Archive for consumer products
In my ongoing work on analyzing the intellectual property landscape in biofuels, one of the most impressive companies I’ve run across is Amyris, a renewable products company whose clever use of synthetic biology goes far beyond biofuels. Amyris was founded by Kinkead Reiling, Neil Renninger, and Jack D. Newman who met at Berkeley and founded Amyris in 2003, headquartered in Emeryville, California. With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they first developed their technology under a non-profit initiative to provide a reliable and affordable source of artemisinin, an anti-malarial therapeutic. It was viewed as a long-shot, but they found success that paved the way for the growth of the company into other areas. They are now developing new microbial strains that can produce other useful molecules from renewable feedstocks. This industrial synthetic biology platform is providing alternatives to a broad range of petroleum-sourced products. he extremely useful molecule farnesene is an important part of their business. It provides a compound that can be used to produce flavors, perfumes, detergents, cosmetics, biodiesel, and other products.
This week Amyris created a stir by announcing a record number of deals and partnerships for a single week (a record among bioenergy companies, according to Biofuels Digest). These partnerships include P&G, Total, Soliance, Cosan, M&G Finanziaria, and Shell:
Amyris has taken it up a notch with a series of stunners surrounding its synthetic farsenene, which it has named Biofene – the first product that Amyris is seeking to produce at commercial scale.
Beyond its success this week with Biofene announcements, which are the basis for the P&G, M&G and Soliance partnerships — there are the broader arrangements with Cosan to develop a platform in renewable chemicals, and the equity agreement with Total that will provide needed capital as well as a broader platform for Amyris’s expansion into hydrocarbon fuels.
The mysterious agreement with Shell, regarding diesel, is one to watch. The decidedly vague disclosure was buried in Amyris’ amended S-1A registration statement, but not otherwise mentioned in a flurry of press releases from the company as it promotes its expansion in this pre-IPO environment. Shell Western Trading & Supply is one of 17 Shell trading companies that buy and sell to customers within and outside of Shell.
This news shows an interesting example of companies forming partnerships with an innovative start-up with great technology and apparently highly valuable IP. According to my Patbase search, Amyris has 21 patent families, quite a large number for such a young company. They clearly have been active and aggressive in pursuing patent protection, and those patents are critical for the meaningful partnerships they are now forming. It’s a great unfolding story of open innovation and technology transfer.
The story extends beyond the US. They have operations in Brazil, for example, which is one of the world’s hotbeds for bioenergy, bioproducts, and collaborative innovation.
Further information comes from today’s article, “Amyris: farnesene and the pursuit of value, valuations, validation and vroom,” also from Biofuels Digest.
Our idea was simply to form a microscopic mold as a template, fill it with metal, and remove part of the template leaving individual metal hairs surrounded by an insulator. Then, we could use any number of methods to coat the hairs and form solar cells. At the end of the day, its not too far technically removed from fabricating a micro scale Popsicle using a semiconductor foundry.
When our technical work started in earnest, we thought we might have been a bit deluded to think we scooped the big boys of the world (GE, BP, Sharpe). Off to my basement I went. I worked through the physics. I looked through hundreds of journal articles. I read through over 3000 patent abstracts. All the while, simply using Google, the US PTO, and the WIPO search engines. While I prefer using search engines like Aureka, it really isn’t to bad doing a search manually either. As long as you are short on money and don’t mind working like a mad man, it’s not a problem. I was worried that I must have missed something so I double-checked my search against an IP search using artificial intelligence. No significant prior art came up.
It become evident that geometry of the nano scale hairs was perfect to create a super solar cell. The solar cells are probably coated with what are referred to as nano dots or at least coatings so thin that phenomena that cause electrical losses due to excessive thickness disappeared. The cells are also super light absorbent and conserve rare materials. This was not lost on the theoreticians. However, their further belief was that semiconductor equipment is cost prohibitive for the use in solar cells, which is correct for machines found in state-of-the-art foundries. What they missed was that older, more primitive equipment was sufficient to make the nano-wire solar cell cost effectively. General George Patton once said, “If we’re all thinking the same thing, someone isn’t thinking.” In retrospect, groupthink in the solar industry left us a brief crack of time, which we used to patent and develop the technology. In the years that followed, we learned a lot of work had started a short time after ours.
