What does innovation success look like?

Innovative Technology

Does winning the Innovator of the Year Award mean success in the innovation eco-system?  I think it does.

Congratulations to Integrity Technologies’ owner Lindsay Wadsworth on winning the Grande Prairie Chamber’s 2015 Innovator Award.

Lindsay (left) accepts award from GPRC CRI Director, Bruce Rutley

Lindsay like many innovators has a passion for solving problems.  He is successful because he saves companies time and money.

Lindsay recognized that real-time communications coupled with GIS mapping was needed by industry and government managers for potentially dangerous situations such as remote construction sites and fighting forest fires.

He built an innovative technology-based system called Sight Surveillance, a real-time personnel, asset tracking and logistics solution.  It is used in situations where decisions require communications and transfer of data are seriously limited because of location and geography. Sight Surveillance removes those barriers and helps field operators communicate and share intelligence to make better and quicker decisions in the field.

By solving the problem of accessing real-time communications in remote and isolated locales, Lindsay’s system provided clients with the potential to dramatically improve workplace safety and reduce costs by knowing where the assets were operating and at what level they were operating at.

How is Success Measured?

Success can be measured from many viewpoints and stages of development.  From viewpoints it could be financial, the bottom-line question are we making money or being able to successfully forecast and bid future jobs.  Improvements to workplace safety can be another form of success that is shared by both the private and public sectors. For governments, encouraging industry to be more competitive and resilient to change and thereby increase business growth opportunities is another way to measure success.

For an innovator or SME measuring success is about advancing an idea through the innovation process.  Milestones in Lindsay’s case included:

  • understanding and solving a customer’s problem
  • developing a concept drawing of how something should work
  • having it engineered and a proto-type built
  • and having it third-party tested in field conditions.

Lindsay accomplished those and more, he has successfully got his innovative product being used by clients.

Lindsay attributes part of his success to being able to access GPRCs Centre for Research & Innovation, a regionally based innovation service provider in his community and AITF (Alberta Innovates Technology Futures).

The Importance of an innovation Ecosystem

How important is having access to an innovation ecosystem? In some cases it is critical.  Most communities know the value of having strategies and resources for research, commercialization and entrepreneurship.

Dan Herman and David Fransen in a recent Globe & Mail article talk about successful approaches to innovation including: expanding the focus beyond start-ups to scale-ups; recruiting & developing high-tech management talent; building effective research-and-development support systems; better enabling & supporting industry-academic partnerships; and my favorite, pursuing disruption – “such as Peter Diamandis’s X-Prize Foundation is an example of how the world’s best and brightest can be induced to take on seemingly impossible challenges”.

Success can look like initiatives that inspire innovators and entrepreneurs with just the right leadership to show the way forward.

A Strategic Plan

For businesses like Lindsay’s, successful innovation has to be strategic.  Businesses and people fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea. A person needs to be energetic and purposeful in moving their innovation forward.  Being successful at innovation usually means having a process that is mapped out ahead of time and where possible having innovation process incorporated into how the business operates.

So success can be many things from a whole array of perspectives.  One of the biggest showcase of success for me is seeing that smile of a young entrepreneur’s face when he is on stage being applauded by his peers and knowing that he is successfully moving innovations forward.

Canadian SMEs Going Global – Is this you?

trade commission hi res
Every now and again we run across some very wonderful things to share that our Canadian Government is doing to help our Canadian SMEs.  This is one of them.

If you are looking to do business beyond the border then it is time to investigate the Government of Canada’s CTA program.

Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTA) provides Canadian technology SMEs with access to entrepreneurial resources and global business opportunities in key global markets through competitive 4-6 month programs delivered by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

At first glance you may think this doesn’t apply to you.  I suggest you take another look.  Ask yourself these questions:

Are you a small to midsized Canadian Company from the (ICT) Information Communication Technologies, Life Sciences or Sustainable Technologies industry?

(If yes, keep reading and answer these 3 questions):


Initial traction in the market?

Differentiated technology?

Potential to scale the business?

If this sounds like your company begin to realize the added benefits of participating in these programs; such as:

Introductions to experienced mentors and advisers

Access to industry leaders, venture capitalists and other key resources

Networking events with potential partners and investors

A soft landing address in key markets, reducing go-to-market risk

Office space among inspired and like-minded global entrepreneurs

The CTA programs offered are individually tailored to your specific local market and industry conditions. Each CTA has flexible capacities, models and application requirements.

There are 2 program models to choose:

In-market: Offer 3 to 6 month in-market experience and an accelerator office space for soft-landing.

Virtual: Offer short term in-market exposure (1-2 weeks) and provide companies access to webinars, mentorship and industry experts to help companies engage in local markets.

Of course, there is an application process. And for further information look to the Government of Canada website, Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. If you are interested you must complete and submit an online application form which are available on the TCS website.

Want to explore a bit further before applying?

Check out these fantastic resources and dig deeper with EDC’s (Export Development Canada) online magazine “Exportwise” and; scan  “CanadaExport” the official magazine of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Services. This online digital offering is teaming with great information ranging from in depth feature articles to ‘Ask the CTS’.

