Julie Meyer on how to commercialise great inventions

Eastman Kodak’s Steve Sasson, inventor of the digital camera some 30 years ago, reminded us that “the rest of the world is inventing along with you”. What would digital cameras be without printers?

But Sasson also said: “Inventors spend most of their time being wrong.” And that gives us a clue into how to be right. Inventors and entrepreneurs will fail if they only focus on where something works without defining its limits – the areas where the “new thing” won’t work.

Raymond Kurzweil is an inventor and futurist. He is involved in fields as diverse as optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments. He commented that the human brain thinks linearly, but technology expands exponentially. He gave an example of how a computer 30 years ago took up half a room, but now a teraflop of storage can be bought for $1,000. Over the past 30 years, IT has become 1,000 times more powerful and a billion times cheaper.

It’s a well-known fact that an economic downturn corresponds with an innovation upturn. Change means winners and losers. Will you embrace the change or resist it? Will you sit at the dinner or be the duck which is served? British people frequently bemoan that the Brits have invented so much but failed to commercialise many of their inventions. Start-ups should learn to rely on corporates for distribution. Venture capitalists don’t want to fund the scaling of a business; it should be done on the back of partnership deals with Facebook, Apple’s app store, ISPs, carriers, and portals like MSN.

You may not be an entrepreneur, but you can be a champion for innovation inside an established company. Take JP Rangaswami, MD of BT Design, for example. I first observed him in action as CIO at Dresdner Kleinwort, trialling startup applications. At BT, he swooped into Silicon Valley and carried off a startup gem called Ribbit, a leader in voice applications.

You can be the bridge between the entrepreneurs and the late adopters.

Julie Meyer is CEO of Ariadne Capital, founder of Entrepreneur Country and a BBC online dragon.

Related articles:Julie Meyer: "Content is the new software"Julie Meyer on the recession, entrepreneurship and going globalAriadne Capital’s Julie Meyer on the wisdom of Thatcher

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