The intellectual property needed to be done flawlessly. In my mind, that meant that I should draft the applications myself. However, the group voted to go with a big name national legal firm. Since we were bootstrapping the enterprise, we were starting with a provisional patent application. To save on legal fees, I drafted the application. Next, I spent the two weeks bringing an entry-level patent attorney up to speed on our technology, and then she let us know that the application was excellent and she supported filing it. No added claims. No significant improvements to the specification. Only a big “atta boy” and an invoice for $15,000. I think that when you work with a large legal firm and you are a fledgling startup, it is very unlikely that you will get the “A” level support. In the end, I suppose I did what I set out to do; we were just poorer for the experience. My only other qualm with our process is that our team viewed IP development as an ancillary activity. Some people just don’t get the value of IP until it is too late. Eventually excellent counsel was located through a recommendation of a former colleague, and the final application was done well.
Now all we needed was money. We chose two avenues, grants for academic research and angel money. Neither path is easy, but we managed to get several grants. The grants were nice to keep members of the team solvent, but they can also be a trap where too much focus is on writing papers. We found this to be the case, and eventually refocused fund raising on angel investors. That is not easy either. To get angel money, you need to have a good idea, and you need to have someone they know on your team. People who are trusted by angel investors or venture capitalists are not necessarily people that can be trusted. I cannot over emphasize how difficult it is to find a good person that meets that criterion. Mark Twain once said “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” You cannot do too much background work. Fund raising last year was not fun. A Nobel Prize winner, a Stanford electrical engineer who graduated top his class in two and a half years, and few dozen other technical leaders, vetted us out. It was our experience that the complexity of the idea got lukewarm responses or ridicule from VC’s with little technical depth, but fantastic responses from investors with high levels of technical skill.
As grants and angel money trickled in, I frantically yet frugally raced to develop a prototype always working to stay one step ahead of the money. One problem was that there was no other technical support. Another problem was that manually performing operations that are normally automated around the clock is challenging. After many months of grueling work, it was gratifying to find that everything worked as I thought it would. Finally, individual investors gave us the money we needed to enter into long-term process development. The project has been moving forward according to plan. However, my personal and business priorities were not a match with the new management of the company, and the company no longer employs me. I am back in the consumer products business enjoying a brisk consulting business. This type of venture is not for anyone with a weak stomach for long hours, high risk, or high stress. However, if you are willing to pay the price and can work with trustworthy people, it can be the most satisfying and financially rewarding adventure in your career.
Appleton Papers invented carbonless copy paper about 50 years ago. Their chemists found a way to place a clear liquid inside tiny fragile spheres that could be coated onto one side of a paper. When the spheres were broken by the force of a pen or pencil pressing down on the paper, the liquid would be released and could then react with a chemical in an adjacent layer of paper to form a dye. The newly formed dye in a lower layer of paper creates a copy of what was written on a top layer. Over the years Appleton Papers developed many improvements in the microencapsulation process, but remained focused on creating paper products such as many variations of carbonless paper or thermal paper that develops images when exposed to heat. Their encapsulation systems were brilliant but huge potential was being missed. Only when a team of outside consultants came in to review the opportunities of Appleton’s technology did the company begin to realize just how many new product opportunities might be possible. Outside eyes were needed because those inside the company had grown up with blinders in place that governed the assumptions they brought to the innovation table. Opportunities were framed in terms of what improvements could be made to their paper business, not what new products in other industries could be enabled or enriched with microencapsulation technology. The outside eyes helped Appleton know where to swing, and goodies were soon falling from the innovation piñata after swinging in the direction of Procter and Gamble.
Procter, of course, is famous for its laundry products such as Tide® detergent and Downy® fabric softener. There was a need for controlled release of fragrance from fabric softener that Appleton Papers was able to meet for P&G. By encapsulating fragrance and delivering those microcapsules to clothing, the fragrance could be protected and released gradually as capsules are broken while the clothing is being worn. Sustained released of the aroma made clothes smell fresher longer. Now Appleton encapsulated huge tankloads of aroma for the Downy business, showing the power of open innovation as technologies are applied across disciplines and shared between corporations. Steve said that Appleton had that technology for 50 years, but only recently realized its innovation potential in areas outside of paper, thanks to a secret weapon for those swinging at the innovation piñata: outside eyes.
