Tag Archives: innovation

Three Housing Solutions For Startups

“When you’re an entrepreneur, the last thing you want to do is worry about where you’re going to live.” – Connor Bowlan, Cintric

startup housingAs more cities look to attract young entrepreneurs and homegrown startups, housing is not usually the first topic of conversation, but is an important factor in attracting the next generation of talent.

Here are three examples of unique programs helping provide housing for young entrepreneurs:

Startup Residence Hall

The Brandery in Cincinnati is one of the country’s top startup accelerator programs. They attract a new crop of young entrepreneurs each year, most from outside of the area. Many of these companies are actively building the startup that just earned them a place in The Brandery’s program. Housing in a new city is the last thing they have time to worry about.

To solve this problem, The Brandery teamed up with Urban Sites to a create a first-in-the-nation housing model for startups that participate in their program. The accelerator signed a lease for two buildings to house the 10 to 12 startups that it accepts annually. And for the startups? They get affordable housing, close to the office, with landlord who’s willing to negotiate a short-term lease.

Startup Crib

Billed as as Airbnb for startups, Cribb is also helping solve the temporary housing problem for teams that just need a space for 3-6 months. Cribb is a platform which enables investors and celebrities to offer promising startups the use of their vacant homes for free, in return for equity.

Startups apply on the site and Cribb reviews each company. Those that pass the screening process are introduced to homeowners who match their needs and interests. The homeowner can then decide to accommodate the startup in return for five percent of their business. Homeowners get to invest and startups get to innovate… in style!

Housing Revitalization

Frank Wells has a plan to house startups that helps revitalize the cities that attract them. Clusters of abandoned, boarded up homes are driving down property value across the country. Turning these parts of a city around requires more than a paint job; it takes profound revitalization.

Wells is the President and CEO of Venture House. The St. Petersburg, Florida organization plans to buy multiple clusters of 5-10 homes across the area, fix them up, and then offer them to entrepreneurs that commit to live there and be involved in their new community.

“You can’t make a dent in the problem thinking about it as one house at a time,” he told Fast Company of the $5 million plan. “We have to think about it as 100 houses and a whole portfolio. That’s the kind of scale to make a dent.”



image by Venture House


Pigeonly’s Frederick Hutson: Lessons From An Unexpected Innovator

Frederick-HutsonI had the opportunity to meet Frederick Hutson at the Collision Conference in Las Vegas. During an event full of world-class startups, speakers and investors, one of the most innovative people in the room was from one of the most unlikely places of all.

Hutson is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Pigeonly, a leading startup in the field of VOIP (Voice Over IP) communications. The fact that Pigeonly has raised $3 million in funding and recently joined the prestigious Y Combinator program is not that unusual. The fact that Hutson served a four-year federal prison sentence for drug trafficking is.

Pigeonly’s products serve prison inmates, their family and loved ones. Telepigeon significantly lowers the cost of prison phone calls and Fotopigeon makes it easy to send photo lab quality printed photos to inmates, right from your phone.

It was unexpected to meet Hutson and hear about his success, but it should not be a surprise. The people in prison are “highly entrepreneurial minded,” he said. “They understand the basics of business. How to buy a product and how to sell a product.” In fact, Hutson notes that prisons are a natural pool of entrepreneurs. Much like in his case involving the sale of drugs, the business model was just wrong. “You got the product wrong, the goal was wrong, but if you can apply that same drive and bottom line principles to something positive then now you have a viable business.”

Hutson’s story of success also offered several innovation lessons that any business can apply:


Hutson had plenty of time in prison, but he still had to be disciplined to think about new developments. “My creative outlet is thinking of ideas,” said Hutson. To hone his skills and pass the time, he would find problems and then think of ways to solve them. He encouraged others to focus and find time to simply think. Hutson left prison with a “pile of business plans” based on his time spent problem solving.

