Alexander Nielsen
Home » Entrepreneurship » Innovating in uncharted waters — an Interview with Alexander Nielsen about Novozymes’ Open Innovation Initiative, HelloScience

Innovating in uncharted waters — an Interview with Alexander Nielsen about Novozymes’ Open Innovation Initiative, HelloScience

Complex problems require unprecedented collaboration. This is the thinking behind Novozymes’ new open innovation initiative, HelloScience. It aims at fostering teamwork across borders, expertise, and technologies in solving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They start with goal number 6: to ensure access to water and sanitation for all.

To learn more about HelloScience, check out Novozymes’ Alexander Nielsen’s interview by SynBioBeta contributor Calvin Schmidt:

Could you start us off by giving an overview of the HelloScience initiative?

Alexander Nielsen: HelloScience is a product of Novozymes trying to rethink how we innovate. Our strategy is to maximize impact through partnerships, which we historically have done by working together with big corporates. But we’re seeing a lot of exciting innovation appearing in places we aren’t connected to as much as we want to be. There are a lot of startups and small companies that are really changing the fundamentals of industries with technological advances (for example in synthetic biology) and we feel we can accelerate that change through collaboration. Novozymes would obviously love to interact with individuals partaking in shaping our future but we don’t have the bandwidth to find and engage with all of them. So, HelloScience is our attempt find new unlikely partnerships by empowering startups and researchers to move their technologies and applications forward faster using the HelloScience ecosystem and Novozymes’ muscle and expertise.

That’s very interesting and it’s great to hear that a large company like yours is looking to reach out to smaller groups to work with them. You have a lot of really interesting challenges on the HelloScience website. Where do you get your ideas for the different challenges?

Alexander Nielsen: That’s a good question. The way the current water-related challenges came about was the acknowledgment that water is a fundamental element for human survival and the world’s biodiversity, but the way that we’re treating and managing water at this point in time is not optimal. It needs to change. So, the water space is a pressing one that needs a lot of advancements and we believe that biotech will actually be able to make a real difference. That being said, Novozymes can’t come up with the right solutions alone. We need to work together with utilities, with peers in industry, researchers and startups, and come together as a biotech ecosystem to develop new solutions. But the water challenges are just the beginning. We want to attack other pressing problems where biotech can deliver a piece of the puzzle and bring forth a sustainable solution.


Could you describe the process for someone who wants to work with Novozymes through HelloScience?

Alexander Nielsen: The way it works is that you go to the website to enter one of the challenges and post your suggested solution– it can be something that you already have been working on and commercialized to some extent, but it can also be just an idea. The solution will then receive feedback from the community, and on that basis, every month we choose three solutions to receive what we call “SciCubes.” SciCubes contain samples of enzymes, microbes, or a mix of both to help carry out your solution, along with some help from top scientists to provide insights, technology recommendations, assay suggestions, etc. They also contain advice from business developers and investment specialists that can support with advice on how to scale the solution and go to market rapidly and successfully. Additionally, approximately every six months we offer one group or company a joint development with Novozymes along with financial support.

We also want people to know that everything that happens on HelloScience is public and transparent to everyone. Obviously, we want to discover valuable collaboration with mutual benefit, but we also hope meaningful collaboration happens across contributors who can empower each other by working together. It is also important to stress that when we give out our technology with SciCubes, you can create IP without us being part of it. We want to be really transparent and not put up any barriers to innovation. The fact that HelloScience is as open as it is, I think is what makes it unique.

What kind of people or groups are you wanting to enter these challenges?

Alexander Nielsen: We actively try to encourage participation from startups, researchers, and citizen scientists that work within the challenge topic. So, we’re especially reaching out to communities where scientific clout is fostered while having a focus entrepreneurship. Yet, although that is our target group we don’t exclude anyone from participating. HelloScience is for anyone who has a technical solution to a difficult problem or have constructive inputs to idea providers. We encourage everyone to join.

What does Novozymes have to offer potential partners engaging with HelloScience?

Alexander Nielsen: Novozymes is really good at finding, applying and scaling biology. And bringing bioinnovation to market is the bread and butter of what we do. So, we can help with a lot of things depending of the maturity of the project or company. In essence, we have a lot of technology and knowledge that we could choose to just sit on, but we want to make the most of it to accelerate biotech in areas with real impact by putting it to good use on HelloScience. It is, in my opinion, a good opportunity to take advantage of by innovators and collaborators around the world.

The Helloscience ecosystem is expanding to now also include leading pump technologist Grundfos on the water challenges, which enhances the value and the exploration between sciences.

Like the interview? Check out this beautifully made short film about HelloScience:

HelloScience – Short Film from Open Media Lab on Vimeo.

Interested to learn more? Say hello to Alexander at


Calvin Schmidt

Calvin Schmidt is a Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Professor Christina Smolke in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University. His research interests involve the use of machine learning to automate the design of biological systems.

He believes that new biological technologies will have a huge impact on fields ranging from healthcare to chemical production to agriculture. He’s looking to connect with entrepreneurs and investors in these fields to learn and provide expertise.

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