Archive for March, 2012

Silk’s natural quality stands test of time

March 26, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Open Innovation

As I reported in my weekly newspaper column, I recently went to China and got a first-hand look at a nation of innovation. Steeped in rich history, I learned many things about China’s softest commodity: silk! Silk is an innovation that has been around for thousands of years, but interestingly is pretty much in the same form that it was when it was first discovered. Today’s methods for harvesting of the threads would be quite familiar to anyone that was around when it was first discovered.

On my recent visit to China I had the opportunity to visit a silk factory with my team and learn a little bit about this interesting ancient discovery and industry.

Commercially it all starts of course with the silkworm. Engorging itself night and day on a diet of fresh picked leaves, it grows for about a month until it is time for it to spin its cocoon and rest. Then working tirelessly for days spinning thousands of feet of a continuous silk thread, the worm creates it protective envelope for its transformation into a moth.

At this point the natural process is interrupted and the puffy white cocoons are picked by hand. The silk harvesting effort is still today very much a manual process. One by one cocoons are inspected for defects and segregated by size, specifically whether they are “double cocoons,” where two caterpillars have joined their shelters, or whether they are solo.

Single cocoons are examined one by one by hand for defects, heated in warm water to loosen the fibers slightly, and the starting end of the thread is found. This is where some limited automation takes over. It is surprising that the whole process seems fairly trouble-free, without tangling or frequent fiber breakage.

In the silk industry, all of this is done in a simple, but controlled, environment. Thousands of caterpillars are fed in stacks of shallow tray baskets at controlled temperatures.

Textiles and garments made of silk were considered a luxury item for many centuries and were the basis of a lucrative trade across Europe and Asia. Because of its value as a principal element of the Oriental economy, the Chinese tried to maintain their monopoly as long as they could. The secret of high quality silk production was closely guarded for hundreds of years. However like any secret, if valuable enough, it eventually gets out.

Even with today’s advanced polymer technologies, silk is still a wondrous standout material. Commercial textile silk fibers are three to 10 times thinner and finer than a human hair, but are very strong, on the order of the strength of steel. Silk from some species of insects is as strong as Kevlar. It is attractive, shimmering in the light due to its rounded triangular fiber shape, and is comfortable to wear because of its absorbency and lightness.

Although because of the abundance of synthetic polymers, the uses of silk are on the decline. However it still has many commercial and industrial applications — from parachutes, to bedding to surgical sutures.

It has taken us thousands of years to produce materials that can compete with silk, but silk, along with other natural fibers, are still preferable for many applications and are still produced basically much as they were when they were first discovered.

China offers new approaches to innovation

March 23, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Global outsourcing

Shanghai China

I recently returned from an exciting few weeks in Shanghai, China, teaching, working with Innovationedge clients and studying the Chinese marketplace.

As I wrote about in my weekly newspaper column, my colleague Pat Clusman and I were honored to be able to deliver innovation programs to Chinese companies, multinational organizations and government agencies at the China Institute for Innovation.

The institute is a leading innovation education, training, research and networking organization in China. As leaders in innovation, we were invited to share some of our perspectives and approaches with Chinese corporate executives and representatives.

The goals of the attendees were multifaceted. They not only wanted to understand and master the principles and practices of innovation, but they also had an enthusiastic desire to help their organizations succeed in a global innovation-driven economy. Interactive exercises and case studies that were focused on how to “rewire” business, marketing and innovation strategies were used to demonstrate how to better apply the right combination of innovation levers for delivering business growth and the best customer experience.

Not only did our Chinese attendees get a new perspective on Western innovation, we came out of the classes with a new appreciation for the Chinese enthusiasm for productivity.

During the latter part of our visit, we also spent some time to better understand the current state of the Chinese marketplace. With significant cultural differences, multinational companies are often struggling to succeed in the retail market in China. These companies frequently try to simply directly transfer their Western models to the country. Best Buy is one of the most recent examples of a company that put substantial effort into China since 2005. However they continued to struggle with their service model and recently made the decision to pull out of the Chinese market.

Successful retailers like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Carrefour continually demonstrate that they are willing to adjust the value proposition to succeed in the China market. The successful companies have developed a deep understanding of the attitudes and beliefs of Chinese consumers and how their brand fits these needs.

Of course as one of the exceptions, it was interesting to see that Apple has been successful by keeping the same store formats as it does at its other worldwide locations.

As far as the city of Shanghai itself, it was impressive. I have been to China several times and I am always amazed by the amount of change each time. With a population of over 28 million, it is quite a bit larger population-wise than even New York City. I can’t understate how active the city was, and the energetic image it projected.

