Invention Doesn’t Always Lead to Innovation: Celebrating Local Success

Karl R. LaPan, President and CEO of The NIIC

A 2016 Forbes article makes clear it is not how much you spend on R&D that makes you innovative but how you spend to address both technical and market risk. The handy math is: innovation = invention + customer value + business model.

Location, as they say, is everything not only in real estate but in innovation, place really does matters. As early as the 19th century, Fort Wayne garnered attention from industry because of its each of access to the East Coast and western states. The Midwestern work ethic didn’t hurt us either.

And by the late 1800s, the city was already on the map for its industrial enterprise. Around that time, James A. Jenney, a well-known inventor of an electric arc lamp and a small dynamo, installed his apparatus in what would become the GE campus. In its prime, the Fort Wayne campus was a hub of innovation, specifically R&D work.

And that momentum has only continued into the 21st century, with other local innovative companies investing in talent and processes to take their product leadership position to the next level.

For example, Trelleborg Sealing Solutions Research and Development Center for the Americas located right here in Fort Wayne, provides materials testing, materials development, product engineering and product development. In 2015, they expanded with an additional 1,000 square feet of laboratory space.

There is also an incredible success story found in Fort Wayne Metals (wire manufacturer turned lifesaver), in an entirely different business segment. It is highly invested in its applied R&D and customer-centric program. Over the years, their innovative efforts have allowed them to make many advanced materials commercially available and improve the lives of people around the world. For example, their signature NDR® process came out of research about how to improve the fatigue resistance of materials by influencing their grain structure.

Franklin Electric is getting noticed for its commitment to performance. The company was honored in 2016 at the R&D 100 Awards, an international competition that recognizes the 100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year. OPTIMIZER3 is a complete performance monitoring system for high voltage substation circuit breakers. According to the company, this innovation will grant utility access to real-time information and ultimately reducing gas emissions.

But R&D is not just reserved for B-to-B or industrial operations. The local story would be incomplete without mentioning how translation research and bench to bed research and discoverry is transforming the patient AND the employee experience at Parkview’s Mirro Center for Research and Innovation. The Center is committed to connecting medical discovery to patient care and quality of life. In the end, they hope to help consumers have access to the highest-quality and the safest medical care possible, based on individual needs for treatment and prevention. (Dr. Mirro himself is a founding and emeritus board member of The NIIC. We work closely with his team on healthcare delivery innovation, as a corporate client.)

Returning to the Forbes article, the author makes an important distinction when he observed, “having a great R&D process and achieving market success with the technologies you invent are two different things.” Business builders and Corporate R&D departments would do well to remember this when they wed themselves to their technology and forget about validating the customer needs and applications.


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