Breakthroughs during tough times

With the economy reeling, firms are wondering….how can we sustain our breakthrough innovation efforts? Indeed, the Front End of Innovation is conducting a poll to see how many are pulling back on their innovation investments .

But now is not the time. I saw this local story in the paper this week. An ingenious, entrepreneurial assistant professor found a way to make thin film photo masks used to develop tiny biomedical lab devices: lab-on-a- chip sorts of things…..and to make them for less than 1% of the cost of the current technology ($15 rather than $2000). How???? He’s found a technology that a local printing company uses, and simply asked them to apply the technique to thin film. It works! Voila! Now mind you, some alterations in the process were necessary, but not many. The printing shop owner had never ever considered this opportunity space, so it’s a sure boon to his business.

But the real lesson here is that breakthroughs can happen in tough times too. Applying a known technology to a different problem can result in game changing, radical, disruptive innovation…and when the game it changes is cost structure, the poor state of the economy is no longer a barrier to successful commercialization. In fact, it helps.

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