say, “Do you want to just walk around or do you want me to tell you the story?” And he was so good at it that people would follow us around thinking he was a tour guide. History’s been a part of my life and really made real for me my whole life. So I went into history. I actually decided I thought law would be a great way to go. Because when you have a history degree you’re either a teacher, a writer or a lawyer, right?

Sean Ammirati: 23:27 Yeah.

Priscilla Beal: 23:28 Sorry for anybody who did history and has another career.

Sean Ammirati: 23:33 Or you run G4A.

Priscilla Beal: 23:33 Or you run G4A.

Sean Ammirati: 23:34 That’s the fourth path.

Priscilla Beal: 23:35 So that took me, then expanded further into art history, which is the visual representation of that same history that I love. And then I moved to DC because I wanted to get a job at a museum to leverage my new-found master's degree. And I needed to pay the rent so I applied for a temp job. And they placed me at NASA. Which, what cooler place to be than people making history. But, again, I also loved solving problems. It’s one of the things that intrigues me about history and the fact that we can’t, as a society, seem to learn from it quickly enough. And so I would walk around and just have relationships. I also love to socialize. I love having conversations. I just love learning in general. And NASA was a great place to do that. And found problems talked to an IT friend and said, “There has to be a digital way to solve this.” There was. And I’ve been in IT ever since. But that journey in IT has also been focused on things that I love. So it’s always geared toward innovation because I love to learn, new technology because I love to learn. It’s always been toward that digital marketing and strategy because I love that thinking and that challenge. But the visuals behind websites, banner ads, products, physical products, has that design element as well. So always, I think, staying true to myself and doing what I love.

Priscilla Beal: 24:56 But also career advice is don’t not do something because you think it doesn’t fit within your degree or your area of expertise. Don’t be scared to try something new, especially if you think it excites you. Because if you think it does, it probably does, and then you’re going to put your passion into it.

Sean Ammirati: 25:15 Yep. That’s awesome. And, Priscilla, I really appreciate you making time to do this.

Priscilla Beal: 25:20 It was fun.

Sean Ammirati: 25:20 This was great.

Priscilla Beal: 25:21 Thanks.

Sean Ammirati: 25:21 We’ll, again, include the links in the show notes. So if you want to check out the challenge, we’ll have a link to that. And if you want to follow Priscilla on LinkedIn or Twitter, we’ll include links to that as well. Thanks, everybody.

Priscilla Beal: 25:30 Thanks y’all.

Sean Ammirati: 25:40 I hope you enjoyed this episode of Agile Giants. If so, consider sharing it with a friend. And if you think it’s worth five stars, which I hope you do, please go to iTunes and rate it so that others can find this content as well.

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