Alan Kriz

Beyond Bayer Walls: A Novel Approach to Problem-Solving

It’s not typical to see an engineer, education technologist, designer, entrepreneur and biomimicry specialist huddled together about a seed sorting dilemma. But that’s exactly what happened last month during the Bayer “Hacking Farming” at our newly-launched LifeHub. And, this motley crew had a blast!

As a strategic alliance manager at Bayer, my job revolves around connecting different groups of people and building bridges between disciplines. But our inaugural “Hacking Farming” event took collaboration to a whole new level when we decided to seek perspectives from outside agriculture: by opening one of our seed technology challenges to professionals in the Boston area.

We opened the LifeHub this year to encourage innovation and seek inspiration from outside sources. In a world with ever-changing technology, we know the key to discovering new solutions sometimes lies outside our employees and teams. So, when I was asked if there were any Crop Science specific challenges that could benefit from outside perspectives, I didn’t hesitate before suggesting a conundrum we’ve been facing related to sorting seeds.

We advertised the idea of a “farming hackathon” and over 40 people, students to professionals, answered the call. We ultimately chose 16 people that represented 14 unique backgrounds from engineering, to non-profit, to entrepreneurship. I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to expect when we brought these teams together. Would they be able to understand the nuances of seed sorting? Would people with such different backgrounds be able to respect each other and build off strengths? Is the ag industry even built for events like hackathons to address our pressing need for innovation?

Alan Kriz
Alan Kriz
Alan Kriz
Strategic Alliance Manager at Bayer, Crop Science Division

LifeHub Boston is designed to facilitate and accelerate breakthrough innovation in the tech ecosystem by leveraging the brightest minds and aiming to catalyze innovation at the global scale across Bayer divisions. LifeHub is located in Kendall Square between two world-renowned research institutions (MIT and Harvard), an area that is home to the highest concentration of biotech companies in the world and considered the “most innovative square mile on earth”.

The event took place over three days, and participants were divided into four teams. Day 1 was designed to “Ideate and Explore”; Day 2 was to “Prototype and Iterate” and Day 3 was designated as “Refine and Share”. I was amazed by the ease at which the teams were not only able to understand the challenge, but immediately address it with complex modeling and approaches. Their instinct was to start building: one person asked for a balloon and flour, and figured out that the electrostatics could present an innovative solution to the seeds challenge. Another team used a 3D printer to build a key component of their model.

I was expecting the hackathon to be full of flip chart brainstorms and discussions, but very early on the participants were really keen to start building models.

Al Kriz

Initially I assumed that I would have to do a lot of coaching to get each team to focus on innovative solutions, but that was not the case – the teams all went into brainstorming and ideation as if they had been working together for years.

[When I hear Bayer] I think positive and evolving. They aren’t the Bayer from yesterday, and that separates them from other large science companies, especially in ag-chemspace.

Hacking Farming 2017 participant

We chose a winning team on the final day of the event, though the competition was tight. Winners received the first-ever Hacking Farming trophy at the event and will be able to share their design with Bayer leadership in the near future. However, I’d say the biggest victory as this event was realizing the vast and varied resources that our team can call on for novel problem solving. I was amazed at the outcomes and look so forward to replicating this model for future challenges.

Interested in participating in future innovation events? Check out!

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