Innovation and invention can happen anywhere

Innovation and invention are happening all around us, sometimes in seemingly unlikely places. Marketing and sales have to keep pace to ensure success.

Innovation and invention can happen anywhere by Nancy Knowlton

When we first started to export our products from Canada to the United States, we encountered a lot of challenges. We were asked for detailed export documentation on virtually every shipment that we made. It’s normal to provide standard documentation, but that documentation didn’t suffice. We were asked for a detailed certificate of origin on literally every component of our product. That was a very time-consuming effort, but it was absolutely necessary to allow our product to move without challenge across the border. Finally, we received word that our documentation was accepted and that future shipments should move without challenge based on only standard documentation.

But there was more. In the process of engaging with U.S. Customs we learned where the issue arose over our goods – they believed that the goods must be from Japan and not Canada given the novelty and application. They asserted that the goods were being moved from Japan through Canada to sidestep the import duties on Japanese-manufactured goods. We tried to tell them otherwise, but that only prompted the request for the detail that we knew would prove the Canadian designation of our products.

Making assumptions

Once we were through the bureaucratic quagmire, we reflected on the inconvenience and work a stereotypical assumption about Japanese innovation and invention versus that of Canada had heaped on us. Perhaps that simplistic view of things was appropriate at one point in time, but it is certainly not true today. Innovation and invention is happening literally everywhere around the world. Small start-ups are flourishing in unlikely places, making everywhere a likely breeding ground for the next great tech start-up.

Stereotypes of where new products and innovative concepts come from continue to abound. It was a surprise to many to learn that Skype was created and conceived by a Dane and a Swede working with developers in Estonia. Most assumed that it was an American product because of its rapid rise and seeming ubiquity, not just in Europe but around the world. Skype now is part of Microsoft through an acquisition in the last couple of years, but much of the development continues in Estonia. Inside Microsoft, Skype will undoubtedly be integrated into and aligned with other Microsoft products through time. With that integration will come more functionality with better ease of use.

Government intervention and support

While it is true that innovation is happening everywhere today, it is also true that few of the companies get to any significant scale outside of those in the United States. Within the last year, I read an article that bemoaned the lack of GAFA in Europe, with GAFA standing for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. Europe has no large new-age technology companies, and that is true for many other parts of the world. Countries like England have programs to help midsized companies break through to become large companies – at least that is the objective. It remains to be seen if government intervention and support can change the course of company development and competitiveness.

Bringing a product to market

I think that these realizations and reactions highlight something that is an integral part of the innovation process – marketing and sales have to go hand in hand with innovation. All is for naught with an innovative product if there is no sales success, and many company founders fully understand the difficulty of bringing a product successfully to market. They know that the odds are stacked against them. Today many of the innovations coming out of these small start-ups are being snapped up by larger companies. With lofty valuations of their own stock, many of the acquiring companies aren’t hesitating to acquire start-ups for prices that simply boggle the mind. This is part of the innovation process and likely part of the plan for many of the start-ups.

If the experts are right, the pace of innovation is not about to abate any time soon. We shouldn’t be surprised where it comes from or who is behind it.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.