Helping families manage portion control…Improving maternal nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding…Finding an alternative to PET in water bottles… Each of these could be the one-sentence pitch for a popular, VC-backed start-up, but instead they are the aspirations of the multinational food and beverage giant Nestlé through its HENRi@Nestlé open innovation platform. In its mission to become the global leader in nutrition, health, and wellness, Nestlé faced problems too broad and too important to be tackled internally.  Therefore, in conjunction with the Company’s 150th birthday in 2016, Nestlé’s Global Innovation Director Gerardo Mazzeo and Global Head of Digital and Social Pete Blackshaw launched HENRi.
Named for the Swiss confectioner who founded Nestlé, the HENRi program seeks external partners with bold new ideas. Through HENRi@Nestlé, the Company posts challenges with the aim of soliciting “ambitious and innovative” proposals from start-ups. These projects have both a social good component and a direct connection to one or more of the Company’s brands. For example, KITKAT Sustainability sought a partner to connect consumers with the Nestlé Cocoa Plan’s efforts to provide a better life for its farmers.  Good-Loop, an ethical video advertising platform, was chosen from over 150 applications. Once accepted, a bid is guaranteed $50,000 to pilot a proof-of-concept and assigned a senior sponsor at Nestlé to oversee the partnership.
HENRi@Nestlé has shaped its program to capitalize on several of the best practices of open innovation: intrinsic motivation, high-volume solution-generation through crowd contests, and project scope specificity.  While businesses typically have to offer their employee base some form of financial compensation, open innovation has allowed Nestlé to receive hundreds of proposals for free. Nestlé has only posted HENRi challenges that enhance the Company’s corporate social responsibility and has heavily publicized its partner selection. Therefore, the applicant pool could include start-ups seeking publicity, an opportunity to improve the world, or a chance to learn, in addition to those attracted by the $50,000 prize. Similarly, by structuring HENRi as a series of public contests, Nestlé maximizes the members of the virtual community, including those without traditional backgrounds, who might participate in an HENRi challenge. This should provide a diverse solution set and encourage experimentation from applicants. Nestlé has been superb at clearly defining the scope of its desired solutions. For its Nutritional Awareness challenge, Nestlé specified its desire for a project that took advantage of the rise of cellphone penetration in Equatorial Africa.
Over the past two years, the HENRi challenges with a marketing bend have performed quite well. In addition to Good-Loop, Nestlé has also formed partnerships with Linqia (Influencer Optimization), Crowdly (Word-of-Mouth Advocacy), and NextUser (Marketing Data Analysis). The early success matched Company expectations as open innovation in marketing represented a natural progression from Nestlé’s digital initiatives. Nestlé built upon this strength by forming a partnership with the ad:tech conferences in London and New Delhi where an HENRi challenge underpins the conference’s signature Next Big Thing pitch competition. Nestlé has clearly found a productive niche.
HENRi as Innovation?
HENRi@Nestlé has struggled to attract compelling start-ups to its more technical contests. In the months following the site’s launch, Gerardo Mazzeo lamented the lack of submissions for the Alternative Material to PET and Micronutrient Deficiency projects. To date, neither challenge has identified its collaborators or announced any progress. Earlier this year, Nestlé Waters released a bottle made from 100% recycled PET in an effort unaffiliated with HENRi.  If HENRi@Nestlé cannot generate successful partnerships across problem types, then the entire effort could amount to a well-publicized bake off for creative marketing solutions.
Nestlé has also limited the scope of problems for which it utilizes open innovation to those which have a demonstrable favorable global impact. This is a logical strategy for a new program receiving significant publicity. However, key initiatives at Nestlé will not always have positive externalities. If Nestlé views HENRi as an ongoing source of creative thinking, then it should pilot a challenge without any clear benefits outside Nestlé.
The Future of HENRi?
Nestlé is committed to thoroughly vetting its HENRi platform. The program’s 13th and 14th projects are live, and the Company highlighted HENRi@Nestlé as a major source of digital innovation in its 2017 Annual Report.  Yet, Nestlé has also seen certain HENRi challenges get overlooked by the creative community. Open innovation may not provide a solution to every problem Nestlé posts, but if science-based partnerships are categorically ignored then HENRi is little more than high-leverage marketing spend. HENRi@Nestlé is at a turning point: should Gerardo and his team take steps to court more technical start-ups or are the current ad-tech solutions enough for HENRi to be considered a success?
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 Mazzeo, Gerardo, and Pete Blackshaw. 2016. An Introduction to HENRi@NestleTV.
 Audoyer, Florence. 2017. “THE KITKAT SUSTAINABILITY PROJECT”. Henri@Nestle. https://henri.nestle.com/live-projects/kitkat-sustainability-project.
 Boudreau, Kevin, and Karim Lakhani. 2013. “Using The Crowd As An Innovation Partner”. Harvard Business Review, April 2013.
 Nestlé® pure life® purified water launches new bottle made from 100 percent recycled plastic* in north america. (2018, Feb 15). PR Newswire Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/2002240722?accountid=11311.
 Nestle Global. 2018. “Annual Report 2017”. https://www.nestle.com/asset-library/documents/library/documents/annual_reports/2017-annual-review-en.pdf.