Illustration credit: A.E. Kieren

Stephanie Bova, Senior director, Takeda Digital Accelerator, Takeda

Pharmaceutical companies love to talk about innovation, especially as it pertains to the truly transformative science that underlines their medicines. But when it comes to innovation in other guises—as within the health-tech space—most organizations don’t, or can’t, walk the walk.

Takeda, on the other hand, ranks among the few traditional pharma firms in which innovation exists outside the realm of the theoretical, and Bova is one of the people chiefly responsible for that. As director of the company’s in-house Digital Accelerator, a kind of VC firm housed within Takeda’s walls, Bova has pressed her peers to think big, to pursue “moon-shot ideas” as well as more incremental innovations.

But getting to a place where that way of thinking is imbued in every individual at every level of the 33,000-strong company wasn’t easy. Bova and her team first ventured out into the tech world, meeting with Google, Apple and IBM/Watson to get their take on health-tech innovation. They then did what Bova describes as a “lot of soul-searching” and put together a plan for the Takeda board that spelled out the necessary steps to create an environment in which the innovation mind-set would thrive.

Around 18 months after the effort commenced, Bova reports that Takeda has been, well, transformed. “My goal is for everyone here to have the mind-set that we’re a 33,000-person start-up,” she says. “You don’t get to live 230 years, as we have, without constantly reinventing yourself and really looking hard for ways to innovate.”