If you are looking outside of Canada to expand your company then the CTA is an excellent opportunity.

Questions?  The Centre for Research & Innovation can be a part of your resource team in growing your business. We can help navigate the government services to connect you to the most appropriate provincial and federal trade officer and export organizations.


Moving Your Idea Along

The process for commercialization of an innovation/invention is not linear but there is a definite order within the process with occasional cross over and revisits. There are also some GO – NO GO instances where decisions need to be made.  For instance the CRI prefers to model the commercialization process based on 4 themes; Innovation & Ideas, Technical Feasibility, Market Feasibility and Financial Viability. So far I have stayed within the theme of Innovation & Ideas (So You Have a Great Idea) and briefly discussed Technical Feasibility.

Now it’s time to visit Market Feasibility.

Who exactly is going to buy your innovation/invention? Not just who would use it – that could be misleading.

There are no short cuts here and lots of guessing but the internet makes this a whole lot easier than it was before. A good look at your competitors may help you with this. Be aware that your competition is anything that people will spend that same dollar on. The first automobile’s competition was not another vehicle but a horse or anything else that people used to get from point A to point B.

Even if your goal is to sell your idea to someone else to manufacture and market you still need to understand who is going to buy your innovation/invention. How can you convince someone to buy your idea if you have no idea who will buy it from them?

In So You Have a Great Idea I used a picture hanging tool as an example. Let’s use that same tool to illustrate this. Anyone that wants to hang a picture is our potential customer. But our picture hanging tool comes with a self-leveling mechanism that makes the cost a bit much for only hanging one picture. At this point we need to identify customers that would be willing to pay more than the usual cost of a conventional picture hanging tool (hammer & nails). This could be an art gallery. Then we need to ask the question are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with our idea? And just as important what is so good about our tool that they would be willing to give up what they currently use to buy ours?

These are all questions that can be researched and enough information gathered to know if it is still worth pursuing and all before any significant time or money is spent. The key here is to be honest and realistic. This is not an excuse to get bogged down in the research but meant to be one of those checks to see if it is indeed worth the effort. According to Entrepreneur.com in their article Get Your Product to Market in Six Steps ‘Finding out how to get your product to market is often more relevant to your success than the features and benefits of your invention.’

The CRI and our partners have a wealth of experience to draw on and once you have done the basic work of clarifying your idea and the marketplace for that idea it’s a great idea to give us a call or send us an email.

We can help with everything we have talked about here as well as the next steps.



Time to Rethink Patent Pending?

Patent Sign 1
Over the last few years I have been involved in a few successful patent applications but personal experience doesn’t always represent the whole picture so when a client reflected on a different experience with the patent process I figured I’d better do some research on the subject. I called the patent lawyer we often refer clients to. Nathan Woodruff was very helpful and I definitely learned some things. For instance, I was under the impression that either your application was accepted and you received your patent or it was rejected and you were done. Not so our patent lawyer tells me. In fact a significant amount of the applications are rejected on the first examination. The next step is then to respond to the Examiner – and this process can be repeated more than once, and often is.

patent1Nathan suggested you could compare the process to selling your home. You as the seller are quite optimistic about the value of your home (idea), whereas the buyer (in this case the patent office) is quite pessimistic about that same value. After you go through the process – like multiple offers and counter offers – you often reach an understanding or agreement and potentially the patent application is approved.

The other thing that I now have a better understanding of is this whole notion of ‘patent pending’. In Canada you have up to 5 years to request an examination of your application. Responding to the Examiner just leaves your patent application in this pending state. I suppose one of the positives with this pending state is your idea or invention will not be published for the world to see. This may be important as you work on testing or perfecting the technical aspects or even your marketing strategy but ultimately you will not have the protection that a patent was designed to offer. You will not be able to defend or protect your idea/invention from those potential copycat competitors.

Something else you may want to keep in mind as with a lot of things, the longer it takes the more it costs. I am certainly wiser and I sure appreciated being able to call on an expert.

The Next Step for Your Great Idea

next_stepOK your idea passed the test. You did some research and it seems pretty unique. You have also decided your idea is something you are willing to invest in both with your time and a little money. Now what?

As I referred to in the blog post ‘So You Have a Great Idea‘ moving that great idea through to commercialization is a process and it can take years. For example the Smart Board that is now in many school classrooms and company board rooms was an idea that was first born in 1986. It was 1991 before the first interactive whiteboard was created and as I understand it a few years after that before the company was actually successful. Check out their story here.

For innovators that want to commercialize their idea the Canadian Innovation Centre suggests that kind of venture success depends on 8 big hurdles or factors and critical gaps in one or more of these factors significantly reduce the likelihood of success. Three of these factors are in the marketing realm, the rest concern the innovation itself, the customer, finances and whether the entrepreneur has the right stuff. Go here for the complete list.

