Holst Centre – 15 years of open innovation

Partnering with Philips to
innovate for a healthier world

When, in 2005, Philips decided to open up its research facilities in Eindhoven and turn it into an area for open innovation called the High Tech Campus, they felt that external research labs were indispensable for the success of the campus. Philips contacted the R&D centres of imec in Leuven and TNO in the Netherlands, in the expectation that a partnership with these two leading R&D centres would bring the outside-in synergy they were looking for. Research activities were to take place within a new entity: Holst Centre.


Now 15 years later, Holst Centre boasts over 180 employees from 28 nations who, together with 56 industrial partners innovate and connect, to develop breakthrough technology solutions. Franklin Schuling – Innovation Program Manager Connected Care at Philips – reflects on how Holst Centre has helped Philips develop transformational, connected healthcare technologies in response to current and future healthcare needs.

Towards open innovation

Schuling: "Before 2005, research at Philips in the Netherlands was primarily done in what was known as 'NatLab', Philips' famous and prime centre with a long-standing track record of long-term and breakthrough innovations. Here, bright minds developed new-to-the-world innovations and technologies. From idea right through to the final product. From device to embedded and application software and services: the entire vertical stack."


"Our CTO Rick Harwig, together with Henk van Houten, then program manager for our Healthcare Research, had the visionary insight that research could thrive even more if we were to pull down the walls that we had built around our research facilities. It had become clear that the solutions required to meet societal challenges – in our case solution-based healthcare – were requiring increasingly complex and diverse technologies, unobtrusively integrated into best-of-class solutions. But, this was something that was impossible to do all on our own: we needed the competencies of expert partners."


Frank continues: "Collaboration with partners is best done in an open environment, where research takes place as a shared effort. Such open collaboration – within a vibrant eco-system – would enable us to get a full understanding of market demands and possible solutions. Van Houten believed that as Philips was moving its focus to becoming a HealthTech company, such open collaboration was the only way to ensure the 'best-of-class' results we always aim for. So, right from the outset, the open campus was intended to allow other bright minds and companies to help us develop and fulfil our technology roadmaps. Added benefit of such open innovation is that it would give our own research organisation the flexibility to move along with any important trends. After all, not having to do everything ourselves, meant we would be able to leverage our own competencies, know-how and IP. At the same time, we would also be able to build on the expertise of others, like Holst Centre."


The choice for imec and TNO

"We had already worked closely with imec in developing semi-conductor and multi-media technologies, and we also had working relationships with TNO. Of course, we could have invited them individually, but that wouldn't have fit our idea of open innovation. We were convinced that by combining the strengths of these two players in one research centre we would create a winning team. After all, it would create the opportunity to combine and leverage their individual strengths. In imec's case, nano-electronics, their digital technologies, and their proven engagement model with best-in-class companies worldwide. Whereas TNO could contribute their systems-in-foil (Sif) technology and their long track record of applied research and experience in working with small and medium sized companies. Whereas previously, we did the research and exploratory efforts that are required for creating new device technologies, now with Holst Centre in place, we could leave part of that work to them, focusing ourselves on developing the application. It enabled us to become what we call an innovation orchestration lab, where we bring together innovation and technology and turn these into viable products. It has enabled us to move up the value stack. At the same time, it's essential that we also still have access to the latest device technologies. This makes partners such as Holst Centre so very important to us."


Open innovation

"Truth be said, it took some time for our own organisation to embrace the concept of open innovation. We were hesitant to share our ideas and know-how. For instance, we didn't involve Holst Centre to participate in our validation studies in hospitals. And we didn't share any of our IP with them. Also, some of our researchers found it difficult to have to rely on inventions developed by others. Over time, we realised that a mindset shift was needed in our own organisation to be able to optimally benefit from our relationship with Holst Centre. While we foster the open innovation setting in which they operate, we have re-defined our engagement model. This means that for some technologies we are comfortable with the open innovation setting, where knowledge is shared with other companies. However, there are also certain technologies that are strategically important to us. These we choose to develop in a one-on-one relationship with Holst Centre."