Share Your Ideas

“Prison is a reflection of the outside, but in a smaller scale,” said Hutson. Inmates tend to gravitate to like-minded individuals and Hutson benefitted from a group that was hungry to learn. He had the ability to bounce ideas off “all sorts of people.” There were white-collared guys that were experts at trading, guys that knew insurance and many different experiences running a business. Hutson was able to create a “powerful environment” that allowed him to hone his ideas. What people are you sharing your ideas with? Do you meet regularly with like-minded individuals? Does that group include a variety of disciplines and industry backgrounds? Every would-be innovator should build this type of opportunity for themselves.

Pay Attention to Problems

Inmates want to connect with loved ones, but there are only a couple of companies that handle the vast majority of communications in and out of prisons because messages need to be carefully screened. This means that prisoners — who are already vulnerable and often lower-income — get gouged. Three hundred minutes can cost as much as $70. Hutson understood this pain point, because he experienced it. Pay attention to the problems in your day to day life. Pigeon.ly solved a problem “that nobody knew existed.” What other underserved areas are ripe for new solutions?

Your Background is Your Qualification

“The problems we’re solving, folks in Silicon Valley can’t solve.” Hutson’s background uniquely qualified him to build a business that nobody else understood. What are you uniquely qualified to deliver to the world? We all have different backgrounds, different experiences and different skills. Much like Frederick Hutson, everyone is capable of being a unique expert for solving a problem in the world.

Problems, Not Trends

“Don’t follow the trends, follow the problems,” said Hutson. Pigeonly focused on a real problem that Hutson understood and was able to solve. There is “value in going where nobody else is going” and “working on something nobody else is paying attention to.”

Focus on the Consumer

Hutson strives to keep Pigeonly’s focus on his customers. “We have thousands of people that need our product and rely on us every day. We want to focus on our customer needs… the families, the loved ones.” There is value in understanding your customer better than anyone else can.

Good Business

Pigeonly is admittedly a business focused on a social problem as much as it is on profit, but Hutson never questioned setting the company up as a for-profit organization. “Profit and doing good are not mutually exclusive. You have a lot more leverage to build what the user needs in a for-profit model.”

Customers Matter

Because of Pigeonly’s success, Hutson is often asked how he convinced investors to back his ideas. “The easiest way to convince someone that what you’re working on matters is to have paying customers.” This is a valuable lesson for both startups and established businesses. Provide true solutions for unmet needs in the marketplace, and support will come.

Frederick Hutson is not the usual innovator. He didn’t follow current trends, but instead chose to solve a problem he experienced firsthand and knew was underserved. He didn’t focus on raising money, but instead focused on building the best products for his customers. He didn’t share the same background as other tech entrepreneurs, but this is what enabled him to solve different problems that nobody else was solving.

Innovation Lessons From The IBJ’s Forty Under 40


The current issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal recognizes their 2015 Forty Under 40 recipients. This group of leaders represents all industries from technology, academia, health care, construction and many more. Interviews with the group also reveal many lessons on what it takes to be more innovative in your own work and organizations.

Innovation Lessons from the IBJ’s Forty Under 40:

Get Out in The Field

Milhaus Development’s Micah Hill shares the importance of working out in the field to gain a better understanding of the industry he is now a leader in. During his college years, Hill worked in construction. “I was fascinated with the creation and formation of things… It was great experience in understanding…”

Collect More Dots

Innovation is about collecting and connecting dots. And if you want to connect more dots, you’ve got to put more dots on the canvas. Speak Easy Executive Director, Denver Hutt, emphasizes that one of her missions is “to meet cool people doing cool things.” This put her in position to meet many area founders and led to her job at The Speak Easy.

Continued Learning

Mainstreet’s Adlai Chester, discusses the importance to always be learning about your industry. “It’s too easy to think you have it figured out,” he said, “but that’s the time you set yourselgf up for failure… We have to make sure we are in the front edges of changees in the industry.”

