Organizations in South Carolina are working hard to encourage innovation. If you visit the South Carolinas Council on Competitiveness you can read about the “New Ideas for a New Carolina 2007” contest.
“Tell us your big idea. We want ideas for business that stoke your fire, blow your mind, show your get-up-and-take-charge of-my-dream spirit. Your idea could bring new jobs, new energy, new talents, new life, and new wealth to South Carolina. Help us declare independence from mediocrity. Help us encourage innovators and celebrate the courageous. Help us create a NEW Carolina. New Ideas for A New Carolina South Carolinas Business Idea Competition. So what are you waiting for?”
Does this really encourage innovation in South Carolina? It definitely adds to the popular interest level for innovation. As I read closer, I realized that the prize wasnt for the best new product. The contest is for the best new business idea.
Having a contest for the best business idea (instead of new product) is definitely a good approach. However, I am concerned that this really doesnt strengthen business in South Carolina. The contest helps out individuals who are selected as winners to get publicity for their business concept. It also elevates the concept that product / business development is good for South Carolina.
My suggestion is to provide training before the contest. Teach people how to develop business and product concepts. Then follow up with how to start the business and find funding. Classes in managing the development of a product would also be helpful. Teaching the basics of iterative product design would help a greater number of entrepreneurs and product developers than the contest itself. Assign a volunteer mentor to each entrant for two years. Maybe start with two thousand entries. Offer classes for two years. Then highlight the businesses that have made the most progress (you pick the metric). I will admit that it sounds dangerously close to a reality show. It would be wonderful to see contests like this result in thousands of new businesses launching new products. That would significantly impact the regional economy for decades.
Enabling a passion for introducing new products takes education, mentoring and support from a local design community. As I get to the end of this dialog, I find myself wondering how our chapter (Carolinas chapter) is doing at accomplishing this goal in North and South Carolina. I dont have to wonder long, because our chapter isnt inspiring thousands of new products or new businesses. Is it because North and South Carolina is a bad place for new businesses and products? Is it because we are an inactive chapter? The answer to both is “no”. We have an active chapter in a thriving business community. What can our chapter to do be a product development leader in the Carolinas? Is that too big of a mandate for a local chapter? I dont think so, now we just have to figure out how to do it and have the determination to make it happen.
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