Most of us know at least a couple of the garage-based innovators of the 20th century – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. I can still remember circa 1978 wandering into a room at the LA Convention Center seeing this big Apple logo on the screen and wondering what it was. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s not lost on most of us that new ideas are incubated in the minds of small business and that’s where real innovation often takes place. Last week, I was really taken by the guys at IdeaPaint who’d developed their idea for an erasable paint – that is one that once dried, you can write on and erase! They spoke to an essential attitude that may be needed for innovators – naïvete. You know, the good old-fashioned “Why can’t it be done?” vs. “We’ve always done it this way.” It was ‘just an idea’ in the beginning.
Innovation pops up in many areas – it might be something like the microwave oven I first saw 40 years ago as part of a city jail tour. . . a technology that resulted from scientific invention during World War II. And there’s the famous 3M ‘mistake’ – Post-it notes where the inventor was working on a new adhesive.
Big companies that have large budgets for research or scientific breakthroughs are one scenario, but for those contemplating a small business venture, the research may tie into a thorough marketing analysis, the power of observation, or trend spotting. An example is one I’ll use from personal experience about 15-20 years ago. I often stayed at Residence Inn properties in my travels and I liked the kitchen setup since I didn’t necessarily want to spend money on eating out or relying on fast food.
I concocted a basic package of cooking spices, oil and staples like pasta. I never followed through but had a name in mind – Gourmet2Go and worked over a price point in my mind so that these packages could be sold at the front desk. While, I didn't start a business based on my ideas, a great idea can come from the power of observation and personal experience that help define a need for a product or service.
What I call trend spotting could be something like Can Can Cleanse. Diets will always be in vogue and this one has a strong appeal to the organically inclined San Francisco Bay Area where it is based. Or there’s Storables, an idea that developed into a store when the founder saw an opportunity for a niche in the housewares market.
So when we talk about innovation and incubation, it’s small business owners like you with an idea, passion and a plan to bring new products, systems and technologies that makes the economy grow round. So tell us a little bit about the ideas you have percolating or have successfully turned into a business in the comments section below. We'd like to feature some of your businesses in future blogs.
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