Be Curious

The Colts’ Carlie-Irsay Gordon admits that she is “interested in everything”. This appetite for new knowledge led to studies in both religion and phsychology. It also helps drive her involvement with many different Indianapolis organizations including Park Tudor School, Riley Children’s Foundation and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

Experian principal, Vijay Mehta, also emphasized the role curiosity plays in his success. “The best way to grow is try new things and never settle for the status quo,” he said. “I’m always looking for new opportunities, new ideas, new technology…”

Don’t Let Off The Gas

Many organizations find it tempting to take it easy after launching a successful innovation. The Excel Center’s Joe White issues a lesson in taking your foot off the gas. Twice during his football career, Joe found himself not taking his training seriously. “The biggest lesson I learned through athletics is to always prepare for transition,” White said. “You can be good where you are, but you have to prepare for what’s coming next.” That means you should always be innovating. You should be the organization that replaces your own product in the market with the next big thing.

Step Off The Trail and Explore

Governor Pence’s Health Care Policy Director, Brian Neale, tries to look at the map in business or travel for opportunities to find new routes. “What we’re trying to do with health care is to extend the trail of reform into new territory. The scenery changes when you step off the trail, and that can be some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.” Go explore.

To help spark ideas for Milhaus’ construction projects, Micah Hill prefers to travel, especially to visit other cities “to see what’s going on there with development and architecture.” Find ways to explore your industry in new places and new settings.

Be Social

A dominant feature of The Speak Easy is its bar. Denver Hutt emphasizes the key role it plays in developing collaborative relationships and new ideas. “Members grab beers, hang out and are more social at the end of the workday. They put their guard down. They discuss business problems. That’s great.”

Improv Night

Novelist Ben H. Winters shared about the important role performing improvisation has played in his writing success. “That’s how conflicts are created. You also learn to collaborate.” And don’t think improv is just for creative artists. Local improv group, ComedySportz Indianapolis, offers team building and corporate training. It turns out that that improv fundamentals work very well in business – the importance of co-creation, building on others’s ideas and working without a script.

Be Risky

“People believe they are forced to take the first thing for stability,” says Central Indiana Corporate Partnership’s Betsy McCaw. “But to take a risk – to trust yourself and the skills you’ve built – that can go a long way in one’s career and one’s life.”

Embrace Creativity

The final lesson comes from Hillenbrand Director of Human Resources, Jason Riley. When asked what will make it easier to recruit locally, he said, “Indianapolis is growing and evolving, which is exciting. But it has a reputation for being conservative. The more we embrace creativity and take calculated risks, the more we turbocharge the city.”

Start applying these lessons and you’ll not only turbocharge your city, you’ll also turbocharge innovation in your organization.

An Open Letter to IMS CEO Mark Miles

Indianapolis Motor Speedway pagoda

“He (IMS CEO Mark Miles) sent an email to every company employee asking for recommendations”

Curt Cavin for the Indianapolis Star


Mr. Miles,

Admittedly, I am not an employee of Hulman & Co.  I am simply a lifelong fan of the Indianapolis 500 and just happen to be sitting on an “idea list” for the Speedway that has been building in my Evernote account over the past 2 years.  I attended my 31st straight race this year and am still on pace to fulfill one lifetime goal of being interviewed by the local news for dragging my old self up the stands for 75+ straight Indy 500’s.  My 11-year old son also attended his first race this year.  The tradition continues!

Nothing fancy here; simply a list entitled “Indy 500 Ideas”.  Some totally random, some off the wall, but all well intentioned.  Enjoy!

