Innovation vs. Invention
SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.
In April of 2014, Winston-Salem was officially given the title of the City of Arts and Innovation. Thanks to WFDD’s David Ford, we are familiar with local arts, but what about local innovation? As you may know, the city has an entire area dedicated to innovation.
Here you have a district in the city, which we’ve termed the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. It’s about 150 acres. We have over 50 companies working here now, a number of academic institutes, and of course all that scholarship adds up to research, business, and education, in a number of areas: information technology, biomedical science, and in advanced materials. All that has resulted in essentially a small town emerging on the east side of the Downtown Winston-Salem area, so then you start to build community. And that community is at the heart of the future, and the revitalization of Downtown, at least, Winston-Salem.
That’s Dr. Eric Tomlinson, the Chief Innovation Officer of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and President of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Downtown Winston-Salem. He seemed like the right person to talk to about what innovation actually is.
Innovation is taking an idea, a concept, a discovery, an invention, and turning it into something that is useful. Lets say a product like an iPhone, or as a service you know, an interesting way of paying for your goods at the store, like ApplePay. So innovation is all around us, and it’s become a science, a business, and frankly a necessity. When you’re presented with a problem and you’re looking for a solution, you often reach for materials or systems, processes that already exist. And you apply those in a unique way. So, it could be an ambulance driver who comes up with a new way of loading a patient onto the gurney. It could be a child in the classroom who wants to build a computer. And so it goes on and on.
So, how does innovation differ from invention?
Invention is a very critical step that leads generally to some intellectual property, but it's the application and utilization of that invention, the assembly of it into another entity which is the innovation. Again, back to the smartphone; hundreds and hundreds of inventions in there. It's all assembled into this really cool device that we reach to before we even have our breakfast in the morning. Let's take the example of a Wake Forest faculty member who is a scholar looking at the genesis of a disease, and all the debilitating factors that that causes. What is the reason for that disease of occur? Once they understand the mechanism of how that disease comes about, you can then start to apply thinking that will lead to a technology, whether it's a drug, or a surgical device, that will intervene with the disease. So, that’s the invention, if you will. The translation of that into a product that will help the patient is what we do.
The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is described as an incubator for innovation. What does that mean?
We take those ideas, and we analyze them from a business view point. What is the value of this idea in the clinic, in the market place? What is the competition? What is the time it would take, and the amount of money it would take to get that idea to the market? Can we do it with a partner who would be manufacturing and marketing and selling the product? We may focus in on three or four where we start to invest time, people, and money into translating those ideas into a stage whereby they can be licensed to a partner and then be developed in the market place. We have 1,100 faculty in all, six or seven hundred of those are there every day with patients understanding the needs of patients and the inadequacy of current techniques, that leads to invention, to creativity about new ideas.