Letter: Innovation is a tough sell

Regarding "Advice on renewing innovation": Innovation is being stifled on multiple levels.

Venture capitalists have flatly told me that they do not fund science. They want to know who your management team is and what products have they successfully brought to market already.

I have had conversations with the heads of technology associations who freely admit a big disconnect between business and academia, but when I try to schedule a meeting about overcoming it, I get no response. When I have tried to contact the POCs for a number of Defense Department solicitations to ask questions, they answer neither e-mails nor phone messages. I have also noticed that DOD solicitations frequently say that other government entities cannot respond. In some of those cases, those other entities have already solved the problem being solicited for, so the taxpayer pays twice.

No one is really interested in innovation; it is too messy and hard to schedule. One of my most memorable moments was when, upon completion of a prototype medical device, I was asked in all seriousness by the business manager, " Now that you have the prototype, what problems are you going to find and how long will it take to fix them?" My answer of "I don't know" was not well received. Got to put troubleshooting time on the schedule.

If you are not an employee of a company with a presence in the field already, getting innovative ideas accepted, funded or even looked at is virtually impossible.

There seems to be a great myth to the effect that everyone wants to start their own company. I do not. The things that make me a good innovator would make me a lousy businessman. I think that is true of a huge number of innovative people, and since the market only sees the business aspects, vast numbers of good ideas fall to the ground without any real chance of contributing to the betterment of mankind.

One last quote to close out. A venture capitalist said to me a couple of years ago, "If no one is already buying something like this, there is no market, so we are not interested."

A short enumeration says that by that logic, they would not have funded the airplane, the personal computer, the electric light, the automobile, etc.

Innovation is down because you cannot guarantee success, and that is what the funding sources want.

John Companion
Virginia Space Grant Consortium


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