  • Georgia Street.  Take advantage of this new infrastructure built for the Super Bowl.  The IMS should host an Indy 500 village downtown with concerts, etc.  Fans can enjoy daytime activities at the Speedway and head downtown to continue the party at night.
  • Zip Lines.  Ok, so you made this happen in 2013…kind of.  Zip line riders, especially at the Speedway, want a thrill.  That little structure in Turn 4 this year isn’t going to cut it.  Let someone come in and construct a zip line that carries fans over the yard of bricks behind the Pagoda.  Or let fans zip line over the concert crowd on Carb Day.
  • The IMS needs a permanent playground.  My wife and I enjoy bringing the little ones on practice days in May, but track activity and current “family” activities organized at the track don’t keep their attention all day.  There is plenty of room to play with inside the track.  Why not build a playground?  Better yet, make it a sprayground that would also get used by adults on the hot days.  It doesn’t matter if some families might come and ignore track activity for the day.  Simply indoctrinating their kids to the IMS pilgrimage each May is a step in the right direction.  Once kids are old enough to appreciate the cars, they’ll already be accustomed to spending their May weekends at the track.
  • Sticking to the family appeal, why not give the IMS Museum a makeover?  Admittedly I haven’t visited in several years, but there really isn’t much kid appeal in the current museum.  The IMS maintains a presence at the Children’s Museum.  Why not let them collaborate on new kid-friendly, interactive exhibits at the IMS.
  • Pictures with the Borg Warner trophy.  Jim Irsay did this one right with the Super Bowl trophy.  Give fans an opportunity to get up and personal with the real thing.  Maybe also a museum idea, to build an interactive station that lets you “place your face” on the trophy.  See what you look like “Borg-Warner
  • Speaking of Jim Irsay, put him in charge of an annual contest or activity.  Only if he wears his Master of Ceremonies top hat though.
  • Food trucks.  Indianapolis’ food trucks hold monthly “Cluster Truck” events downtown.  Organize a Cluster Truck during an open day at the IMS next May.  Foodies and race fans unite!
  • One word: Turbo!  I’m sure the blame falls on Hollywood’s side, but shame on them for not timing the release of the movie on Memorial Day this year.  There is still an opportunity to take advantage of the movie at IMS.  Take the playground idea and let DreamWorks come in and build a Disney-esque interactive playground featuring the movie.  Or do the same with a new kid’s exhibit in the museum.  This might also create a true year round attraction for families.
  • Take a note from the Super Bowl and Final Four fan “experiences”.  The IMS could do a better job organizing true experience activities.  Provide hands-on activities like getting to change tires on a real Indy Car.  Build a “tricycle track” for little ones that includes the bricks and all.  Create something so over the top and awesome, you get to charge extra for fans wanting to “experience” it.
  • Built a playground for kids?  Now build one for the adults.  A “vintage” playground with large swings and a merry-go-round would certainly be appreciated by adults too.
  • IMS = Innovation.  “The Indianapolis 500 is a laboratory for innovation”, Jack Arute.  Take advantage of the track’s place in automotive innovation.  Organize an annual automotive/motorsports innovation awards.  Hold the ceremony at the track during May.  Give others in the racing and automotive world a reason to make the trek to Indy even if they are not directly tied to the Indy 500.
  • Motorsports incubator.  Develop a startup incubator for the motorsports industry that operates on the IMS’ grounds or down the road on Main Street.  Work with the town of Speedway to further develop a community that already leads the way in this field.  This year’s Innovation Showcase is being held at the Dallara Factory in July.  What if tech startups, motorsports safety, clean tech, automotive engineers, etc all shared an incubator space to work on developments that benefit the IMS and industry as a whole.
  • Work with the city’s tech and startup communities to help make the incubator happen.  Connect the new tech in Indy to the business of auto sports.  Verge Indy and Tech Point could be great resources here.
  • Concerts.  I love the change the IMS made in recent years to move Carb Day to Friday during the month of May.  This has really helped boost attendance; not only for track activities that day, but also for the headliner concerts that have been arranged (i.e. Kid Rock, Poison).  Why not take advantage of this concert venue the rest of the year?  In the summer of 2000, I had the privilege of working security down at the Kentucky Speedway for Metallica’s Summer Sanitarium Tour.  The crowd was 60,000 strong and they put on a great event.  Why let Lucas Oil Stadium get all the mega-crowd fun when it comes to stand alone concerts?  Bring Kenny Chesney and company to the Speedway one summer.  Let U2 rock the Brickyard.  Organize a large outdoor music festival for the summer.  SnakePit Fest anyone?  The track is certainly used to large, raucous crowds.  50,000+ for a summer concert would be easy to manage.
  • Triathlon.  Drivers such as Tony Kanaan are active triathletes in the offseason.  Organize a summer triathlon at some point in the offseason (if possible due to seasonal weather).  Ideally active drivers are involved.  If not, hold one in the summer anyway.  Contain the whole event on the grounds of the Speedway if possible.
  • Photo Booths.  I don’t remember seeing these, but work with the Social Media Garage to set up photo stations and photo booths around the track and outside along 16th and Georgetown.  Don’t just provide fans stations to take pictures of themselves that can be shared on social sites, but also provide goofy props, etc in the booths.  Every one of all ages loves those little plastic racing helmets!
  • An interactive art wall.  At Big Car’s Service Center on the West side, they’ve built a chalk wall that lets people list what they want to do “Before I Die…”  Something similar at the track could prompt fans to list their favorite track tradition, etc.  Yes, this could invite graffiti and vulgarity on certain days, but place it front and center near the pagoda which might cut down on shenanigans.  Or simply don’t put it up on Carb Day, using the extra time to prepare it for exhibit on race day.
  • Repurposed flags, banners from the Speedway.  Work with local organization People for Urban Progress (PUP) to help them repurpose the used signs and banners from each race.  PUP is already working with the old RCA Dome roof and Super Bowl banners.  A race collection could also be sold in the IMS gift shops.
  • Marketing Summit for IndyCar.  Indianapolis is a national hub for marketing technology (i.e. ExactTarget).  Tap into this resource and organize an IndyCar industry marketing summit for race teams and others involved in the industry.  The event could be held at the IMS and include conference session and exhibits.  Increasing the marketing skills and power of IndyCar teams means increasing the entire league’s efforts.
  • Arts Community.  Tap into Indy’s arts community and hold art contests where entries are inspired by the Speedway and/or the Indianapolis 500.
  • The Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace is also growing in popularity.  Organize an annual “collector’s road show” at the track.  This could be a big show on the IMS ground for Indy 500 memorabilia collectors, etc.
  • X-Games.  Final, random thought.  It could be pretty cool if ESPN’s Summer X-Games were held on the grounds of the Speedway.

