As a vice president at MeadWestVaco’s (MWV) Center for Packaging Innovation, Fred Renk played the role of student when professors at NC State’s Poole College of Management taught his team a new, highly effective method of deciding which promising technologies to commercialize and which to pass on. The method, developed by researchers at the College’s Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (TEC) initiative and called the TEC Algorithm, worked so well that technologists and managers alike started communicating better, productivity and morale went up, and many exciting projects got the green light.
Now, several years later and newly retired, Fred finds himself on the other side of the algorithm. As an Industrial Fellow at the Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS), he’s partnering with TEC leaders to introduce the algorithm—which is currently being updated and revised under a CIMS grant —to managers at technology companies, and he’s looking for volunteers with actual product and service ideas to put to the test
“We are now seeking companies to work with for testing and validation of this improved methodology on real projects,” said Fred. “New elements include better tools for idea identification, assessment, and development, as well as better processes to insure adoption and implementation by the enterprise.
Being on the vanguard of a new way to manage innovation is old hat for Fred. He spent the last 10 years of his career before retiring from MWV doing change management. The Center for Packaging Innovation, which was formerly located on NC State’s Centennial Campus and now is in Richmond, Va., was in part a response to massive changes in the paper-products industry, including mergers leading to consolidation, environmental /sustainability concerns, and the rise of digital media.
Many of these pressures prompted some paper companies to move into the packaging space, where there was less competition, and better prospects for market growth. As a result, packagers themselves needed to become more creative.
Some of the innovations to come out of the Center for Packaging Innovation include the use of conductive ink, embedded with tracking data and other information about a product; “talking” packages designed for display shelves that tell consumers about a product’s features; and “smart” prescription drug packaging that uses sensors and RFID technology to monitor whether patients take their medicines as directed.
A native of Central Pennsylvania, Fred received both his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and his bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
Fred spent his entire career in the paper and packaging industry, including 17 years with Champion International. During his last four years in the industry, while vice president of external technology focusing on open innovation at the Center for Packaging Innovation, he took advantage of the facility’s proximity to NC State expertise.
“I was responsible for identifying and developing relationships with NC State departments that might contribute to the innovation effort,” he said. “I also led a group of graduate-level scientists and engineers in technology scouting and development in areas such as advanced materials (nanomaterials, biopolymers, biofuels from cellulose, barrier materials) and new packaging technology.”
Now he’s come full circle. As another of his assignments as an industrial fellow, Fred is working with students in the College of Management’s unique Master of Global Innovation Management (MGIM) program. He matches student teams with companies looking for fresh young problem solvers, and coaches them along the way. In return, he says, “Students gain first-hand experience dealing with the creative, complex and risky issues involved in developing and commercializing new products, services or business models in an enterprise setting.”