TRANSFORMATION: April 2013 – Innovation

Beyond perpetual motion … corporations are not the only ones creating the next great idea.

Contrary to popular belief, some of the world’s most outstanding innovations were created by small businesses and single entrepreneurs with a vision for a “better mousetrap.” The MO SBTDC has experts to help those innovators with the unique challenges that accompany their efforts to take a great idea to the marketplace.

Many myths surround small business and innovation. A persistent one is that very large businesses, with their worldwide reach and deep pockets, monopolize product development and technology commercialization.

The fact is that small businesses have created and continue to create most new products and technologies, including such indispensable items of daily life as the personal computer, rocket engine, xerography and the ballpoint pen.

One of the most famous myths is that surrounding Apple Computer, Inc. The myth says Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple in Jobs’ parents’ garage, and the company took off due solely to their genius. Apple was started by Jobs, Wozniak and Ronald G. Wayne. Money was a huge problem. Wayne sold his share to keep the company afloat, receiving a grand total of $2,300. Today, that share would be worth about $60 billion. Wayne also told Wozniak that few engineers ever convert their dreams into commercial reality and that even genius-inventors need a good business mind.

woman pressing button on screen

Innovation takes many forms, not all high-tech.

Jobs and Wozniak looked for venture capitalists and were turned down again and again. Eventually Mike Markkula, a former Intel employee who had made millions and retired early, bought into their vision with a reported $250,000 insisting the duo follow a business and marketing plan. They balked but did it, and the rest is history.

Not every small business owner can invent an industry as Jobs and Wozniak did, but every small business engaged in product creation and technology development needs inventive sources of capital, a clear vision and sound business advice. The MO SBTDC’s experienced business counselors are here to provide just that.

The differences between founding a more traditional company and commercializing a product or technology are myriad, but can be broadly summarized as:

  1. Alternate funding. Many small businesses get started with a loan, but banks are notoriously conservative and may refuse to fund an unknown technology. That’s why angel investors and venture capital funds are so vital to small tech businesses.
  2. Intellectual property. Businesses wanting to take an innovation to market start with the product or technology and often have several ideas heading toward commercialization.
  3. Marketing. How do you market something completely new? Or, if the product is not new, how do you market a refinement.
  4. Expert advice. Non-technology-oriented companies can benefit from individuals outside their field — attorneys, CPAs, realtors, among others — but a technology company also needs experts in their field — in addition to sound business advice — to best assess how commercial its product will be.

The MO SBTDC has a wealth of experts in many fields with experience uncovering innovative capital sources. They can also help file patents, navigate the labyrinth of government regulations, formulate clear business plans and provide sound marketing advice.

How innovation finds its way to the markeplace isn’t science fiction.

Meet three very different Missouri businesses that are succeeding in the marketplace with MO SBTDC help.

Dig a bit deeper and there’s a common commitment to making products in America.

Download the April 2013 issue of TRANSFORMATION in PDF, formatted for printing.

TRANSFORMATION is published by the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers, with assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration, University of Missouri Extension, Missouri Southern State University and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA. Questions and comments may be directed to Mary Paulsell, Director of Communications, MO SBTDC, at 573-882-1353 or paulsellm@missouri.edu.