However, like all fast-growth companies, we face the challenge of balancing the need to build and scale quality products while also finding time to explore radical new ideas. We rose to the challenge the Benevolent way by creating Break-Out Week, a whole week dedicated to creativity and testing new ideas.
Over the course of the week, approximately 200 team members from across science, tech and business disciplines took part in 40 projects across our London, Cambridge and Brooklyn NY offices. Those from tech backgrounds would have been familiar with the concept of taking time out to explore ideas that are off the beaten track of day-to-day work, however this concept was less familiar for those with scientific backgrounds, for example our drug discoverers with extensive backgrounds in the pharmaceutical industry. And therein lies yet another challenge we face at Benevolent: bridging the traditional worlds of science and tech.
Our multidisciplinary squads cross the boundaries of tech and science, a combination which enables innovation, allows for quick experimentation and iterative feedback loops. However, this approach is not always easy, and we have spent a lot of time figuring out how to work together effectively and innovatively across disciplines.
With these challenges in mind, we created Break-Out Week with two very specific objectives:
1. To dedicate time apart from our day-to-day work to be curious and test new ideas, which is especially important in fields as fast paced as AI and machine learning.
2. To get to know one another better and work with new faces. We’ve been growing fast over the past few years, and as we have a unique way of working in our cross-collaborative squads, it’s important for us to understand each others complex backgrounds and specialisms and work together towards a common goal.
Break Out Week was the first event of its kind we’ve held at Benevolent, and was a uniquely collaborative effort. The event was planned, promoted and executed by an interdisciplinary team of volunteers, hailing from science, tech and business backgrounds. This set the week apart from a regular hackathon, since it was driven by those with their finger on the pulse of the company, the product being entirely unique to our culture and values.
Now onto the projects themselves. Some teams used Break-Out Week to grab the latest and greatest in research and test drive it on our problem. For instance, one project explored how we could use advances in Meta-Learning to learn better representations of molecules and quickly adapt our predictive models to new small datasets. Another project looked to characterise the diversity of our dataset to understand what groups are underrepresented and how that impacts our ability to treat patients equally… and the list goes on. These projects undoubtedly demonstrated how bringing diverse perspectives into the room can produce unexpected and remarkable results.
Break Out Week was also about fostering space for human connection, which is ultimately what drives our innovation and collaboration. We ate together as one big team everyday, and had activities including juice bikes and pot luck lunches. We even had a ball pit. Put simply, we had a lot of fun. Most importantly, the connections forged throughout the week brought a renewed energy and sense of togetherness, the legacy of which will help us drive forward our collective mission to deliver new and effective medicines to the patients who need them.
To create a culture of innovation, you must build and nurture an environment in which everyone is entrusted and empowered to innovate and bring value. Everyone means everyone, not just tech teams: including science, business and tech functions means you are able to generate unexpected and potentially game-changing ideas. Equally, innovation does not happen without learning, as is paramount in facilitating high quality ideas. Finally, nurturing a culture of innovation and collaboration means committing time to forge meaningful relationships, which unites us as one team with one mission: to unlock the power of scientific data to bring effective medicines to every patient.
Ben Medlock, CTO BenevolentAI