In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we begin with an examination of some of the reasons that people pursue innovation. Not all innovation is driven by a desire for wealth. In fact, a large number of innovators are more interested in seeing their work make a difference in the world than in becoming rich (many want both, but the desire to see real results from one’s work is often essential). Social entrepreneurship and humanitarian innovation provide evidence of this. In the book, we highlight Empower Playgrounds (EmpowerPlaygrounds.org), the non-profit innovation engine that is bringing educational success to thousands of African children by creating playground equipment that generates power for LED lamps that children can take home so they can study and do homework after the finish their chores at home. Something as simple as a portable electric lamp, charged by innovative playground power generators, makes the difference between educational failure and graduating with opportunities for college. Many thanks to Ben Markham, the CEO of Empower Playgrounds, for recognizing the need and driving so much collaborative innovation to bring hope to western Africa.
Another great story out of Africa is the Forbes article, “Can This Bicycle Save Lives In Africa?” by Stephanie Finch. After achieving international success with his bicycle innovations, Frederick K.W. Day noticed that many streets in Africa were lined with abandoned, broken down bikes that quickly fell apart on the rough streets of Africa. He also saw that the huge diversity of bikes being sent to Africa made it very difficult for mechanics to repair due to lack of proper parts and tools for the diverse designs. He is now working to bring rugged, low-cost, easy-to-repair bikes to Africa:
Through his World Bicycle Relief charity the ponytailed entrepreneur hopes to put millions of sub-Saharan Africans aboard special heavy-duty bikes designed to withstand the continent’s rugged roads while carrying 200 pounds of cargo–enough for a weaver to bring his rugs, or a farmer to tote his produce, to market. Moreover, he aims to promote a self-sustaining bicycle economy with regional operations assembling the bikes and area mechanics trained to repair them.
Frederick is making many changes in the bike as well as crafting a business model for distribution and maintenance that will meet the needs of many parts of Africa. It’s not about getting rich, but about truly making a difference in the world for thousands of people. That’s inspiring innovation!
What are your favorite examples of altruistic innovation or social entrepreneurship helping Africa?
Years ago in exploring emerging technology in consumer products, I was impressed with the development of the foaming pump from Airspray N.V. This pump has become widespread, allowing liquid soap and other solutions to emerge from a pump dispenser as a rich foam without the need for propellants. Cool product. I’ve also looked over some of the associated patent estate and have been impressed again. Robert Brands was the CEO of Airspray and took that pump to the world. Through his experiences at Airspray, then at Rexam after they acquired Airspray, and now as an innovation coach, Robert knows a lot about real-world innovation. He has shared this knowledge in a new book, Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival.
Robert’s Rules of Innovation offers a fresh perspective on innovation processes and approaches from an experienced leader who knows what it takes to bring products to the market. This book draws upon not only his experience, but the experience and wisdom of many others that he has turned to for various sections of the book.
Ten rules of innovation are presented in this highly readable and accessible book. These rules include the need to inspire, the need to have a new product development process such as the Stage-Gate® process, the importance of sound idea management processes, the need to observe and measure progress, etc. Each of these principles is reviewed in Chapter 2, and an innovation audit approach is presented in Chapter 3 to help leaders evaluate where their company is for each of the 10 rules. Several chapters follow which help guide leaders in implementing the rules such as:
- crafting a culture of innovation (a theme of Chapter 4),
- innovating with multinational teams (Chapter 5), with tips for working with people from nations such as Brazil and China;
- developing intellectual property in “Patently Obvious,” the title of Chapter 6, which offers basic information on patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
An innovation checklist is presented in Chapter 8 to summarize some of the teachings.
Appendices provide detailed flow charts on new product development processes that may be helpful to those implementing such systems.
The book products a broad and useful overview from an experienced entrepreneur and consultant in innovation and new product development. The focus may be heavy on the consumer products side of innovation. The beginning-to-end scope of the book also means that information tends to be at a broad, general level. Some of the bullet points may leave readers wondering exactly what is meant or how to follow the instructions.
