February 26, 2024

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Creating Impactful Innovation with Howard Califano, Director, SMART Innovation Centre

Organisations of all sizes are vigorously pursuing innovation that they can adopt and deploy to remain ahead in an increasingly competitive and tech-driven landscape. This entails not only looking externally but must develop ways to cultivate a culture of innovation within.

Evolving and adapting are crucial as they help organisations to grow and establish themselves. Ultimately, organisations want to better serve clients by developing new and better goods and services, eventually becoming top contenders in the industry.

The possibilities for innovation are limitless and more will emerge. Innovation is needed in all fields, including product production, management, work methods, staff development, etc. It can help a company retain and motivate its workforce, increase revenues, expand its customer base, and rise to the top of its industry.

Innovation is going to be critical and what will set an organisation apart. Therefore, it is vital that organisations go the extra mile to stand out from their competitors. This could entail occupying a more niche market, elevating quality, bettering deliveries or offering an easy and efficient consumer experience.

Determining customer preferences, tracking trends and predicting demand are essential and must be done innovatively. Companies that can efficiently elicit, synthesise and collaborate on creative ideas that serve the market have the best chance of success.

However, this is easier to be said than done. Although there are many theories on adopting successful innovation in an organisation, implementing it successfully is a whole other thing.

Enabling adaptive innovation

Howard Califano, Director, SMART Innovation Centre, is passionate about innovation, especially in the deep tech sector, and has deep expertise with years of experience.

In an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, CEO and Editor-in-Chief OpenGov Asia, he revealed insights on how academia can successfully take an idea from inception to market as a genuine, sustainable, profitable business.

Howard focuses primarily on post-doctoral students working in the deep tech area covering technology around life sciences, new materials, nanotechnology, healthcare and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Technology generally originates from the academic or the startup world, and is, by default, a high-risk sector to put in capital. For the most part, the concepts are disruptive and unique, demanding significant capital for further research and development to translate the idea into a viable solution.

Living in innovation within the university brings Howard great excitement. Teaching young researchers in the boot camps, seeking and giving grants and launching companies have become the fuel for what he does over the years. Seeing that community gradually develop and the influx of more scientists and entrepreneurs ignites his passion and enthusiasm.

Howard works to ensure that academic centres have a greater impact on society. To do so, creating an innovation culture that encourages students to embrace impactful innovation is crucial.

To be viable and sustainable, a disruptive innovation needs to produce goods and services that meet customers’ needs and therefore have economic and societal impact. However, data shows that about 70% of companies launched out of academia fail because the customers want something other than the product.

“They have missed the product market fit. Scientists and researchers need to know how to develop technology that will meet the needs of the customer by listening to them. The needs of the customer and knowing what they want is key; not just making something they (the students) like but the customer may not want,” he emphasises.

He has shared his model in his newly launched book Adaptive Innovation: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Technology Innovation. The book provides a framework for translating ideas from the academic laboratory to commercial ventures. It is designed for academic researchers (advanced PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, university faculty and staff) who believe their research ideas could be the basis for a commercial venture.

The book encapsulates what has been garnered in ten years in the deep tech space, from training nearly 500 postdocs and launching 55 companies with an aggregate value of approximately US$ 1.3 billion. Adaptive innovation was developed through this process/journey.

“We saw certain patterns and we realised that certain approaches work better and help overcome some of the failure points in university startups in which they produce a product that the market doesn’t want,” Howard reveals.

There are 6 foundations steps to creating an adaptive innovation framework:

  1. Start with the technology survey.
  2. Do an opportunity matrix – what are all the things that technology could impact? Analyse that and figure out the lead product and the value proposition around it.
  3. Find a good product market fit.
  4. Test the product or service in the market, talk to customers, do a market analysis and fine-tune the product offerings.
  5. Generate a target product profile to meet the market demand.
  6. Build a roadmap and secure finances and resources.

Steps for product market fit

The importance of product market fit cannot be understated as it is the primary step to creating an impactful innovation and building business when discussing innovation culture. To understand the customer’s need, users must build a 360-degree view to comprehend various aspects. He suggests that a diverse and open team helps to bring different angles and perspectives to create a meaningful 360-degree view.

“One needs to understand the needs of the customer, the voice of the customer so that impact can be driven in that direction. To do that, you need a 360-degree view of this innovation culture. Looking at the markets, looking at competition, looking at evolving technologies, looking at economic pressures that are developing,” he elaborates further.

Howards reiterates that it is essential to have a change in thinking, especially in an academic situation. This paradigm shift is vital for researchers and scientists, so they do not solely focus on the lab but concentrate more on the needs of the customer and markets. This will determine how one takes the technology from the lab and introduces it to the market.

“We recognised that there was a kind of mindset shift that needed to occur. Getting the change in the mindset of the researchers and the technologists so that they can direct their technology towards a market made. And help them become scientists’ entrepreneurs at the end of that process.”

To promote the mind shift among academics, he started boot camps. He realised it was difficult for faculty to distinguish between a typical grant, a research grant and a commercialisation grant. The camps give researchers and scientists the ability to transition their ideas out of the lab and move them into the marketplace.

“Mindset change is vital so you’re adapting your technology to meet a customer’s needs. You’re not doing innovation purely for the sake of making something cool. You are making something cool that the market also wants – so you can have an impact in the market,” he explains.

Another piece of advice he gives is to find a “sweet spot” – where the marketplace and technology overlap. Usually considered independent and separate variables, the sweet spot is where a new technology product finds a sustainable market. The product can significantly impact and create a sustainable company when this intersection is found.

He encourages innovators to start with what they have in hand first. Through the learning and evaluation process, the products or services can be refined periodically to fit with market demand. But even as they refine the concept, they need to always have a consumer-centric perspective.

Create impact through LKYGBPC

As one of the juries for the Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC), he believes that actions speak louder than words. Well-meaning or well-sounding plans must be accompanied by well-thought-out action.

The LKYGBPC competition highlights Lee Kuan Yew as an innovative icon for Singapore who was determined to change Singapore from a third-world country to a first-world one.

For Howard, the LKYGBPC competition epitomises this goal, stimulating an innovation culture and motivating young people. This competition is essential to stimulate an ecosystem that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the end, he believes research and discovery will bring a meaningful impact and will be what drives society in the future.

PARTNER

Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

PARTNER

CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

Since 1972, CTC has established itself as one of the country’s top IT solutions providers. With 50 years of experience, headed by an experienced management team and staffed by over 200 qualified IT professionals, we support organizations with integrated IT solutions expertise in Autonomous IT, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Well-known for our strengths in system integration and consultation, CTC Global proves to be the preferred IT outsourcing destination for organizations all over Singapore today.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATION

SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

PARTNER

IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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