Night travels were illuminated with mile after mile of high-rise LED lighting. It wasn’t linearly concentrated like the Vegas strip, but sustained in every direction throughout the city. Flashing multicolored rainbow bridges, and LED waterfalls down the sides of high-rise buildings were quite a spectacle. There were even “high-rise” LED thermometers. Combine that with the beautiful calligraphy of their written language and it wasn’t hard to imagine being on another world.

A stroll through the market areas, where we visited manufacturers, distributers and the local merchants was also quite educational for us. The manufacturing nature of their economy was on full display there. Whatever you needed in the way of parts or machinery it looked like you could find. I’ve never seen such a concentrated and diverse selection of, well, pretty much everything.

The city, the people and the cultural experiences made for a very memorable and educational trip, not only we hope for our attendees but certainly also for ourselves.

We have been invited back several more times this year to deliver new programs on business strategy and consumer-driven innovation. My team and I are certainly looking forward to returning.

We love the wonderful Chinese food too, and there was certainly no shortage of that.

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Scented micro-capsules make jeans a sweet treat

March 22, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Disruptive Innovation
Closeup of a copper rivet on blue jeans.

From the same company that gave the world glow in the dark jeans comes a new denim line that makes scents. Naked and Famous Denim of Montreal has just introduced scratch-and-sniff, raspberry-scented jeans. The company says it uses only the most unique and rare denim fabrics from Japan.

How can clothing be scratch-and-sniff? A coating of scented micro capsules have been baked into the jeans, which release the fragrance of raspberry when the wearer rubs the fabric. Apparently, the scent is long-lasting and will not wash off or “fade” in the rinse cycle or dryer. The going price is about $140 — $240 per pair, and so far raspberry is the only scent available.

 

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Arlington National Cemetery Going High Tech

March 11, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation

Do you know anyone with friends or relatives buried at Arlington? Now the cemetery will soon become the first to use geospatial mapping technology to replace old paper records. Visitors can log in and visit their loved ones and find complete information. Check out the story from NBC News:

Nurses Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary

It is solemn and reverent ground. And now a visit to Arlington National Cemetery is just a couple clicks away.

The cemetery is using new geospatial mapping technology to improve operations and provide a better experience for visitors.

Executive Director Kathryn Condon told a Congressional panel that people will soon be able to go online and explore individual gravesites. Visitors will be able to zoom in on that specific website and learn about who is buried there.

The technology is also part of an effort to replace old paper-based records. Poor record keeping led to a huge scandal for the cemetery when hundreds of mismarked graves and misplaced remains were uncovered.

Arlington, which oversees nearly 30 burials a day, is the first national cemetery to implement the mapping technology.

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Innovationedge and Wal-Mart help inventors Get On The Shelf

March 7, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool videos

This is a selfmade image from the english wiki...

Innovationedge is proud to help inventors find success on the shelf with their innovative ideas, and this month you can help three of them become rock stars of the Wal-Mart shelf!

Back in January, the retail giant kicked off an American Idol-like contest called  Get On The Shelf for best new products, and inventors in the 50 U.S. states jumped at the chance to pitch their products via YouTube. Nearly 4,000 contestants submitted videos and those who have made the final cut include three inventors that Innovationedge is mentoring for success: Mick Gordon, Dr. Shannon Klingman (who submitted two entries), and Karen Jarostchuk. Their videos are below.

This week on March 7, we the people get to vote on which video and which products are the brightest of the ideas. The winners will get help from Wal-Mart on marketing, production and even logistics.

The first round of voting ends on April 3rd, and 10 winners will emerge. Then you’ll get to vote again from April 11th to April 24th to narrow the field to the three best. Those top three products will be produced, shipped, and stocked at Wal-Mart stores around the country. Let’s vote to help these three get their products on the shelf:

Mick Gordon’s invention, TidySqueeze®, is a long-overdue solution to problems relating to squeeze-to-use bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and more:

TidySqueeze solves all of these problems:

  • clutter round the rim of the bath or the bottom of the shower
  • bottles toppling over either during or after use
  • having to pick up bottles and hold them during use
  • not getting all the product out of these bottles

Our next inventor, Dr. Shannon Klingman, has two inventions. Here’s her Sheer Epiphany Deodorant and Antiperspirant:


Here is Dr. Klingman’s Sheer Epiphany Feminine Cream: 

 

Finally, this creative video from Karen Jarostchuk, the inventor of Popkins®, for the ice-pop  without the ick!

Popkins is a multi-layer absorbent napkin used when eating ice-pops. They come printed and cut into characters, which makes them a fun solution to this sticky situation.

Technology helps some regain independence

March 6, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation Edge, LLC

One dream application of technology has always been to provide a way for those with debilitating spinal injuries or disease to be able to get around easier. Some with spinal injuries will recover and many others will depend upon wheelchairs for their independence.