While some of the information, naturally, is already out there in the literature, I liked the selection of 10 principles to focus on and especially appreciated the contributions in the chapters on the innovation audit and multinational teams. Robert’s experience with multinational teams can provide a helpful foundation for others in this increasingly global business environment.
The book may be most helpful to corporate leaders and entrepreneurs launching companies focused on innovative new products, but there are gems for innovators and champions of innovation at all levels.
Congratulations to Robert Brands for this addition to the literature on innovation!
The latest issue of Consumer Goods Technology has a story that indirectly reveals some important secrets of successful innovation. The article is the cover story by Alarice Padilla, “Game-Changing Innovation: The Maker of Louisville Slugger Revolutionizes the Sporting Good Market with Bionic Glove Technology,” which describes the rise of a remarkable new glove that gives athletes better control. The glove has a unique padding system that fills recesses in the fingers and palm to give better contact with what the hand is holding. This results in a better, less stressful grip.
What I’d like to emphasize is that this innovation was the result of open innovation that began with a random encounter. Bill Clark of Hillerich and Bradsby Company, the company behind the Louisville Slugger and Powerbuilt Golf, was visiting the Louisville Slugger Museum when he met James Kleinert, a famous orthopedic hand surgeon. They began talking, and this would later lead to collaboration and the successful introduction of the only sports glove on the market designed by an orthopedic surgeon.
The real secrets for success behind this story, in my opinion, involve efforts to build and maintain relationships. First, Bill Clark wasn’t sitting at his desk. He got out into an environment where he could meet outsiders that might share some interest in the kind of products his company made. Then he took the initiative to talk with others and learn from them. When he found someone interesting through a chance encounter, he obviously took the initiative to follow up and keep that relationship alive long enough to explore the possibility of learning from or working with the new contact. I wish more had been reported on these steps, but it’s clear that it began with a seemingly random encounter enhanced with follow-up and and a willingness to collaborate for innovation.
Maybe Hillerich and Bradsby Company just got very lucky, or maybe they actively encourage open innovation approaches that motivate innovation leaders to get out and meet people, follow up, and collaborate when it makes sense. I hope the latter is the case. Whether it is or not, all of us can learn from this success. Creating an open innovation culture in your company and in your life will greatly increase the chances of random meetings leading to non-random success in innovation. (These principles relate to my previous post on the social aspects of innovation in which I plug one of the few business books that have genuinely changed my life, Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. The principles he teaches are at the heart of a successful open innovation mentality and culture.)
At Innovationedge, we enjoy spotting incipient innovation success, and work to coach our clients on how to turn their products and services into more successful innovations. We have seen that many innovation failures begin with clever people looking for problems to solve with their cool technology. Some of the best innovation successes begin, on the other hand, by understanding what jobs users really need or want to do, and then providing solutions that make life better. The essence of disruptive innovation success often comes when these solutions are more convenient, less expensive, and more accessible than existing solutions in the marketplace, as Clayton Christensen has documented. Based on what I can see as a new user, I believe that the Pixetell screen recording and information sharing system is an example of an early stage disruptive innovation in progress.
For quite some time I’ve struggled to find a convenient way to make videos of PowerPoint presentations. I tried a popular commercial screen recording system and found it to be expensive, difficult to use, and so resource intensive that I gave up and removed it from my computer. I tried some other lower cost screen recording systems but found the limitations in features and the quality of the service to be inadequate. Then I ran into Pixetell, and have been surprised in several ways at what it does. I’ve also been surprised at the level of support provided by the start-up company. They’ve won me over and gained enough interest that I reached out to them and asked about their story. How did their founded, Sebastian Rapport, get started with this? Here’s what I found out, courtesy of Dan Cook, Manager of Content at Ontiier, the company providing Pixetell.
Pixetell traces its roots to 2007. It really grew out of necessity. There were a couple of catalysts. Sebastian’s wife, Gabrielle, was working with a team of web designers and struggling to communicate design changes to them in text and email. She would not get back what she was looking for. So Sebastian set to work on the problem. He showed her how to capture her screen, draw some circles and arrows on it, and share the result with the designers. That was fairly effective for her. Sebastian continued to enhance that initial product.
