Adrian Percy

LifeHub Boston: Innovation Is Coming!

What’s an Englishman doing in Boston, the birthplace of the revolution that led the Colonies to break away from their Mother Country?  And for that matter, why is this Englishman, now living in Germany, coming to Boston to talk about agriculture?  The answers to these two questions have a lot more in common than you might think.  That’s because at its heart, Boston is a place about big ideas.

The American Revolution was based on the idea of individual liberty and the freedom of ordinary people to choose the path they wish to live. Contrary to popular opinion, I understand that Boston’s native son, Paul Revere, did not cry “The British are coming” on his midnight ride out of the city (which would have unwisely alerted English sympathizers what he was up to), but his mission was to fan the flame of a novel idea that continues to burn brightly to this day.

Big ideas are at the center of most of the game-changing innovations that help us understand our world and make it a better place. I think Boston is uniquely suited to undercover the creativity we need for the future. Nestled between some of the most prestigious institutions of academic research, the Boston Corridor has become a magnet for innovative thinking that spans many scientific fields of discipline and is home to the highest concentration of biotech companies in the world. And it’s the reason that Bayer chose to make Boston a critical part of our world, as well.

LifeHub Boston is just one of several ways that Bayer is doing something that is pretty unusual for a 150-year old company with a rich tradition of internal research: to think big and look well beyond our walls by connecting with diverse groups of people from different industries, such as energy, health care, information technology and engineering. The era of “not invented here” is obsolete and won’t work with the pace of change in today’s society, especially considering the challenges facing agriculture. That’s why we’re so pleased to underwrite The Atlantic Planting the Future event, also taking place this week in Boston, which will explore the big issues facing agriculture with some of the field’s leading scientists, tech innovators, growers and food experts to help us envision how we address our food challenges from the ground up.

Adrian Percy
Adrian Percy
Adrian Percy,
is the Global Head of Research and Development for Crop Science, a Division of Bayer.

Those challenges are daunting. Population growth, evolving pest pressures, shifting consumer preferences and a changing climate are forcing us to innovate differently than we have before. Experts predict the human population will reach 10 billion people by 2050 – nearly 3 billion more than today. Feeding them will have to be done without a corresponding increase in farm acreage, as urbanization continues to grow and competes with farmers for land and water resources worldwide. And while modern agriculture has been spectacularly successful in the past, we can’t be content with only incremental improvements.

Agriculture is introducing some extraordinary technologies, such as new methods in plant breeding, which use a plants natural genetic variability as the basis for developing new varieties that can better cope with evolving pests and a changing climate, without the need to introduce foreign DNA. We’re already teaming up with Ginkgo, one of Boston’s leading innovators, to unlock the innate potential that exists within each acre of soil by using beneficial microbes to help plants grow stronger and reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers. New biological and synthetic crop protection products are designed to target pests while preserving the beneficial wildlife that are so important to biodiversity. And new digital farming techniques and satellite imagery can provide real-time information down to a square foot of land, to help farmers anticipate problems before they even occur. But even these technologies won’t be enough by themselves.

This week we’re celebrating what I hope will be a new birth of innovation, by establishing a solid platform here at LifeHub Boston to better connect Bayer with the “innovation ecosystem” around us. The use of strategic partnerships, in-licensing, crowdsourcing, and venture capital investment, will enable us to tap into a world of open innovation, providing the fertile ground we need to collectively explore, discover, test and co-create customer-focused, sustainable solutions. It’s truly a new world that encourages curiosity, risk taking and collaboration in a way that was unthinkable a generation ago for most companies. Who’s idea? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is making the most of it.

We’re proud to set up shop in Boston and open our doors to the creative energy that fuels this city. We think it’s the perfect environment to develop the big ideas necessary to address the food challenges of tomorrow. With apologies to Paul Revere, it’s almost enough to make this Englishman want to cry out “Innovation is coming!” That’s one revolution I think we can all get behind.

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