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Helping inventors become innovators.

By Jacob Geiger

Work It, Richmond

Scott Wayne, co-founder of The Frontier Project, says innovation isn’t about ideas and products.

There are lots of great ideas and good products, he said Thursday at a Virginia Biotechnology Association lunch.

“Innovation is the alignment of an idea and a market for the idea or product,” he said. “There must be a demand for your solution.”

Wayne said that an innovator shouldn’t give up on a product just because there doesn’t immediately appear to be a viable market. Some products, he said, are ahead of their time.

That’s an experience Sanjay Mittal, CEO of eHealthObjects, can relate to. Mittal said there are two stages to innovation: creating a product and bringing it to market. One of eHealthObjects’ first products was a disease management system. But big health providers weren’t willing to purchase such an expensive and complicated product from an unproven company.

“You probably will have to change strategies multiple times,” he said. “Have a plan in mind on who you will sell your products to.”

Kenneth Kahn spends lots of time around both innovators and inventors as director of the da Vinci Center for Innovation at Virginia Commonwealth University. He said it’s important to recognize that being an inventor and innovator isn’t the same thing.

Inventors develop new products or ideas he said. Innovators are people who can actually take the new product and get it into the marketplace.

The panel also discussed how companies can ensure they don’t stop innovating. Mittal said at one of his prior employers, the company started to focus only on serving its existing customers rather than winning new business or developing new product lines.

“Customers want a company that is thinking ahead,” he said, even if that customer’s needs aren’t changing at that moment. “You can’t be too conservative. You have to ask what else you can be doing.”

Wayne it’s people — not a cool office space — that drives innovation in a company.

“Look for a place that feels like work is being done,” he said. “It’s OK for it to be a bit messy. You’ll see people who love working together but also fight with each other.”

CEOs, Wayne said, should focus less on strategic planning and more on recruiting the people who can drive that spirit of innovation. He said it’s a mistake for recruitment and retention to be outsourced solely to the human resources department.

Mittal said eHealthObjects encourages innovation through its enterprise team, a group of employees tasked at constantly reviewing the health care IT offerings and looking for future solutions that the company can employ.

Those employees are generally paid more, and other staffers at the company aspire to join the team that Mittal calls the “backbone” of his company.

Wayne takes it a step further. Both entrepreneurs and established companies need all of their employees to always be working on innovation.

“I just think that’s an employee’s job,” he said. “Any employee who is not innovating and value creating will be outsourced to Asia or replaced by German automation software.”

via WorkIT RIchmond