Additionally, at about the same time, he was working with a group of off-shore folks and they were supposed to be on Sebastian’s clock. The reality was, he was oftentimes up from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. to talk through designs, architectures and so on. He realized that what was needed was a more effective way to communicate visually rich information that was disconnected from time (asynchronous is the word we use). This solution, combined with the work he was doing on behalf of his wife’s business, came together as a single rich communications product. Once again, necessity proved to be the mother of invention.
As Sebastian pursued what would eventually become Pixetell, he began to gather more input from people who saw new and different applications for such a product. A small team of software engineers gathered in Portland to move the project forward. In March 2009, the concept received rave reviews at Demo ’09, a conference where entrepreneurs can demonstrate “how their product will change the world,” according to Demo’s web site. With that additional impetus, Sebastian and his team have raced ahead to put Pixetell into the highly competitive position it now enjoys in the market for visual communications software.
Sebastian’s closeness to the needs of real users helped him identify a huge unmet need and offer a convenient solution.
Part of what makes it so convenient is the speed at which you can set up a recording, make it, and share it. It can include what you do on your screen as well as what your webcam sees. A compact recording is quickly uploaded to a server and is then ready to be shared with others by simply sending them a hyperlink. Compare this to my experience in using movie-editing software to record a simple presentation. Saving a 20-minute presentation in a movie format can take over 20 minutes, and then you have a massive file that needs to be converted to YouTube or uploaded to a server. Pixetell takes away that pain. In moments, I can answer an email with a recording showing someone how to do something such as a patent search and send it right to them. Or I can record a PowerPoint presentation with very little time from the end of the presentation to the time that it is up for others to see. Part of the convenience and flexibility of Pixetell is that the recording can be shared via email or embedded directly on a webpage or blog, as I’ve done here. it can also be saved as a flash video file directly on your computer, so you are not dependent on Pixetell always being in business.
Piexetell files can also be edited. You can split the recording into multiple clips, delete unwanted ones and record new ones in between. That’s a lot of power. It’s a tool that stays active and ready to use whenever you want to make a recording – no lengthy waits for bulky software packages to load. Swift, easy, and convenient. I’m predicting this will be a winner that force some big companies to flee upstream by focusing on advanced features while Pixetell gets a foothold. They have some patent applications filed which may be important in the future. Time will tell if they can adequately protect their intellectual property, which often becomes one of the key factors for success later on.
What innovations do I see coming next for Pixetell? There are already some pretty advanced features, including the ability to attach files to Pixetells and have multiperson conversations. While there is a risk that a start-up will fall into the temptation of adding too many features at the expense of focusing on marketing and delivering the simple, convenient core that gives it disruptive potential, there are also opportunities for some simple audio enhancement such as filters to make recordings sound better or take out some noise, or adding the ability to capture system sounds rather than relying on microphones alone. But I think the most exciting future innovations with Pixetell might come from collaboration with other partners and industries. What could Pixetell do to help health care workers, customer service providers, retailers and Ebay merchants, or primary and secondary educators? What will Amazon reviews look like when reviews start adding Pixetells to their work? What synergies could be found with Skype, Ebay, Flickr, Hollrr, Google Earth, and the hottest social networking tools? How will Pixetell interact with smart phones? So many possibilities–some of which would be distractions at this point for Pixetell, but rich opportunities for the right minds with the right business models.
This will be an interesting experiment to watch.
(Note: I have no financial interest in Pixetell and offer these comments purely out of interest and enthusiasm for the product.)
Some tremendous products don’t reach their potential in the marketplace due to inattention to packaging. Smart entrepreneurs in consumer goods, medical products, and other areas understanding that packaging not only governs much of the response of shoppers to your product on the shelf, but also can affect its value and function after purchase. Child resistant packaging is a classic example of this. Medications with child-resistant packaging can frustrate and irritate many consumers, and even lead to non-use of the product and failure to repurchase. Many child-resistant caps are hard top open for adults with limited mobility, hand injuries, arthritis, etc. Some frustrate strong, healthy adults, and have even led to injuries as people strive to pry a lid open with a tool.
