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Shruti George discusses open innovation, leadership, and sustainability

Shruti appeared on the Venari Podcast to discuss Avery Dennison’s startup accelerator program – AD Stretch

‘We were trying to figure out how we could engage with the outside ecosystem a bit more systematically,’ says Shruti George. ‘And what we’re trying to do at Avery Dennison right now is to spend time and effort figuring out how to work with the disruptions coming towards us in the form of sustainability.’ As VP of Strategic Innovation Platforms, her role focuses on heading up sustainability for the $6 billion materials group, known primarily for its production of adhesives. However, over time it occurred to Shruti that while Avery Dennison had a good understanding of the tech on the market, they were ‘not necessarily engaging directly with some of the startups.’ She appeared on the Venari Podcast recently to tell Tim Hartnell, Senior Consultant for our Sustainable Packaging practice, all about an innovation she has spearheaded at Avery Dennison: the AD Stretch Accelerator.



Pushing innovation internally

A desire to develop new projects internally led Shruti to approach Avery Dennison’s leadership team in 2021 with her idea for a fast-track programme for engaging with startups: the AD Stretch Accelerator. It is focused, in the company’s words, ‘on customer engagement and materials innovation. Our mission is to enable packaging innovation that generates novel sustainable, cost-saving and supply-chain friendly solutions.’ Shruti notes that the leadership team welcomed her suggestion: ‘Everyone kept listening to me, so I just said, “Okay, great, we’re done. Here’s a partner, we want to launch a programme.”’

The AD Stretch Accelerator went from idea to finding a partner in a scarcely believable three months. Shruti hired a programme manager to help with the process, with an emphasis on enacting culture change within Avery Dennison. Finding startups ‘that actually solve our own business problems’ while spreading the company’s name as a promoter of innovation was central to the initiative – as was showing the Avery Dennison’s employees ‘that innovation is not just the domain of R&D – it’s all of them. It’s people trying their best and driving to the next big solution, because this is not something that just the smartest people in R&D are solving.’

Getting off the ground

Their first launch was in Latin America and Asia, diverging from Avery Dennison’s usual policy. It was a conscious choice, she explains, because ‘as a company, we tend to focus on our big markets. And Asia and LatAm are quite small and compact in the regions. We’re very excited to take the challenge on.’ Avery Dennison partnered with a mix of nine digital startups working in consumer engagement, sustainability, and material development. Launching across four different languages, including one China-only programme, reinforced to Shruti the importance of diversity and ‘meeting people where they are, and figuring out how we work with them there.’

The AD Stretch Accelerator’s second cohort, meanwhile, offers a mix of digital solutions as well as companies that are developing cutting-edge research, from transparent solar cells to working on the next generation of tags. The third group will be announced soon.

Challenges and team building

Shruti notes that as the AD Stretch Accelerator has progressed, she has learned that ‘we need to be much more pointed about the challenges that we’re doing’, while ‘thinking a bit bolder and better.’ Bringing talent along, and giving them the necessary tools to work with, is an important part of this vision to continue growing and evolving in their mission to provide business solutions effectively. Shruti notes that hiring ‘a fantastic programme manager with years of experience’ was a key part of the Accelerator’s development, as this helped to manage the project’s details while considering the bigger picture. Having teams working well together, being open, and facing down corporate ‘fear of the unknown’, is also essential for success. ‘Sometimes you need people to just jump into things and say, “Look, it’s going to be uncertain, but we want to keep an open mind and then we’re going to figure it out together.” And you can see the teams, especially in the regions, react to it well.’

Sustainability efforts within Avery Dennison

Has Shruti’s drive for external innovation rubbed off on Avery Dennison itself? They are already pushing to meet their 2030 sustainability goals, linked to SBTi and UN standards. Their progress is on track – and Shruti is keen to point out that they are doing this ‘not just for us’, but rather to help ‘the whole value chain through this chain’ in a more holistic fashion. She notes that sustainability and digitalisation are ‘both headwinds and tailwinds for packaging’, making it all the more important for the company to reach the next step of sustainable packaging and labelling. Using digitalisation to ensure products are recycled – through means such as track and trace and digital product passports – are all part of Avery Dennison’s roadmap for innovation. Creating ‘a net zero, fully circular packaging value chain, both from a digital standpoint and from the impact of our products on it,’ is a mission to which Shruti – and Avery Dennison – fully subscribe. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for their efforts!

Venari Partners are passionate about assisting sustainable packaging companies to meet their talent needs. Please reach out if you would like to find out more – we’d love to help!


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