What Does It Take To Innovate?
To state the obvious, innovation is the heart of the technology sector. While many traditional businesses typically exploit a market niche or competitive vacuum, technology companies are often built around innovative “new” ideas or at least creatively re-imagined ones. But is there a common thread to a successful innovator? We believe there is.
Innovation Needs a “Fertile Breeding Ground”
Innovators tend to thrive in settings that foster start ups and ideas, are business friendly, and are magnets for attracting and retaining talent.
In and around New Jersey, we have some of the brightest college students and best universities in the country. Several universities, such as Princeton and Rutgers, actively support start ups and offer technology commercialization programs. Across the Hudson River, entrepreneur programs at NYU, Stonybrook and elsewhere encourage students to not only generate ideas but assist with the early steps toward commercialization. Similarly, the growing number of incubators and accelerators for technology and life science companies both here in New Jersey, as well as nearby New York and Philadelphia, are instrumental in nurturing start ups and innovative technology.
As well, it is crucial for the entire community to support the innovators’ growth and development. One example is creating a business-friendly environment. For instance, to enhance the formation and growth of technology-oriented businesses, states such as New Jersey can and do offer financial incentives in the form of tax credits, enterprise zones, etc.
Lastly, technology companies tend to locate where there is a strong talent pool. Cities such as New York and Boston are natural magnets for young, entrepreneurial employees. California has its Silicon Valley. New York, its Silicon Alley. New Jersey also attracts its share and perhaps can do better. How about a “Surfin’ East” movement on the NJ shore? Free surfing lessons for anyone under 25? Cybercafes and free wireless internet out on the boardwalk? The Jersey Shore can boast relatively inexpensive housing, a relaxed environment so why not NJ?
Innovation is Key. Commercialization is Critical
Taking an innovative idea to commercialization and ultimate product is essential to the innovation cycle. Commercialization does and should take time. It takes a steady hand to know when to be patient and when to move ahead. I have a client that had an idea that would enhance a hotel guests’ stay. The concept was vetted and a prototype developed over several months. The model was tested and worked. However, despite a risk that a competitor might grab the high ground, the company opted to delay release and enhance the product to improve both efficiency and technology purposes. Fortunately, the gamble paid off and patience was rewarded.
A second key component of commercialization is the support infrastructure for innovators. At the time of commercialization, many companies reach the point where the entrepreneur reaches his or her own capacity. This is a good time for innovative entrepreneurs to begin delegating responsibilities and surrounding themselves with other experienced business people that can assist in the growth of the company. The entrepreneurial skills tend to differ from those of a mature and commercialized company. An infrastructure that includes mentors and coaches, such as successful serial entrepreneurs who can serve as sounding boards is essential.
Innovators Tend to Be Adaptive
Once an idea is cultivated, grown and commercialized, the hardest part is still to come, staying relevant. Continuing to produce new, innovative products that are in public demand is a great way to retain or attract new investors (same for attracting and retaining employees and future technology thought leaders).
For example, take Google. Most people know the search engine giant’s brand name so well that it has become a household verb: when you need an answer to a question, you 'Google' it. But the company is more than just a search engine and a company that sells ads. They are also innovators and masters of marketing new technologies. Since their IPO in 2004, Google has continually added products and services (such as Google Nexus cell phones and tablets and Chromecast television service) to diversify the company into the behemoth it is today. Google has mastered the innovation and commercialization cycle because they have buy-in from their stakeholders, shown patience when needed and also acted aggressively when necessary.