Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Perfecting the Art of Ongoing Innovation

By Deepankar Pant

Senior Brand Manager, Innovation
Jarden Home Brands

The process of ongoing innovation to deliver new products and services results from skills and discipline that actually combine elements of both art and science. In any industry or business a state of perpetual dissatisfaction, from any of the stakeholders in the value-chain: investors, suppliers, intermediaries or end-users, fuels the emergence of new ideas and concepts. 

The innate curiosity to observe and learn from consumer circumstances, the nuanced probing of specific motivators and barriers influencing consumer behavior, and the creative conception of possible solutions is largely an art form. Best practice techniques for qualitative research, predictive forecasting, and quantitative validation implemented as part of disciplined processes, are akin to science – repeatable and scalable. The art of observing and gleaning meaningful information (aka consumer insights), that enables the development of improved new products or paradigm shifting breakthrough innovations, can be learned with training and practice. Some individuals have a natural advantage with this skill – a built-in mind-set for curiosity, a higher curiosity quotient (CQ). Often, the more diverse the teams working on new products, the higher the probability of including individuals with this curious mind-set.    

For continued growth and to maintain competitive relevance, many organizations have committed to innovation as one of their strategic drivers. Perfecting how to maximize the marketplace impact with available resources and assets is the quintessential challenge. At an elemental level, there are 3 broad levers that organizations use for the strategic approach and tactical plays that activate innovation: organizational Commitment to innovation; the role of People – employees as well as external partners; and the Process of activating innovation across the value chain. More detail as follows:  

Commitment: The level of commitment from senior leaders in the organization to invest in innovation as a strategic competency and deliberately ingrain it in the culture is crucial. Goal setting at the highest level to foster innovation makes it more of an operating rhythm than a job imperative for a few functions. Such a pervasive culture can be distinctively more conducive to creativity and innovation versus segregated skunk works.    

People: An employee pool with diverse backgrounds, range of skill-sets and varied abilities to problem solve is a strategic asset. Some of the highest functioning teams recognize this and have this as a core underlying trait. Offering formal and   informal forums to employees across the value-chain, to engage with innovation, unlocks their cumulative creative power. Procurement and customer affairs teams should have the same opportunity as marketing and R&D. 

Process: While an appropriate level of rigor for market research techniques and standardized metrics at every stage of commercialization is the minimum, of highest importance is the crystal clear understanding of end-user needs, and the relevance of the innovation effort to the overall business.   

A hypothesized framework employing the above 3 levers is captured below. The sweet spot is an ongoing movement towards the top right horizon. 

Balancing an entrepreneurial orientation with strong strategic and analytical skills, Deepankar helps solve business challenges with a resolute focus on accomplishing revenue and margin objectives. His specialities include product innovation, product management and brand marketing. Previous roles include Senior Market Development Manager, Life Technologies and Product Manager, DENTSPLY International.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Crossing the Valuation Chasm: Importance of Technology Valuation in Licensing

By Dipanjan "DJ" Nag

Chief Executive Officer and President


Not many would argue the fact that Universities are the key innovation driver of our economy. With more than $65 billion a year spent on research and with an efficiency better than most industry partners in creating fundamental and disruptive innovations, universities still face a challenge in getting these technologies to market. We are performing research to understand what some of those challenges are that hold us back from getting these technologies to the hands of users. The pathway to market for these technologies is either through an industry partner or through a startup.

 In this article we will focus on how industry and universities differ in their approach to licensing. This comparison might not be a fair one, because universities inherently have a different mission than industry does, i.e. industry’s sole motivation is profit and the university’s sole mission is dissemination of knowledge (and technology). In the recent times, post 1980 after enactment of Bayh-Dole act, technology transfer has become one of the top missions for universities and economic development and job creation are now metrics that a university must closely attend.

How are universities dealing with technology transfer (or commercialization or development) in a way that is so fundamentally different from industry? For one, consider the approach to valuation. If you look at the approach taken by universities, it starts with creating one page summaries of technology called non-confidential summaries (NCS). The NCS is a great way to communicate that a certain technology is available but it surely does not communicate the value of that technology. In fact after benchmarking more than 50 technology transfer practices it is apparent that most of them do not use valuation methods at all.