One clever and perhaps under appreciated innovation in this space is the “Safety SquEase®” bottle developed by Procter & Gamble for Aleve® (now owned by Bayer), the over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever that is the nonprescription strength of Anaprox® (naproxen). I held a bottle of Aleve® for the first time recently and was really impressed with how they combined ease of opening with child-resistance. Turns out there’s a real story of innovation behind this product, with at least three patents that I’m aware of:
- US Pat. No. 5,038,454, “Injection Blow Molding Process for Forming a Package Exhibiting Improved Child Resistance,” issued to Thornock et al., August 13, 1991.
- US Pat. No. 4,948,002, “Package Exhibiting Improved Child Resistance Without Significantly Impeding Access by Adults,” issued to Thorncock et al., Aug. 14, 1990.
- US Design Pat. No. D330,677, issued to Thornock and Goldberg, Nov. 3, 1992.
The system took years to develop and drew upon fundamental insights into the capabilities of children. Their inability to do two different things at once was the key insight that guided the clever, low-force development of Aleve®’s package. Rather than requiring high forces to be applied or complex operations that could frustrate many adults, the Aleve® package merely requires light force on two opposing tabs on the side of the bottle at the same time the cap is turned. Press gently with one hand, turn with the other: two different motions that stymie young children but are easy for adults. Looks like a minor packaking tweak, but the simplicity of the solution has extensive data and years of serious work behind it. Many elegant innovations are that way. Anyone can make something complex – it’s elegance that demands real brains and real sweat. Or grit, as some would say.
The Aleve® packaging system was the topic of a presentation to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on March 28, 1995 as part of their Safety Sells Conference, available online at http://www.cpsc.gov/businfo/6001.html. The presentation by Gordon F. Brunner, a Senior V.P. at Procter and Gamble, provides valuable insights on how packaging innovations can provide potent competitive advantage while solving critical real-world problems such as safety. Here is an excerpt from Grodon Brunner’s talk:
P&G developed and patented a new bottle closure, “Safety SquEase,” that meets government requirements for child-resistance. It also adds value and consumer satisfaction to a new P&G over-the-counter analgesic by making it easy to open for most adults, including senior citizens.
My case study concerns P&G’s patented new child-resistant closure, which we have named the “Safety SquEase.” One year ago this Thursday we were honored to receive the CPSC Chairman’s first-ever “Commendation for Significant Contributions to Consumer Product Safety” for our invention and marketing of this new closure.
The “Safety SquEase” closure has been used on bottles of Aleve, our new, long-lasting, over-the-counter analgesic drug, since its introduction last year. We have also begun using it on our Scope mouthwash product and will introduce it on our Vicks NyQuil and DayQuil cough relief products this coming fall.
To really convey how we developed the “Safety SquEase,” I need to give you the context. Two long-standing corporate policies had a major influence. The first was P&G’s policy regarding the human and environmental safety of its products and packages. The second was P&G’s stated corporate purpose to create and deliver products of superior quality and value that best satisfy consumer needs. . . .
The development of the “Safety SquEase” cap for P&G’s Aleve brand analgesic is an excellent illustration of our drive for product and package superiority. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, Aleve is the result of a joint venture between P&G and Syntax Labs. The aim was to introduce an over-the-counter version of Anaprox, a fast-acting sodium form of the medicine in Naprosyn. Naprosyn, sold by Syntax, had been the leader in the Rx non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drug market for a decade. The thinking was to do what had been done in the early ’80’s when Rx ibuprofen, led by Motrin, was converted into the Advil’s and Nuprin’s of today.
When used at over-the-counter (OTC) dosages, sodium Naproxen has advantages over acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin. . . . At the same time, we knew that our competitors in the highly contested OTC analgesics business would not take Aleve’s entry lightly. Consequently, we wanted to increase Aleve’s margin of superiority with consumers if at all possible.
Our packaging people thought they had an answer — develop a truly user-friendly child-resistant package. Child-resistant packages are required for products like Aleve to help prevent very young children from consuming toxic amounts out of curiosity. Personal experience, feedback from family and friends, and consumer research, however, told us that adults regarded existing child-resistant packages as hard to open. Read More→