Recently, as I sat down to write this letter, I decided first to check my e-mail to see what might have landed overnight. Among the scores of missives that had accumulated, one in particular caught my eye: "ITIF-Brookings Release New Report Calling for a National Innovation Foundation" was the subject line. What luck! Innovation was exactly the subject I planned to discuss. (See our special report on innovation.)
"There is disturbing evidence that America's innovation lead is shrinking," the press release began. "For example, the United States' share of worldwide total domestic R&D spending fell from 46 percent in 1986 to 37 percent in 2003. Moreover, expanded support for basic research and science education, while important, will not be enough to respond to this challenge. Without a more robust, targeted, and explicit federal innovation policy, U.S. competitiveness will continue to slip and economic growth will lag."
Apparently, part of the solution is to create the National Innovation Foundation, which would, the message continued, "work to catalyze industry-university research partnerships, expand regional innovation-promotion by state governments, and encourage technology adoption."
Now, I've got nothing against national foundations or industry-university partnerships. But it pains me that the definition of innovation so often starts and stops with technology. Of course innovation can spring from well-funded research labs, but we at Inc. know that innovation often begins with a clever entrepreneur who manages not only to conceive a great idea but also to finance it, employ people to improve it, build a company around it -- and, eventually, see it to glorious and profitable fruition. The inspiration may be technological in origin, but just as likely it will involve a revolutionary way of marketing or selling or financing or hiring or pricing -- in other words, innovation not from the outside but from deep within the core of business.
Every month, Inc. trains the spotlight on innovative companies that you probably don't know much about. Looking beyond the usual suspects (we all know about Apple, right?) is part and parcel of our mission to introduce readers to what's really new. That way, we both learn something.