“Innovation is the foundation of economic expansion and a key to our state’s future,” says Michael J. Hogan, President of the University of Illinois and newly-elected Chairman of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition’s Board of Directors. This edition of ISTC Catalyst showcases a few of Illinois’ R&D Innovators.

Guest Column by Kirsten Osolind, CEO of RE:INVENTION, Inc.


Eliminating the nation’s innovation deficit demands dramatic change. Some suggest that innovation is undisciplined and unpredictable – a process that can’t possibly be organized or measured. They’re woefully wrong. Beyond the vague advice one hears – embrace failure, promote transparency – and the imagination that fuels the process, these five tools can help any company think systemically about business innovation.

1. Prototypes

Prototypes prevent companies from allocating too many resources too soon. Motorola uses rapid prototyping to determine product breaking points. Touch Taste Technologies, a 2010 Chicago Innovation Award winner, created their first Touchlife Interactive Table prototype in 6 weeks using a coffee table and Dell laptop.  Nearly anything can be prototyped. You can even prototype abstract ideas with diagrams, gaming, post-it notes, and role-play.

2. Internal Innovation Incubators and Labs

Any company can benefit from an internal innovation incubator or lab; a group permanently assigned to searching for high-impact innovation. For example, Wrigley’s $45 million product development lab and pilot manufacturing plant recently introduced EXTRA Professional, the first calcium-fortified gum. Walgreens uses Duane Reade as an incubator to test retail concepts from an urban perspective. Internal incubators require a lean rotational staff organization structure to be effective, isolated from bureaucracy and quarterly P&L concerns.

3.  Innovation and Idea Management Software

Innovation and idea management software capture knowledge and accelerate concept identification, research, and inventive problem solving. Brightidea Innovation Suite, a cloud-based product, leverages social networking features.

4. Social Media

With social media, innovation is no longer reserved for big budget businesses. Social networks offer cost-effective collaboration and integrate externally generated ideas throughout the value chain. Illinois companies like Threadless and Crowdspring demonstrate the power of open innovation via social media.

5. Metrics and Incentives

Without the right innovation metrics and incentives, great ideas can flounder. Patents and new product introductions have been widely used innovation metrics but there are better measures of success such as revenue sustainability, increase in knowledge, brand reputation, customer satisfaction, price elasticity, and attractiveness as an employer. Beyond measurement, the simple act of rewarding employees who participate in company innovation can have immeasurable impact. Results require rewards. Think beyond financial rewards. Recognition, nods, promotions, and workplace perks can encourage employee engagement.

These five tools can increase any company’s capacity to innovate, but it’s important to note that they are not enough. Innovation starts with knowledge, and sustainable innovation is only possible with inspired, respected, and informed employees.

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About the Author:

Kirsten Osolind is CEO of RE:INVENTION,a marketing consulting firmincorporated in Illinois that helps companies sell more of their products and services. A Duke MBA who has helped launch 40+ new products during her career, Osolind is the former National Marketing Director of Whole Foods Market. She currently serves on the board of the International Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

Watch and Listen:

Innovations from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Governor Quinn Launches Illinois Innovation Network to Help Business Startups Thrive
Stories from Entrepreneurs in Illinois Innovation Network


More News:

The Chicago Innovation Chase

September 2011

The Chicago Innovation Chase is an Annual Inter-Collegiate Student Entrepreneurship Competition that brings together student teams from around the United States and puts them through an intense weekend focused on problem-solving, invention and entrepreneurship.http://www.leadthechase.com

Chicago Ideas Week

October 10-16, 2011

CIW is an annual, seven-day celebration of ideas, innovation and community with over 100+ speakers and 60+ events at over 40 locations throughout Chicago focused on a broad range of important and compelling topics ranging from the arts, to education, finance, design, and many others. http://www.chicagoideas.com/

Chicago Innovation Awards

November 2011
Goodman Theater

For the 10th consecutive year, the awards will celebrate the creative spirit of the Chicago region by recognizing and honoring the city’s most innovative new products and services. http://www.chicagoinnovationawards.com/

Nominations now open! Due July 31.