How 3M Encourages Collaboration

By 1999, Sumita Mitra, a corporate scientist in the research lab of 3M ESPE, the giant's dental products division, had been working on new dental materials for more than two decades. She'd helped develop coatings that prevent plaque, and innovative cements that could be set by light. As she'd watched the cosmetic dentistry business emerge in the late 1990s—a market the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry estimates at $2.75 billion according to a 2007 survey, its most recent—she saw an opportunity: No existing composite material delivered the strength and natural appearance that dentists needed to create long-lasting, good-looking restorations. Dentists using composites were having to choose between strength and polishability, and Mitra wanted to develop a product that delivered both. To do so, she would have to venture outside the realm of traditional dental materials.

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