It isn’t easy being confined to a wheelchair. There are obstacles and difficulties almost everywhere that the walking person wouldn’t notice. Stairs, uncut curbs, cabinets, bathrooms, narrow entrances, hard-to-open doors, hills and public transportation, to name a few, present problems every day to the wheelchair-bound individual.

Many people that have to use a wheelchair don’t just want to get around; they also want to be active. One local inventor we are working with has what is known as a T-6 spinal cord injury causing paraplegia and is looking to develop a better wheelchair. In spite of his physical disability he wants to better enjoy the outdoors and the four seasons of Wisconsin with his young children.

Although there are some partial solutions out there like retrofitting an “everyday” wheelchair with larger wheels to get around outdoors, those still have challenges. The user has to be continually vigilant of the ground surface directly in front of them, or else they may encounter a bump or tree root that could have them tumbling forward out of their chair.

The inventor we are working with has a patent-pending design that is versatile, lightweight, agile and maneuverable over many types of irregular terrain like trails, parks or city sidewalks. With an open access feature that gives the user an unobstructed entrance, it is easier to transfer into and out of, and can be collapsed for easy transport.

Looking past the wheelchair however, there is hope for also using technology to provide a way for those with disabilities to walk again. A lot of practical progress is being made in this area.

One company, Ekso Bionics of Berkeley, Calif., is developing functioning, efficient walking assistance machines. Their business started in 2005 by developing motorized and computer controlled exoskeletons that are made for assisting healthy individuals in carrying loads of up to a couple hundred pounds.

The systems’ design, the motors, and the operational balance have now improved to the point where it is feasible to use some of the motor’s power not just for the movement of the exoskeleton and a load, but also for balance and movement of a person’s legs. After licensing some of the technology to the defense industry, paraplegic walking assistance has now become one of the company’s main focuses.

Known as Ekso, the walking machine is currently being tested for approval by federal regulators. Several rehabilitation centers are already onboard with getting the first production units that are due out sometime this year. This rehab Ekso suit will allow patients to learn how to walk using it under a doctor’s supervision.

To walk a patient is strapped into the robotic exoskeleton and using walking sticks works to shift his body weight from one side to another while the Ekso does the work of moving the patient’s legs. Patients say that it takes a little getting used to, but once they have experienced it they are very excited about the possibilities.

At a cost of more than $100,000 per suit the technology isn’t cheap. However as with any technology the price is expected to drop as production ramps up. The company even plans on releasing a personal model in the next couple of years.

After news of a paralyzing spinal injury, the physician is almost immediately asked by the patient, “Will I walk again?” With the help of technology and innovation, the future question might become “Will I ever be able to walk on my own again?” And that will be progress.

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InnovationEdge strategy update helps grease WD-40’s wheels

March 2, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool Inventions and gadgets
WD-40 vision for success

WD-40 vision for success (Photo credit: illuminea)

In my recent newspaper column, I shared a great story about how we recently had the privilege of helping WD-40 update its 60-year-old brand to make it more relevant with its end users by creating a pipeline of new offerings.

Specifically, they reached out for help in creating a new strategy that could evolve them successfully into new channels and.

With more than 2000 uses for the unique product that comes in the familiar blue and yellow can, few brands can match the popularity and customer loyalty of WD-40.

Silence a squeaky door hinge? Yes. Clean crayon from walls? Check. Remove scuff marks from floors? Absolutely. Dissolve rust from metal surfaces?

Well unfortunately, not so much.

Focus group and crowd sourcing feedback showed that a good solution to the problem of heavy rust was nowhere to be found, but was desperately desired.

The challenge and opportunity was not only to identify, but also to actually find new solutions that fit the brand and the company‘s capabilities. This is never an easy task.

To tackle this, a strategy process was leveraged that balanced an evaluation of the company with an assessment where consumers, customers, and partners were engaged in uncovering needs and developing solutions.

Most all rust solvents are acid-based, and require a great deal of “elbow grease” to remove the rust. Also the existing products are generally harmful to skin and corrosive to plastics or polymers that might come in contact with the solvents during the removal process.

A safe and effective rust mitigation solution would be a great fit with the already successful perception of the WD-40 brand. The tricky part is making it happen.

Many times in open innovation we seek the company that has the skills, solutions and team offerings that we do not have within our own four walls. The hurdle here was to identify who could offer something differentiated – a high-performing product that was not acid-based.

In this case, the right partners were discovered through open innovation efforts with other like-minded companies and through an individual inventor we discovered through networks at my organization. These partners had not only developed an acid-free rust solvent, but also one that is fast acting and environmentally safe.

Working with an individual inventor posed some different challenges and required adjustments in policies and practices to meet the needs of both parties, but in this case the partnership produced valuable insights and eventually led to a branded new product line that is now in the process of being launched.

