This Friday the Tippie Business Strategy Association presented the Strategic Innovation Forum. We had 4 speakers who came to the University of Iowa to talk about innovation – how it happened in their company and careers, their process for innovation, how it helped, etc.
The first speaker was Trey Martin, from Integrated DNA. He gave us an overview of what his company does, and explained the process of extracting and creating DNA sequences. It took me back to high school biology. It was really interesting to hear about how much they leverage their needs to create some very spectacular technologies that make them leaders in their fields.
Second we heard from Glen Stancil with NRG Energy, a strong energy company in the South. Glen is helping set up an electric-car fueling-grid in the US, starting with Texas. It is amazing to hear about, especially when you consider that the emphasis in Texas is not the “green” aspect of electric vehicles, but the pragmatic perspective – cheaper transportation fueled by “Texas wind”. Another aspect that he talked about was perception. It seems customers are very anxious about electric cars, and even if the manufacturer says that a car can go, for example, 100 miles on a charge, people are still quite concerned about being stuck “out of gas”.
Right before lunch Stuart Reeves from Embria Health Sciences talked about the “accidental” discovery in his company. In a way, it was much like Semmelweis, famous physician for having found statistically significant evidence that hand washing reduced mother mortality during childbirth. Embria likewise found that their workers were much healthier than average, and looked into it. It turns out that if they manufacture health supplements, they ingest some of the health supplements, and that got them started on the health supplement business.
Last, Peter Hong spoke to us about his path, and emphasized how there are very few “direct paths” to anything. As cliché as it is, the truth is that even the things I plan for and have successfully accomplished ended up in roundabout way. So I liked his suggestions about moving forward with a theme in mind, to make sure you don’t end up backing yourself into a corner. But be open to new ideas. Also, it was fascinating to me his work with New Tech Ceramics. What would you do with a material that is insulating, tough as diamond, conduces electricity, is about as sticky as Teflon, and can be molded? The possibility are endless, from safer construction materials to never-dulling razor blades to oil-less cars. Its amazing. But it is so amazing, they are having difficulty finding people who can even imagine how to use this! Think back in the 1960, when they were first developing ARPANET, and think about what your average person would have said if you told them you were working on making geographic distance obsolete? How crazy would that have sounded?
The Forum was hard work, but my team was amazing, and I couldn’t be happier with the comments and feedback I have received. All in all, a very fun and interesting Friday.
Visit our photo album for more images from the forum.