Speaking with numerous industry licensing leaders, including the ones at IP100 conference this year in Phoenix, AZ, most feel that there is a disconnect with universities (rightly or wrongly) on these key areas (in no particular order):
  • Valuation of the technology
  • Maturity of technology
  • Structure of relationship including IP terms
  • Time taken to close a deal
For its part, industry does not begin to understand the notion of value expected by the university for a certain technology. The apprehension is that a university will overvalue the technology. By the same token universities often believe that industry undervalues the technology. The value proposition of a technology to industry and most importantly the VALUE of the technology itself needs to be clearly defined.

Innovation Is For Everyone

By Eugene Yamnitsky
Senior Manager
Product Management & Innovation


Over the past 5 months I’ve been talking to many people interested in innovation, and fairly consistently people assume that innovation is only for engineers. This is a myth worth busting. Like it is with many things in life, the real answer is in finding the right balance. Seasoned Entrepreneurs unanimously advocate balance in the form of the “3H” founding team: Hacker (the coder)  /  Hipster (the designer)  /  Hustler (the go-getter).

Remember the dot-com bubble? There were many factors which led to its burst, but one in particular worth mentioning is how often companies ignored the desirability of their products. A major problem was that founders followed the “if we build it, they will come” mentality, and were surprised when “they” didn’t come. Many of these founders ignored the desirability aspect of their cool ideas, and instead went straight to coding.

Don’t get me wrong, having a working prototype you could give to the user to get feedback is invaluable, but unless you are a good software engineer who can produce the proof of concept fast, and make changes often to adapt to the feedback, that path has a high barrier to entry – it is simply too difficult and risky to follow. 

Thankfully, the Lean Startup framework outlined by authors Steve Blank and Eric Ries holds the key to innovation, and does not require coding in the early stages when your most important task is to find the product-market fit. This framework has several practices and tools. These include Customer Development, Design Thinking, Value Proposition Design, and Business Model Canvas.

Regardless of whether the founding team is versed in coding, following these practices will help increase the likelihood of your venture’s success. Here is how it works at a high level. Note that these steps are not sequential; it is recommended to do a little of everything and iterate, iterate, iterate.

Define the Customer/Problem/Solution trio

Too many startups attempt to solve multiple problems for a very large market. This leads to a lack of focus, and precious resources being spread too thin. Instead, try to define one customer segment which is most likely to benefit from your solution, define what the biggest problem you are solving for that segment is, and define a solution to that problem.

Define your hypotheses and validate them

Now that the above trio is defined, you need to make sure your assumptions about the problem are right.  Ask yourself: does the problem really exist and is it worth solving? In order to validate your assumptions, you’ll need to form several hypotheses then build a questionnaire that you will use to learn about your customer and validate the hypotheses. Then it’s time to reach out to your friends, family, and colleagues to find people matching your customer profile and interview them. After 10+ interviews assess what you have learned. Are your assumptions being validated? Did you learn about a different problem worth solving instead? Refine your assumptions, update your questionnaire and continue the interviews. 

Define the business model and validate it

If after several iterations and going back and forth between the previous steps you begin to feel like you are onto something, then it’s time to define things like the business model, your unique value proposition, what unfair advantage your solution could leverage, and what partnerships, revenue streams, etc. might be possible.

Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

When you are getting even closer to making a decision on whether to build the product it’s time to show your customers what the solution may look like in the upcoming interviews. The MVP may take many forms. Perhaps it is a simple click-through prototype made in a tool like InVision. According to Eric Ries, an MVP is not merely a minimum set of features acceptable to the customer, an MVP is a minimum set of features that helps validate your hypotheses, and as such, does not have to be a real product. In fact, even your questionnaire is an MVP of sorts.

Now you’re ready to code

After you have validated that you are solving a pressing problem, and the feedback on your prototype is positive, you can go ahead and start coding the first version of your app. If you skip these steps and go directly to coding, there is a risk that you will be building something that no one wants, like so many did in the dot-com bubble days. Unfortunately this mistake is being repeated by startups these days as well.

We can all innovate

Now you can see that coming from non-engineering disciplines like Sales, Care, Services, Product Management, and Marketing has unique advantages, as founders from these disciplines have skills which are key to finding the product-market fit, and contribute to a successful innovation journey. 

You can come from any discipline and become a successful innovator, and the time to get started is NOW!

Eugene is an innovation catalyst and product development leader with over 15 years of experience getting things done in conditions of uncertainty and fast paced change. He has a proven track record of success in early and late stage startups and large companies.