Whatever changes you decide to make this offseason, I am confident the IMS will continue to build and improve year after year.  I look forward to Indianapolis 500 #32 in 2014.  You’ll find me in my seats up in J Stand.

We Are All Innovative

We are all innovative; capable of connecting and creating the ideas that drive people, businesses, organizations and society forward.  Allow me to lay out a quick argument for this reasoning:

Innovation = Creativity

MentorEdge’s Ravi Kikan recently asked the LinkedIn Future Trends group, “How do you define innovation in one word?”  To date, over 300 different people have responded and the most popular answer has been “creativity”.  A few others have also offered up “creation” in response.  For further thoughts and to see a word cloud from this LinkedIn discussion, please visit my blog about it on Centric’s page.

True, many out there will argue that innovation and creativity are similar, but each is different in its definition and application.  This may be so, but both no doubt share the same core of unique thoughts, expression and creative output.

We Are All Creative

Genesis 1:27 – “so God created mankind in his own image.”

“…if God was crazy about creativity, and I was created in the image of God,

then somewhere deep inside I must be crazy about creativity too”

Pixar’s Don Hahn, Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self

Put another way, God is the ultimate creator.  He created the heavens and earth, light, sky, land, seas, vegetation, birds, creatures of the sea, livestock, wild animals and mankind.  (Genesis 1:1-27).

If you doubt God’s creative ability, you must have never stood on top of Maui’s Mount Haleakala to watch the sunrise.  You must have never stopped to watch animals playing at the zoo.  You must have never laid on your backs to stare at the endless stars on a clear night.

If God is the ultimate creator, and we were made in His image, that means ultimately we are creative too.

So, this brings me back to my original thought: We are all innovative.

We (all mankind) = Creative = Innovative

“Art is not a gene or a specific talent.  Art is an attitude, culturally driven and available to anyone who chooses to adopt it.  Art isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage.  Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another.

Seizing new ground, making connections between people or ideas, working without a map – these are works of art, and if you do them, you are an artist, regardless of whether you wear a smock, use a computer, or work with others all day long.”

Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

Take Value in the Unexpected

I love the little takeaway nuggets that make an investment worth it.  This could be the price I paid for a conference, the time I took to read a book, or the decision to spend $10 on a couple of FOUND  Magazine issues the other night at Big Car’s Service Center.

FOUND Magazine’s founder, Davy Rothbart, was at Service Center earlier this week to share some of the many “found items” that make up his magazine.  The magazine is simply a collection of this stuff that is discarded by someone and found by someone else.  According to Davy:

“We collect found stuff: love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, doodles– anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life. Anything goes. We certainly didn’t invent the idea of found stuff being cool. Every time we visit our friends in other towns, someone’s always got some kind of unbelievable discovered note or photo on their fridge. We decided to make a bunch of projects so that everyone can check out all the strange, hilarious and heartbreaking things people have picked up and passed our way.”

Getting back to the copies of FOUND that I purchased, there is a fantastic interview with artist Miranda July in FOUND #6.  Davy and Miranda discuss their shared interest in “found moments”:

Davy: You wanted a picture of flowers, but they had a picture of a bird, so of course a bird is what was right


Miranda: Exactly! I try to keep all of my art and all of my life flexible enough that I can allow in these moments of accidental luck and inspiration


Davy: I feel like I try to live my life in the same sort of way – taking value in the unexpected, and trying not to be too married to any one idea.  There’s this serendipity of finding things, it can feel magical.


Miranda: Yeah, but I don’t think of it as fate or that the universe is trying to tell me something. I’m telling myself it. It’s not about magic, it’s just the way things really are. It’s real. Like a table. It’s concrete. It’s already existing. You just have to be aware. We look for information to come to us in precise and logical ways, but you have to be open to moments like this. You have to practice being methodically open the way you would practice anything else, like math.


Davy: Picking up pieces of paper off the ground is a way of staying in practice.

I absolutely love this conversation.  I spend my days scanning a wide variety of print publications, newsletters, blog posts and Twitter feeds just to find those little nuggets of unexpected inspiration.  The “found” idea that will help boost a current product development, project I have a hand in or one that I know will help out someone in my network.

If you want to make progress, to be innovative, you must be aware of your surroundings ready for the next idea, no matter where it may come from.  Valuing the unexpected may mean stepping outside of your current industry for inspiration.  It may mean experiencing something new.  Traveling to a new city, attending a new tradeshow, or participating in a new conference.

If you are methodical and always look for new ideas in the same ways and places, groundbreaking new ideas and insights will be hard to come by.  Thank you Davy and Miranda for this great reminder!

Day of Innovation: Effective Innovation

Centric Indy and Indiana Innovation Awards co-hosted the first annual Day of Innovation on October 17.  The event was hosted at Conner Prairie interactive history park in Fishers, IN.

One of the afternoon workshops was a panel discussion led by Insight2’s Jerry McColgin on the topic of Effective Innovation.  Panel members included:

  • Bob Rodenbeck – Director of R&D, Delta Faucet
  • Kurt Koehler – President, AlGal Co.
  • Mark Palmer – Co-Founder, Oohology

Here are some of the great snippets, ideas and lessons discussed during the panel session:

  • Creativity applied to develop and/or improve a product or process… innovation is applied creativity
  • Every idea we have is a logical extension of existing ideas
  • Status quo is a powerful enemy to innovation
  • To foster innovation you must make mistakes and foster an environment where mistakes are okay
  • If you hit a road block, take a walk… take your mind off the work you’re doing


Bob Rodenbeck shared his 3 criteria for a successful innovation:

  1. Did the product/service meet an unmet need?
  2. Did it provide real benefits?
  3. Did it connect emotionally with consumers?

If your new product or service can meet all three criteria, sales and marketing is the easy part.


My favorite quote of the night came from Mark Palmer:

“Assume the investor has no imagination or he would be the innovator and not the investor”

Day of Innovation: The Importance of Vision

Centric Indy and Indiana Innovation Awards co-hosted the first annual Day of Innovation on October 17.  The event was hosted at Conner Prairie interactive history park in Fishers, IN.  Ellen Rosenthal, Conner Prairie’s CEO, was one of the featured speakers and discussed the Importance of Vision to the innovation process.

