Innovation’s Not Just for the Big Guys

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Toyota, Google and 3M don’t just get lucky with market-shattering products. Instead, each of these companies employs a vigorous business model to stimulate constant innovation.

The A. James Clark School of Engineering aims to bring these types of models to small and mid-sized Maryland manufacturers through a new program announced today.

The Continuous Innovation Initiative, part of the school’s Maryland Technology Extension Service, will guide companies in establishing robust, in-house processes to generate perpetual innovation.

“A company’s success in today’s market hinges on its ability to innovate,” said Dr. Herbert Rabin, associate dean of the Clark School and director of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute. “Point innovation is not enough. Highly competitive businesses integrate processes for creating ideas—to deliver new products, enter new markets, add value for customers, forge new partnerships, or increase productivity.”

With nearly 40,000 Maryland manufacturing jobs lost since 2000, according to the National Association of Manufacturers—to international competition, high costs, productivity improvements, and the recent recession—many of the 4,300 manufacturing companies in the state should turn to innovation for a competitive edge, according to Al Etheridge, manager of the Continuous Innovation Initiative.

“If you are competing on cost, there’s a good chance you’ll lose the battle to overseas manufacturing,” said Etheridge. “American companies must innovate to stay ahead.”

Nearly 70 percent of companies cite globalization as a major reason for their approach to innovation, according to a Boston Consulting Group poll released in a recent issue of BusinessWeek. The same percentage of companies named innovation as one of their top three priorities for this year.

“Our nation cannot afford to lose its manufacturing innovation edge and the wealth that it generates throughout our economy,” said Jerry Jasinowski, president of The Manufacturing Institute, the research and education arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. “We need programs like this to develop human capital, revitalize fundamental research and encourage productivity-enhancing investments in order to maintain a critical mass of production and a viable innovation process in this country,” he concluded.

CII will work with several companies at a time, for 3-6 months, leading them through a four-step model of assessing current innovation practices, aligning resources, executing, and instilling a permanent culture of innovation into their business environments.

“Being in a university, we’re uniquely positioned to spread knowledge about establishing innovation processes,” said Etheridge. “We’re not guarding the secret sauce. We’ll work diligently to share it with every company we can.”

Over the past five years, companies citing commitment to innovation have increased revenues by an average of almost 350 percent, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

That same bottom line, Etheridge said, will also be the focus of CII: results.


    The Continuous Innovation Initiative guides select Maryland companies in establishing innovation-driven processes for sustained growth. CII draws upon real-world experience, as well as resources from both the University System of Maryland and NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, to lead companies in applying innovation best practices for what matters most: results. CII is an effort of the Maryland Technology Extension Service, a program of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute in the A. James Clark School of Engineering. MTES is dedicated to strengthening the competitiveness of Maryland manufacturers by providing information, decision support, and implementation assistance.

            The Manufacturing Institute’s “U.S. Manufacturing Innovation at Risk” report, by Dr. Joel Popkin, is available at

Published August 9, 2006