From open innovation to technology and IP exchange

"Our main goal as innovation orchestration and integration lab is to enable our businesses: with fitting, innovative solutions in answer to market demand. To this end, our relationship with Holst Centre has moved on: they are now licensee to some of our IP. In this way Holst Centre can help us leverage such important concepts. In this way, we have in fact created a perfect balance: we build on each other's IP. And moving even further, our collaboration with Holst Centre recently was expanded. We're looking at venturing initiatives such as imec Xpand – which builds on promising technology and IP from imec – to see how we can add value with some of our own technology."


Innovation – building on each other's know-how

"Our long-term and structural relationship with Holst Centre is based on technology roadmaps that make it easy to build on each other's know how. For instance, we partner with Holst Centre to explore and develop measurement-technology concepts suitable for wearables. Our goal here is to ensure that health measurements can be done at home. Wearables can play an important role in monitoring patient wellbeing from a distance. An excellent example of such a wearable is our recently launched Healthdot.'

'It's not unthinkable that in the not-too-distant future, patients will get a pre-operative plaster that measures important parameters such as heartrate, blood pressure and more. The doctor can see from a distance how fit a patient is before the operation. Similarly post-operative wearables can re-assure a patient that his recovery is going as planned."


"It's here that Holst Centre is very important to us: in making measurement technology 100% full proof and making monitoring at a distance smarter. The quality and safety requirements for such devices are extremely high. Besides our own highly qualified researchers, we need excellent partners as Holst Centre who fully understand the complexity of accurately measuring and collecting body parameters. Within this collaboration, the more knowledgeable they become, the better we can fulfil our ambitions.'

'Our ambition is to become the reliable partner of hospitals, helping to make decisions based on highest quality data. At Philips we are currently investing much in the data platform that will support wearables, and in the AI that can be used to create actionable insights for patient and clinical staff."


Roadmaps – not all roads lead to Rome

"At the same time, not all innovative technologies developed by Holst Centre fit our roadmap. Similarly, they have their own roadmaps, which do not necessarily have to fit ours. As in any relationship, you need to give each other the freedom to develop one's own ideas. Working closely with each other ensures things go smoothly: that you fully understand the other. But it can result in tunnel vision. You need to stay sharp and critical enough to be able to say: I like it, but it's not for us."


Creating and strengthening the value chain

"Holst Centre has always been good at creating extremely innovative technological concepts, but at a certain point they were lacking in having producers in their value chain who could make products out of their ideas. We helped Holst Centre create a network of partners who can make their ideas production ready. Such a collaborative value chain is important for speeding up innovation and making solutions that matter, as in the case of our own Healthdot. Holst Centre developed the basic device technology, we added our algorithms and carried out a validation study with over 350 patients (the largest of its kind ever done) as part of e/MTIC. We also developed the HealthSuite digital platform that the application runs on, and we developed the use case and customer value proposition."


"Another type of value chain is manifest in a recent acquisition that we made. We bought a company which makes wearables for heart monitoring. The sensor they use in these wearables is in fact based on technology developed by Holst Centre. And now we're looking how we can take this technology to the next level."


Future technology roadmaps

"Together with Holst Centre, we've created significant successes, of which the Healthdot is the most prominent one. What the future will bring is difficult to say. Their sensor technology is top of the bill, but more will be needed to meet expected future demands in healthcare. There are many questions that need to be answered and hurdles that need to be taken. To name but a few: smartness needs to be added to sensors or wearables. Will that be in-sensor or in-the-cloud? Certain applications require multiple sensors. Will further miniaturisation result in all sensors being placed in just one wearable or plaster? The downside is that if you don't use half of the sensors most of the time, it's likely to be too expensive a solution. And what about privacy and security? You don't want somebody hacking a sensor. Above all, in healthcare, a product needs to be 100% secure. A sensor must function to its fullest capacity at all times, and be able to do so within a larger system. The safety of the patient is paramount!"


"We are committed to bringing solution-driven, highest quality healthcare solutions. Our discussions and partnership in the field of sensor technology are ongoing and profound. At the same time, we foster an open relationship such as we have with Holst Centre. They should be free to make the strategic choices they see fit. It has everything to do with the balancing act, for us and also for them. Above all, to this day, this unique collaboration brings us many, many benefits."


About Franklin Schuling

Schuling is Innovation Program Manager Connected Care at Philips Research and member of the supervisory board of e/MTIC and. He is responsible for the multi-year planning of innovations in the field of Connected Care solutions. He has a very clear vision of what the future of innovation in healthcare looks like: in partnerships, with open data.

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