Innovation: Driven By The Individual, Supported By The Organization

by Jeffrey Babin, Associate Director, Engineering Entrepreneurship, Wharton MBA 1991

There is a lot of attention today on innovation and entrepreneurship as people, companies, and even universities try to capitalize on innovation. This is especially true in a challenging economic environment with reductions in funding sources. We’re all looking to do more with less (the hallmark of the entrepreneur). After almost thirty years of practicing, consulting, and teaching innovation and entrepreneurship, one truth remains: Innovation is driven by the individual, and supported by organizations.

As Henry Chesbrough (http://bit.ly/YzBck8) discussed in Open Innovation (http://amzn.to/YzB44f), the university is playing an increasingly important role in innovation. Universities  are moving from conducting basic science and research to assuming responsibility for the commercialization and translation of that research. Corporations are increasingly looking to universities as potential research collaborators and sources of technology. Universities may help expand and enhance corporations’ portfolios in the short term, and lead to new products and increased returns in the long term. More and more, universities and burgeoning entrepreneurs must bear the responsibility (and cost) of bringing technologies out of the lab and toward the market place.

Over the last two decades, the University of Pennsylvania has introduced a robust offering of courses supporting many aspects of entrepreneurship throughout its diverse schools, degrees, and curricula. Penn, and especially Wharton Entrepreneurship, provide extensive resources well beyond the classroom to encourage and support innovation and entrepreneurship among students and alumni (and sometimes faculty and staff). Through a variety of clubs, competitions, extracurricular programs, mentoring and networking opportunities, Penn offers many of the resources an entrepreneur might need. However, the ambition and motivation necessary to build a startup and navigate it to success still lies with the individual. Students that succeed in starting ventures seem to have one thing in common: They begin with a concept about which they are passionate and to which they are committed, and they leverage all available resources to get it done.

It is much the same in high-tech ventures and corporate innovation. High-tech ventures are based on a series of innovation activities, typically driven by the founders and supported by the ecosystems of resources on which they draw. Many large corporations spur innovation with R&D, idea generation competitions, innovation initiatives, and activities designed to encourage employees to identify, propose, and capitalize on opportunities. Successful innovation initiatives within a corporation combine creative, ambitious, and motivated people with dedicated resources, and bring them together in a supportive culture that recognizes and rewards innovative behavior and accepts some failure in the process.

When consulting with corporations to implement innovation systems, I proactively identify and engage the people that are able to make innovation happen. I label them the Ministers of Magic, and they have several common traits. They are able to cross departmental and hierarchical boundaries, find and secure resources, engage others to pursue their vision, and ultimately capitalize on an opportunity. Similar to the most entrepreneurial students, they deliver results through their actions and drive to accomplish their objectives.

There is great news for today’s innovators and entrepreneurs inside industry or academia– these organizations are increasingly committing tremendous resources to support innovation. However, the challenge remains the same: The innovator/entrepreneur must provide the motivation and drive to pursue the opportunity.

 

Jeffrey BabinBio: Jeffrey Babin (@jbabin, @profbabin) is a practitioner, educator, and consultant in innovation from the dorm room to the board room. He serves as a senior lecturer and associate director in Engineering Entrepreneurship (@EngEntrep) at the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and is the senior project advisor and Australia, India & Israel country manager for the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum, both at the University of Pennsylvania. Jeffrey also is a managing director and founder of Antiphony Partners, LLC, a strategic consulting firm that specializes in helping companies create sustainable value through innovation.

One comment on “Innovation: Driven By The Individual, Supported By The Organization

  1. Jeffrey,
    Hi! Great article… I like this paragraph…
    “When consulting with corporations to implement innovation systems, I proactively identify and engage the people that are able to make innovation happen. I label them the Ministers of Magic, and they have several common traits. They are able to cross departmental and hierarchical boundaries, find and secure resources, engage others to pursue their vision, and ultimately capitalize on an opportunity. Similar to the most entrepreneurial students, they deliver results through their actions and drive to accomplish their objectives.”

    I try to live it everyday.. I wish they would wear special clothes or hat to make it easier to find them!:-) It’s great when you find them and it’s tough when the Minsters of Fences steps in so you have to have momentum to keep innovation going forward!

    All the best…Richard

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