Handicapping the Innovation Economy — How Long Does Overnight Success Take?

Uncategorized Posted Jun 13, 2005 by metropolis

From CHEN Veep Kevin Kosh…

At the recent Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) 2005 Awards, talk of the “innovation economy” and the juxtaposition of established companies vs. young upstarts brought the following question to mind:

Is true innovation in the act of creation — a “big bang” idea based on a current or emerging need — or is it in persistence, adaptability and the survival of a good idea? It may be a little of both, since the chicken is born from the egg. But there’s also an interesting conundrum in this question: At what point can you call it innovation, or a really good idea?

Awards were presented for products ranging from application security to SAN change management to nanotechnology. For the most part, the presenters and recipients sounded a lot like the proverbial baseball players in post-game interviews with remarks like, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” or, “It’s a Paradigm Shift.” There was a palpable excitement that any one of these folks could be the next big thing, but all understandably struck a cautiously optimistic tone for the future — all except for the affable and enthusiastic Larry Weber, Chairman of the MITX Board.

Among notable companies, the Innovative Influencer of the Year award went to BBN Technologies. A company in the delivery room at the birth of the Internet itself, BBN is 50 years old and still innovating. They recently developed and delivered in 10 weeks an amazing mobile system for military vehicles in Iraq. Tagged “Boomerang,” it uses an array of microphones and allows U.S. soldiers to detect, locate and respond directly to sniper fire within one second.

Another was CHEN PR client Kronos. Kronos has been diligently innovating for more than 25 years — nearly double the life spans of the three other companies in the Operational Business Applications category combined. Kronos (NASDAQ:KRON) is widely regarded as the most trusted name in workforce management. That doesn’t seem a stretch when you realize, as one of Massachusetts’ largest and most respected technology employers, the company racked up 101 consecutive quarters of revenue growth and 72 consecutive quarters of profitability. Not to mention that 20 million people touch a Kronos product every day. Based on the rollercoaster economy of the last six years, that achievement is remarkable.

At the end of the day, innovation manifests itself in strange and mysterious ways, and I don’t envy MITX organizers when they have to categorize and then select one company over another. It’s a daunting task.

The MITX tagline is “What’s Next?” In my humble opinion, the partial answer to that question is that it’s possible we won’t know for decades. However it’s fun to try and guess, and there are very smart people at very young companies who deserve to be lauded for sticking their necks out. The full list of these impressive winners can be found here. Best of luck to all of them.