Last week, I attended a

by francine Hardaway on August 16, 2006

Last week, I attended a presentation on innovation presented by the Churchill Club, moderated by John Markoff, and featuring the author of a new book on innovation, Curtis Carlson. Carlson is also the CEO of SRI, an organization that began its existence as the Stanford Research Institute. In its heyday, SRI’s research was instrumental in many of the major advances in Silicon Valley, including the computer mouse and the entire idea of the PC. But like all organizations, SRI suffered a period of decline, from which I gather it has recently emerged.

Carlson’s research into the process of innovation seems to be one of the reasons SRI, which is fifty years old, got back on its feet. If you want to read the book, it’s called “Innovation.” I admit I haven’t read it (yet). But one thing Carlson said really hit home for me: he tells the corporate executives that come to SRI for training in innovation that it’s really important to begin by knowing the problems of your customers.

Then, to produce really successful innovation, you try to solve the IMPORTANT problems. This strikes me as huge, after eight years of watching entrepreneurs dream up products that either solve non-existent problems, or trivial problems.

Let me give you an example of a product I think could be the solution to an important problem.

I’m planning a conference, the First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference. It’s on Nov. 8 in Phoenix at the Ritz, and I’m planning it remotely because I’ve been in California all summer. I decided to produce this conference because Arizona thinks of itself as without sufficient resources for entrepreneurs. Depending on who you speak to, the state lacks 1)venture capital 2)experienced management 3)support groups 4)an entrepreneurial mindset. This in a state that has enjoyed the benefits of Motorola, Intel, Honeywell…you get it; we have tons of management, and many good ideas. We can also put our hands on venture capital at the right time. We’re part of the Wild West, and we were settled by entrepreneurs who thought outside the box (agriculture in the desert, canals, dams, planned communities). We also have support groups. What we don’t have is the connection among all these resources, and that’s the point of the conference.

Let’s put everyone in one room and introduce them to each other, I thought one day. And thus began a task that became more and more complex. Most events are planned by either professional staffs or large volunteer committees, I have neither. I have one partner and one friend that have been pressed into service. This could quickly get out of control. Especially since I also plan to be in Italy in September.

Enter Ephibian ( a Tucson-based company that has been around for a while, and whose tag line is “Technology in Your Hands, and Not in Your Way.” How novel. Ephibian is launching a new product, and for this customer it solves a very important problem: managing the event.

TreeFrog, which is still in beta, allows you to plan your events and online registration quickly, easily and economically. TreeFrog is designed using the latest technology – you can easily build your event and web site welcome page by dragging and dropping events, text, images, and surveys. For event planning and online registration setup, an Event Wizard steps you through all the needed tasks, including those to collect online payments from registrants via shopping carts (if needed). Comprehensive contact management, email marketing, and report building modules are also included. TreeFrog is 100% web-based, you only need an internet connection, and there is no requirement for web or IT expertise on your part.

To me, TreeFrog is an innovation; Ephibian isn’t really a product-development company, but they found this to be an important problem for their customers. Luckily, they’re willing to debut this product by donating it to our conference! It’s as my yoga teacher always says, “everything you need comes to you.” That’s how software products should be.

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