BOULDER — Triggers for innovation come from many sources: employees, competitors, customers, and in some instances, the government.
Serial entrepreneur Scott Brown’s latest company, Kronovia Inc., took its cue from the need for publicly traded companies to control their employees’ content on social-networking sites. He came up with a way to track, monitor and archive online chatter that could be detrimental to the cause.
When an employee at Scott Rodwin’s architectural firm needed to find a more affordable way to make his old home more energy-efficient, they took the downtime of a lean economy to create cookie-cutter plans for green retrofits.
And John Bliss, founder of BlipSnip, came up with a way to save viewers oodles of time hunting through a long online video for a key moment by devising a way to mark it before passing it on to friends or associates.
Brown, Rodwin, Bliss and others shared insights into how they came about innovating new products or services during the Boulder County Business Report’s CEO Roundtable on innovation, held Aug. 10 at the offices of law firm Holland and Hart in downtown Boulder.
In classic style, some innovation comes out of necessity.
“Our architectural design business was slowing down, and one of our employees wanted to find a way to improve the energy-efficiency in his old home,” Rodwin recalled. “We began talking about it over lunch, and since work was slow, we worked on a plan to retrofit his house.” It just so happens, the employee’s house was a tract home, one of thousands built in the area right after World War II. “We saw the possibility of creating a simple way for homeowners of these similar homes to look at a menu of improvements with set costs, and let them pick. We made the renovation process very simple for them.”
The new offering has turned into a revenue generator for Rodwin’s Skycastle Homes.
Bliss sees his invention at BlipSnip as a real time saver for broadcasters, as well as friends.
“If you’ve got a 45-minute video of a bike race, you know you’re in there somewhere. Why not mark the spot and save people time looking for you?” he asked. “That’s what we can do with BlipSnip.”
Bliss said it’s easy to impress tech-minded people with something like this, but the key is making it easy for everyone. “It’s easy to get techies, it’s harder to get my mom,” he said.
Brown said the worry of coming up with something innovative is making sure you find the right customer and then find a way to get it in front of them. With his social network monitoring system, he believes he’s found his customers — any company that must comply with regulations. “We need to answer the question, do customers really want us?”
Sometimes its not necessarily a product, but a process that can be innovative.
Chris Dodge of Virsage Solutions has taken existing cloud-computing technology and is parlaying it into a service he calls WorkPlace. Geared toward small- and mid-size companies, it stores a client’s data and applications, but it runs off of Virsage Solutions’ servers in its data center. Virsage WorkPlace is accessible from any computer connected to the Internet. Users can access their company’s network from the office, home or on the road. It is compatible with PCs, Macs and iPads.
“With decreasing bandwidth costs, which is a big factor for us, clients can access their business from anywhere, and don’t have to pay for server upkeep or IT staff,” he said.
And yet another method of being innovative is collaborating with partners.
Doug Simpson, chief executive of Corgenix Medical Corp in Broomfield, said his company is asked to be innovative in the sense that partners come to it with a great idea and new technology, and Corgenix finds a way to make it marketable within the health-care industry.
Collaborating with companies from Japan, New Delhi and researchers at Tulane University, Corgenix helped develop and patent a test kit for the rapid detection (within 10 minutes) of the deadly and highly contagious Lassa virus, which causes Lassa hemorrhagic fever, primarily in Africa. Because Lassa is classified as a top-priority bioterrorism agent, the test kit could be used to improve bioterrorism defense capabilities in the United States and other nations.
Finding funding to back a big idea is the age-old challenge of innovation.
Bliss said lack of funding can impede innovation. “I’d like to see a database of angel investors,” he said.
Alex Sammoury, executive director of the Longmont Entrepreneurial Network, an incubator for startups, said the Boulder Valley has venture capitalists, but they hesitate to be “first in. ? We need to change that mentality.”
He cited the recent loss of Great Scientific Basin, a client in his incubator that is moving to Utah. “Great Scientific received $7 million in venture capital from a VC in Utah, and they want the company to move to Utah. That’s a loss of 28 good jobs in Longmont.”
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