Colgate Seeks Fresh Ideas in Personal Care

Colgate-Palmolive is looking for new ideas in personal care to boost sales of soap, toothpaste and hundreds of other products.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Sporting products such as Colgate toothpaste and Irish Spring soap, Colgate-Palmolive (CL) - Get Report is a leader in recession-resistant personal care goods. (Giving up hygiene is not an economic concession that most consumers are willing to make.) The company oversees nearly 35,000 employees worldwide, and recently made Fortune magazine's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. But the company also encourages entrepreneurial input from outside the company.

Colgate-Palmolive launches about 797 new products each year, according to the company's Web site. The 200-year-old company is seeking ideas for new "active ingredients or delivery systems" for mouthwash, liquid soaps, body washes, under-arm products, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Last year, the company introduced the Wisp, a single-use miniature toothbrush with a built-in "breath-freshening bead." The company also welcomes nutrition-related ideas for its Hill's Prescription Diet pet food division.

Colgate-Palmolive only considers ideas that have received a U.S. patent, or are at least the subject of a patent-pending application. The company also won't take unsolicited ideas on a confidential basis. Entrepreneurs who have secured that patent can submit their ideas via a "

Submit Your Idea

" form on the company's Web site.

Colgate-Palmolive also uses open innovation intermediaries to find ideas. These companies, such as

Innocentive

and

Yet2.com

, take the problems of giant corporate clients and post them as challenges for entrepreneurs to solve.

A few years ago, inventor Edward Melcarek brought his idea to Colgate-Palmolive through a challenge on the Innocentive Web site, which invited entrepreneurs to devise an efficient way to inject fluoride particles into a toothpaste tube without getting fluoride all over the place.

"It took me about five minutes to come up with the solution with my wetware, and another week or so to put it on paper, showing how to bring the physics to bear in their plant," says Melcarek, now director of research and development at

Sono-Dyne

in Barrie, Ontario. ("Wetware" is science slang for "brain.") His solution involved adding an electric charge to the fluoride particles to draw them into the tube. As compensation for his innovation, Melcarek received a $25,000 award directly from Innocentive. Intermediaries often don't indentify the client when they post a challenge, so inventors may never know which company will be using their winning ideas. In Melcarek's case, Colgate-Palmolive kept in direct touch with him. "Colgate-Palmolive was very cooperating from beginning to end," he says.

The company also welcomes deals with outside suppliers through its Global Procurement Group, which seeks out partnerships with any small businesses that can help Colgate-Palmolive save money and time. Specifically, the company is looking for suppliers that manufacture package materials, such as bottles, tubes, caps, pumps and films. Colgate-Palmolive also seeks out suppliers of raw materials such as sweeteners, colorants and preservatives -- the ingredients that make toothpaste and other products look better, taste better and last longer. Women- and minority-owned suppliers receive special attention. Suppliers who meet that profile can enter themselves into Colgate's supplier diversity database by filling out a

supplier diversity profile form

.

-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston.