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The Currency of Innovation

Posted by Chad O'Connor  March 5, 2012 04:00 PM

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Innovation—you hear about it all the time these days. It is the buzzword in the IT world. But is it really possible for so many companies to be innovative? Well, yes. A lot of people in the field think the pace of innovation is increasing. Blame it on the digital world we live in.

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"It costs so little to innovate now,” says David Verrill, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT's Sloan School of Management and Co-Chair of the Innovation Showcase, part of the annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. “It used to be that you needed to raise tens of millions of dollars and spend a couple of years building a company. Now you can outsource development, host it in the cloud, and be up and running in a few months for a few hundred thousand dollars.”

From the innovator’s side of the coin, it’s all about passion. “You have to believe that you will change the world, that you are going to help improve society in some way,” says Jim Curtin, a veteran entrepreneur who has started several IT companies. “Believing that you can make a difference is what drives innovation.”

Curtin knows what he is talking about. He is CEO of Virtual Bridges, a desktop virtualization company based in Austin, Texas and one of ten companies selected as a finalist in the 2011 Innovation Showcase. That was an opportunity to interact with hundreds of CIOs and other potential customers who were primed to be interested in what he and the other finalists had to say.

Getting in front of the customer is a big part of the job of any innovative IT company. You’ve got to talk to customers and find out what they need, what they are thinking, and exchange ideas. The innovation comes from actually listening to what customers need, finding a solution, then delivering on that promise.

So, you have a great idea for a new product or service that will change the IT world? Great. Get ready for some discomfort. “You have to be prepared to eat rocks and dirt along the way,” says Curtin, “This isn’t a comfortable life sometimes. There is always that phase before you can be that Malcolm Gladwell outlier—you have to put in your 10,000 hours, you have to sacrifice and pay your dues.”

And get ready to throw away everything you thought you knew about your product and why your customers want it. To be truly innovative, companies have to be ready to change the business model when the market moves.

“Great ideas are a dime a dozen,” says Verrill. “What is really important for a management team at a start up is to use creativity and experimentation to figure out what the market really needs. And there is only a small chance that is the original idea. Companies that have the nimbleness to change the product, service, or business or revenue model have a better chance to be successful.”

How can you make a start-up IT company innovative? Well, you probably have to start out that way. For most entrepreneurs innovation, and a predisposition to taking risks, is in their DNA. So is a relentless drive to pursuing a vision. It has to be that way in a start-up environment, because you always have to be thinking about the company, the customers, the next big idea. There isn’t time to learn to be creative or revolutionary.

“Innovation is our currency,” says Curtin. “We have to be nimbler, more responsive, and more passionate than bigger companies.”

In the end, innovation is the buzzword because everyone is trying to do it. It is pretty simple to define: creativity, nimbleness, the ability to uncover, then go after, the gaps in the market. But it is pretty hard to truly achieve.

If your B2B technology start-up fits that description, there is still time to apply to this year’s Innovation Showcase. Nominations are due by March 30.

Manya Chylinski is a marketing consultant and writer helping B2B companies create compelling content and share thought leadership and success stories. Founder of Alley424 Communications, Manya has experience in a variety of industries including technology, higher education, financial services, government, and consulting.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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