“Everyone that walks through the door is a participant in what we do”

Listen to your customer.  It is important to identify anyone and everyone that engages with your brand.  Each person represents a learning opportunity and chance to leave an impression of your brand.

Ellen presented ConnerPrairie’s shift from a show and tell museum to one that engages with its customers.

5 Steps to Innovation Change:

  1. Anthropological research on your visitors/customers.  Don’t just observe your customers.  Talk to them, listen to them and engage with them
  2. Clear expectations that staff respond to findings.  If you are going to invest in learning your customers, invest in doing something with the results.  Every employee in your organization has an opportunity to interact with an end user.  What are they learning and what are they doing with that customer knowledge?
  3. A sense of urgency created for the need to change.  In Conner Prairie’s case, attendance was rapidly declining and it was becoming a financial challenge for the organization.  There must be a reason to change.
  4. Research findings showing the impact of engaging visitors.  Once Conner Prairie implemented changes, they followed up with additional research to make sure those changes were working.  Engaging with customers is just as important after launching a new idea as it was to help discover and build that new idea.
  5. Staff empowered.  Empower your staff to listen to the customer, and ACT on what they see, hear or experience.  Front line employees keep a better pulse on the end user than those in management.  Make sure they have the knowledge, tools and most importantly the blessing to act on new customer insights.

“Research doesn’t provide the answers, it provides the issues for your staff to solve”

I love that these lessons from Conner Prairie can apply to just about any organization.  These steps can not only lead to temporary innovations, but to changes in the organization structure that fosters innovation into the future.

Some additional lessons shared by Ellen:

  • Change caused more change.  The Conner Prairie staff was encourage to continue finding ways to make the visitor experience better.
  • It is important for management to hold conversations with all staff members.
  • Make sure the staff understands their role in the innovation process, but also what role they had in innovation successes.
  • Some of the best new programs that have been implemented at Conner Prairie came from staff members.  One recent example is STEAM Innovation Week.
  • Long time staff members have grown to understand the need for change
Conner Prairie is an Interactive History Park in Fishers, IN.  At Conner Prairie, you’ll find five themed historic areas to explore: Lenape Camp, Conner Homestead, 1836 Prairietown, 1859 Balloon Voyage and 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana. In each area “look, don’t touch” becomes “look, touch, smell, taste and hear” as you live history first-hand. Explore 200 beautiful, wooded acres and discover fun daily activities, themed days and exciting ways to experience the past with your family



Centric is Indy’s Innovation Network.  It is the only organization that fosters innovation among Indianapolis professionals who seek change-making knowledge and resources.  Centric exists to build the reputation of Indianapolis as a globally recognized innovation center.  This is accomplished by creating connections and empowering local professionals one at a time.  The Centric community gets together for a luncheon on the fourth Friday each month.  The goal each month is to connect, learn and do.  I am on the board of director for Centric and would be happy to answer any further questions you may have.  You can follow us on Twitter at @CentricIndy


Innovation Case Study: Igloo’s Yukon Cooler

Igloo Products Corp. launched the 50-quart Yukon cooler, retailing it for more than $300.  Guess what?  Not only did it sell at this premium price, “orders for the Yukon took off and tripled the expected production capacity”.  What a great example of earning a premium for functional added value that solved a previously unmet need in the market place.

Plastics News recently profiled Igloo’s recent growth and offered the case study of the Yukon Cold Locker product line as one example of their 130 new products in the past 4 years.

Igloo Adds Workers, 130 Items, Brings Rotomolding In-House

Igloo introduced the Yukon Cold Locker cooler at the start of 2012. The high-end cooler is marketed at sports enthusiasts and professionals who will spend days — if not weeks — out in the woods or on a fishing expedition.


“These are the guys who will spend thousands of dollars on a gun or a thousand dollars on a scope,” Thornhill said.


The Yukon was designed with extra insulation, capable of retaining ice for up to 14 days, compared to seven for a typical cooler. That is the kind of performance needed to keep swordfish or elk fresh during a long fishing or hunting trip.


