More than 200 attended “Innovation Coast,” the first conference to focus on innovation hosted by the USC Marshall School of Business’ Center for Global Innovation. Held at the Irvine Marriott, the conference featured keynote speakers, expert panels and networking opportunities focused on bridging the gap between an inventive idea and an innovation that serves consumer needs.
“An idea, no matter how strong, by itself does not create value,” said Gerard Tellis, holder of the Jerry and Nancy Neely Chair in American Enterprise and professor of marketing at Marshall, who also is the director of the Center of Global Innovation. “We created this conference to bring innovation leaders together and identify best practices in making a good idea bear fruit.”
Speakers included Scott Deaver, executive vice president of strategy for Avis Budget Group, Stanton Rowe, corporate vice president, advanced technology and chief scientific officer for Edwards Lifesciences, and Sherry Gunther, CEO, PopStar Club Inc.
The conference also featured the finals of a $60,000 seed competition sponsored by Ernst & Young, aimed at identifying and supporting early stage companies with a product or service innovation in the consumer products, media, software or medical device sectors.
“The competition drew a lot of outstanding entrants,” said Steve Mednick, associate professor of clinical entrepreneurship and co-director of the CGI. “The level of innovation we’re seeing is exceptional.”
The conference was sponsored by the Lord Foundation, Ernst & Young, Edwards Lifesciences, Haynes and Boone and IBM.
The New Consumer
Innovative companies must understand consumer expectations and what they value, said Deaver. He spoke about how the mindset of consumers has led to car-sharing services like Avis’s ZipCar network and the rise of services like Uber. "Customers want unmediated, unfiltered access to products and services. They value instant access, customization and conveniences rather than security or permanence," he said.
Sherry Gunther, an Emmy Award-winning producer of The Simpsons and Family Guy who now heads a toy/media company, PopStar Club Inc., highlighted how digital and social media has empowered consumers who are now the originator — not mere followers — of trends and innovation.
"Because of the Internet and the availability of data and because of the fact that millennials’ lives are literally integrated with social and digital media, companies can no longer just create products. They need to create media to support their products," she said. "They need to be integrated with applications, video and other content related to it. You need to use social and other media to engage consumers."
USC Marshall is itself an example of innovation that works. James G. Ellis, dean of Marshall, highlighted how Marshall has differentiated itself by expanding its traditional business school offerings, creating seven new master’s programs and an innovative undergraduate program in which students live and study on three continents and earn degrees from as many universities. "There are only so many ways you can teach debits and credits, so where you innovate is around the edges,” he said. “And you have to take some chances.”
Of the 96 companies who applied to the competition, 37 pitched judges in the semi-finals held on May 4, and 13 were chosen for the final round, which took place during the conference.
Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), a pre-revenue medical device company, won first place and $25,000. It said it is developing a rapid, accurate and inexpensive diagnostic test for Malaria.
Rebeez, a company that said it is commercializing a lightweight micro-engine to be used in drones, won second place, and $15,000.
Two companies tied for third place, winning $10,000 each. Benevolent Technologies for Health, said it is creating the next generation of “off the shelf” prosthetic and orthotic devices. Infinurja said it is designing and producing patent-pending products that will use organic waste to generate electricity for the home.