On Thursday, I participated on an innovation panel at The Entrepreneurship Institute President's Forum at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. The panel featured leaders from three outstanding Kansas City business innovation successes, each using a different strategy to break through typical business innovation barriers:
Gina Danner, CEO of Mail Print - Rather than defining the business as a "printer" and riding the secular decline of printed matter right into the ground, Gina has defined her business based on the assets, talents, and tools it has (or can put to use). As a result, Gina pursued technology and variable printing capabilities well in advance of competitors. Mail Print is thus positioned to not simply print things, but to drive revenue for its clients. The company has also looked to electronic delivery of messages because it's part of the right answer to an important client question: "What are you trying to accomplish?"
Brian Weaver, Founder and CEO of Anthem Media Group - A key aspect of the Anthem Media Group back story is Brian's former employer essentially telling him to stuff his new business ideas. After enough NO's, Brian (who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur) took his ideas and started his own business. The ultimate comeuppance was several years later when he bought his former employer. Brian talked about going against conventional wisdom to strategically start and acquire businesses in the midst of the 2008-2009 economic collapse. By refusing to listen to the NO's thrown in his way, Brian's built a successful multi-media publishing business.
Aaron Zack, CEO of Sunlighten - Several years ago, Aaron thought his company had a clear product advantage with its saunas. A trip to China and visits to several factories manufacturing inferior quality knock-offs of his product changed that perception. His response was to harness the internal expertise of his team, but not just the typical innovators. Aaron brought together a truly cross-functional group (even the accountants) to work on the product innovation challenge. With a diverse team and an intuitive understanding of what customers might want, Sunlighten is introducing a truly unique sauna product using the full infrared spectrum to provide different types of health benefits. After several years of development, the sauna's launch is imminent.
Great stories and three entrepreneurs with strong strategic handles on their respective businesses. - Mike Brown