Delaware Innovation: What is innovation?

By Larry Nagengast

Sometimes prompted by adversity or perhaps a commitment to adaptability, innovation means not only creating something that’s new, but also something that adds value and makes our lives better.
Dennis Assanis, Ph.D., president of the University of Delaware, described innovation as “the continual process of finding solutions to complex problems, and translating discoveries into inventions and ultimately valuable products or services.”

“It is an infinite loop of curiosity, discovery, experimentation, and refinement. It is a culture that values creativity and robust collaboration across disciplines. It is a mindset that embraces failure and its lessons as essential elements of success,” Assanis said. “Universities embody this idea of innovation, not just in science and technology but also in the arts, humanities, education, health, business and civic life. Innovation
enriches lives, strengthens communities and helps us create a better world.”

“My perspective is that innovation is the commercialization pathway for creative ideas, products and services. Innovation has tangible economic development value and is not just technology, invention or patents. Innovation is the solution to real problems or opportunities and exhibits market demand,” said Mike Bowman, president of Delaware Technology Park, the public-private-university partnership in Delaware that is now home to an array of 54 innovative science and research-oriented businesses.

Delaware’s history of innovation can be traced back more than 200 years, to the birth of the DuPont Company, which began as a manufacturer of black powder, transformed itself into a chemical company in its second century and has evolved into a broad-based science company poised to take on a new identity as DowDuPont.

“Innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into something that creates value for customers and society by solving problems and bringing new solutions to the marketplace,” said Doug Muzyka, DuPont’s senior vice president and chief science and technology officer.

The impact of science-based innovation on society is clear,” Muzyka added. “Innovation changes the lives of people for the better. Improvements, such as more secure and healthier food choices and supply chains, as well as more efficient and lower- cost materials with increased functionality and sustainability, are core examples of this progress.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., pointed to the many innovations that were generated in the 20th century through the “pure science” research at DuPont’s Experimental Station.

But research for its own sake isn’t the only source of innovation. “In adversity lies opportunity,” Sen. Carper said, pointing to how staff reductions at DuPont created additional space, first at its Stine-Haskell Labs and then at the Experimental Station, which would be leased by Incyte Corp. as it built its biopharmaceutical research business. Now Incyte is building a new headquarters on Augustine Cut Off in Wilmington, about a mile from the Experimental Station.

Brian DiSabatino, president and CEO of EDiS Company, one of Delaware’s leading construction firms, understands Carper’s maxim well. “We find innovation at the dead ends, when under pressure,” he said. “We’d be stuck there if we didn’t hire extremely creative people and allow them to take risks. And when we throw some technology into the mix, we often hear ‘pop’ … and see incredible innovations take place to benefit the customer.”

Rodman Ward III, president and CEO of Corporation Service Company (CSC), which provides business, legal and financial services to companies worldwide, believes that innovation comes from “embracing and adapting to change every day.” For CSC, relationships are key and that means having employees know the ins and outs of their clients’ businesses just as well as the company does.

Creating a culture of innovation starts with preparing young minds to face the future, and that is a role Delaware Technical Community College has embraced since its founding a half-century ago. For years, Delaware Tech has worked with Delaware businesses to determine their employment needs and provide workers with the appropriate skills.

“From our perspective, innovation is more than just adapting to change and anticipating change,” says Mark Brainard, Delaware Tech’s president. “It means we must integrate what is happening outside the organization into what we do as a college.”

Working independently or collaboratively, businesses, universities, government agencies and non-governmental organizations like non-profits can all be forces for innovation, DuPont’s Muzyka said. “Innovation is the key to higher productivity and greater prosperity for the economies around the world and is essential to helping address global challenges for today and the future.”

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