Before you spend any money or any more time the next step should be to analyze the technical strength of your idea. To have commercial value your idea (and the resulting product or service) should solve a real problem. Not only that, it needs to somehow solve the problem better, cheaper, faster than current solutions. Keep in mind that current solutions have market share already backed by advertising budgets and even customer loyalty. Your solution even if it is better, cheaper, and faster needs to provide customers with a compelling reason for them to change otherwise it will be easier for them not to. It is also good to remember benefits are more important than features. People would buy a picture hanging tool with a level to hang pictures straight not because the tool comes in a nice storage case.

The technical analysis also involves determining whether or not your idea is physically possible. If your idea involves a process by which lead turns into gold perhaps a different approach will be necessary.  Interesting to note that a few patents have been abandoned because the inventor was unable to get a prototype to work. In other words the invention/innovation wasn’t technically feasible in the first place.

Remember this is all stuff you do before you have spent any real money. Before you have invested so much of yourself you can’t let go no matter what the consequences. Not understanding how important preliminary research is could only cost you mega dollars in the end.

If you get to this point and you want some help or advice please send me an email at janet@bluecollarconsulting.ca and I would be happy to help.

What’s your Action Plan for being Innovative?

weldingWhy be Innovative?

In business, the fundamental answer is to survive.  Whether it’s the rising costs of doing business or customers wanting more but not willing to pay more, or yesterday’s solutions don’t seem to solve today’s problems anymore,  organizations need to be competitive and one of the best ways to be competitive is to be innovative.

So how innovative does my company, team or yourself need to be?  Not too much: being innovative in the right way in the range of 3% of your resources has the potential to keep your company fresh and more competitive.  Too much innovation will disrupt your company’s routine and practices that were put in place to run the business efficiently and effectively.

Organizations need to be energetic and purposeful in moving forward new ideas.

Now is the Time-8

It is at times like this when some of our industries are experiencing a major ‘slowdown’, that we see companies as not being as competitive as they could be. We know that in good times, companies are often too busy to think and act on innovation. They are usually filling orders and struggling with manpower allocations.

Now is the right time for companies to look into ‘the right new ideas’ to be competitive.

For some companies, the challenge will be unless the company has an action plan for innovation, it will struggle with answering what are the ‘right new ideas’.

Alberta Innovates Technology Futures can help.

AITF is asking organizations in the Grande Prairie region to continue to lead new innovation initiatives to help businesses be competitive through Innovation Networks that lead and facilitate organizations that can help business explore and act on the ‘right new ideas’.  Innovation networks recognize that the region’s business health or competitiveness depends on strengthening its innovation capacity and creating more problem-solving and knowledge-based people and businesses. The region and province are shifting away from just possessing raw materials and looking to adding value to what it has through knowledge based factors.  Those knowledge-based value-adds are lowering our production costs and/or adding value to what the customer wants: hence making your business more competitive.

Now is the Time-11So as a business owner, how innovative do you want be?  Or another way to ask this is, how much innovation can your business handle without damaging the company or worst, bankrupting it?

Innovation to be successful within a business needs to be strategic.  You fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea.  So where do you get help?

Give us a call at 780-539-2718: you can explore and define what type of innovation will work best for your company and how best to establish your innovation action plan.

Now is the Time-14

An effective role for innovation networks to play in supporting innovation is to supply an environment in which innovation can flourish.

 When a company embraces innovation, you will be asking yourself many questions on your path to moving innovative ideas forward.  Regional Innovation Networks are all about moving innovation forward.

Are you ready? Commercializing Your Idea

dolliesFor most of us when we come up with a great idea for an innovation or invention the objective is to eventually make money from it. But before we invest any money of our own (or someone else’s) it is wise to invest a bit of time to first analyze the invention along the entire commercialization process. To have commercial value the product must solve a real problem. Not only that, it needs to somehow solve the problem better, cheaper, faster than current solutions. Keep in mind that current solutions have market share already backed by advertising budgets and even customer loyalty. Your solution even if it is better, cheaper, and faster needs to provide customers with a compelling reason for them to change otherwise it will be easier for them not to.

Once you are confident it passes that test then you need to determine if your idea is physically possible. Interesting to note that a few patents have been abandoned because the inventor was unable to get a prototype to work. They might have had a great idea that solved a real problem but the invention/innovation wasn’t technically feasible in the first place.

Next step, providing the idea solves a real problem and it’s doable, is to figure out exactly who will buy it. Not just who would use it, although that needs to be considered too. Next question: are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with the idea? This is the Market Feasibility.

Financial viability refers to whether there is sufficient potential to earn a profit from the innovation or invention to warrant an investment. First what are all those customers willing to pay for your solution? The patent lawyer we refer people to tells a great story about an invention that the inventor managed to get Canadian Tire to purchase and resell. While customers loved the idea it turned out that they would gladly have paid $100 for it but the $300 price tag was just too much so no one bought it. A combination of what will the invention cost, what will people pay for it, and is there enough of a market to justify all the investment required to set things up is Financial Viability.

All this work needs to be done upfront – before you invest money or even any significant time. What you discover here may strongly suggest you get another idea or it may indicate you need to delve deeper into each area and actually invest some time and money pursuing your idea.