These new products include a liquid Rust Remover Soak and a Rust Inhibitor that deliver on WD-40 promise of performance.

This new line holds promise in continuing to build the WD-40 brand value among industrial users and “doer enthusiasts” around the world. Thanks to open innovation efforts and a lot of hard work we can add a few more solutions to that can of WD-40 brand product.

6 Startups Set to Rock Retail

March 1, 2012 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Sure, we all know about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter the newest craze, Pinterest, but just wait–more social sharing sites are on the horizon, and soon they will change the way you communicate, shop and work. It seems we can scarcely keep up with all of the new apps and technologies that seem to come at us at a rapid pace. That’s why I am so fortunate to have friends who track these social trends. My friend is an ERP analyst and writes for SoftwareAdvice.com, and today I am sharing his expertise on six new startups sure to change the shopping scene:

 

It’s amazing how technology has impacted the act of shopping. Today, I can buy a deep-discounted deal through Groupon, “check-in” to the store via Foursquare, like the brand on Facebook, and shop online at my convenience. Facebook, the oldest of these companies, just turned eight years-old this month.

New start-ups are launching every day that change how consumers buy and how merchants sell. While most of us know Facebook, Foursquare and Groupon, I’ve put together a list of the six new companies that I’m most excited about. I’d also like your feedback. Which company do you feel has the greatest chance to impact retail? Please respond to THE POLL.

GoSpotCheck

GoSpotCheck

What they do: GoSpotCheck provides mystery shopping data via crowdsourcing.

How it works: Shoppers download the app to their iPhones and find nearby tasks, such as answering questions or taking pictures at local stores. GoSpotCheck pays users cash to complete these tasks, and the market research data is compiled for brands to analyze.

What makes it exciting: Market research is expensive and takes time to collect via mystery shoppers. Considering Apple sold 37 million iPhones in the last quarter alone, a service like GoSpotCheck has the potential to collect data at a lower cost, and quickly.

Shopperception

Shopperception

What they do: Shopperception uses the Xbox Kinect motion-capture device to analyze consumer shopping behavior.

How it works: Retailers position the Kinect device to analyze how customers interact with products on shelves. The system can even analyze the conversion rate on the specific products customers approach.

What makes it exciting: Just check out the demo to understand how cool this in-aisle research technology is. Shopperception provides a trove of data that both national retailers and small businesses can use to improve the layout and item placement in stores.

Pushpins

Pushpins

What they do: Pushpins combines a smartphone grocery list with instant coupons.

How it works: Users create shopping lists, then scan barcodes in the grocery store to receive coupons. These coupons are preloaded onto customers’ store loyalty cards and redeemed at checkout. The app can also suggest items based on the current shopping list.

What makes it exciting: Grocery stores are an area where smartphones could easily disrupt the status quo. While we wait for something like near-field communication (NFC) to create a seamless smartphone shopping experience, Pushpins is an option readily available today that even integrates directly with loyalty cards of popular brands, such as ShopRite and Giant Eagle.

RNKD

RNKD

What they do: RNKD offers rewards to users that upload purchased items to its social community.

How it works: From Nick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos.com, RNKD uses rewards to incentivize participation in its social platform. Users earn badges and gift cards for accomplishments, such as uploading the most items from a single brand.

What makes it exciting: Many loyalty programs end at the point of sale–if you don’t use your plastic card at checkout, you’re out of luck. The combination of retroactive rewards with gamification presents the opportunity to develop a large, diverse community of users–one that brands and retailers can leverage to better communicate with shoppers.

Fit of Passion

Fit of Passion

What they do: Fit of Passion provides shoppers assistance with online clothing shopping.

How it works: Online shoppers can use Fit of Passion to compare the fit of their favorite pair of jeans to another pair. Retailers can either list their products on the Fit of Passion website, or they can integrate the comparison engine into their own site.

What makes it exciting: Personally, the only brand of jeans I buy online are Levi’s 527 size 31/32–a pair I know fits me reliably. Being able to compare other jeans to this specific cut and size would increase my confidence in online shopping. This is a great example of a company addressing the needs of both merchants and consumers.

Signature

Signature

What they do: Signature is a “personal shopping assistant” application for the iPhone.

How it works: Retailers can customize the app to act as a mobile sales associate. Functionality includes notifying shoppers of sales in the store and setting up appointments with associates. Customers can also scan items to learn more about them.

What makes it exciting: This type of solution is a better alternative to users having an app for each store they frequent. In addition, retailers can customize the app to integrate the functionality into their current sales strategy.

Which of these excites you the most? Is there another up-and-comer you think others should know about? Be sure to leave a note in the comments with your favorite companies, and participate in the poll at the top!

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