The hard plastic outer shell and heavy-duty latches and handles also stand up to rough usage. Thornhill boasts that in tests, a bear spent an hour trying to break in before it gave up.


The Yukon also sells at a premium price, retailing at more than $300 for a 50-quart container and more than $700 for the 250-quart model. By comparison, Igloo’s 50-quart MaxCold hard-sided cooler lists for $65.99.


Yukon coolers are rotational molded, so when orders for the Yukon took off and tripled the expected production capacity, Igloo knew it was time to bring rotational molding in-house. It currently contracts for rotomolding from outside suppliers that use a combination of domestic and international production.

Igloo obviously did their homework and was able to meet real consumer needs with this new product.  What are doing to learn your market?  To discover unmet needs from your consumers?

Collaborating to Build a City

“Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut reminds us what can be achieved with collaboration” – For the Republican, the visit was another reminder of the value of working collaboratively, even with political rivals, to accomplish goals and solve problems.

Some choice quotes on collaboration from former Mayor Bill Hudnut:

  • “Without that willingness to work together, where would Indianapolis be today?”
  • “It should all be about getting things done, and being pragmatic and working together”
  • “You have to show respect for the other side, and a civility and willingness to work with them”

This recent article from the Indianapolis Star serves as a nice reminder that I never wrote anything about the lessons on collaboration I learned from the Pacers’ Rick Fuson earlier this summer:


Back in July, Centric had the opportunity to hear from Rick Fuson, COO of the Pacers.  Rick discussed how a decades-long, collaborative sports strategy has brought Indianapolis into the national limelight.  In the not-too-distant past, Indianapolis was referred to by one sports broadcaster as a “cornfield with a race-track wrapped around it.”  However, Hoosiers have shattered that perception after unprecedented successes at high-exposure events such as the Super Bowl, Final Four, and National and World Championships for a variety of other sports.  As most Indianapolis natives know, these successes have not been by accident.

“We’re a growing city, but we’re still a small town.  We’re doing work with our friends and neighbors.”


We Can Do It

Rick discussed Indianapolis’ tendency to take on a challenge without having any clue how to do it.  That’s the Indianapolis spirit.  Taking on challenges is for the bigger picture of the city.  When asked to put on the Pan-Am Games, Indy had just weeks to pull it all together.  When asked to host the World Swimming Championships, nobody began to understand how to do so…in Conseco Fieldhouse.  Indianapolis’s aggressive sports strategy included taking risks and the risk has paid off.

Did you know?  The Hoosier Dome was only the second air supported roof structure…ever!


Find a Common Ground for Collaboration

What is the common ground your organization and business partners can rally behind?  “Sports” worked for Indianapolis.  From its early beginnings, leaders in Indianapolis knew sports was much more than that.  They were using sports as the city’s economic incubator for future growth.  Sporting events are a part of our economic engine.

Collaboration builds relationships and bridges that can come back full circle.  You never know when old ideas and relationships may come back to provide benefits.  Indianapolis’ “Hoosier Hospitality” approach has paid many dividends over the years.  Be sure to stretch collaboration as far as it can go.


Innovation is in every business

Innovation is a new way of doing things.  It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small.  Anyone can innovate.  One of Rick’s lessons was that “just about anyone can do just about anything if they’re given the chance and given the training”.  Make sure you are using all of the technology available to you and do your research to help insure effective innovation efforts.


I’ll admit some bias, but I love one of Rick’s closing thoughts.  “Get yourself involved with groups in our city like Centric.  Not only to make yourself better, but to make the community better.”


Centric is Indy’s Innovation Network.  It is the only organization that fosters innovation among Indianapolis professionals who seek change-making knowledge and resources.  Centric exists to build the reputation of Indianapolis as a globally recognized innovation center.  This is accomplished by creating connections and empowering local professionals one at a time.  The Centric community gets together for a luncheon on the fourth Friday each month.  The goal each month is to connect, learn and do.  I am on the board of director for Centric and would be happy to answer any further questions you may have.  You can follow us on Twitter at @CentricIndy