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Cleantech Open National Grand Prize Award Ceremony (pictured Cynthia O’Donnell (CEO, NG1) – second from right, Dustin Nord (CTO, NG1) – third from left)

SUMESH ARORA — Adopting innovations is a piece of cookie!

SUMESH ARORA

SUMESH ARORA

Ok, I know the age old saying is “a piece of cake,” but I contend that my way of stating the complexity of a task completed will revolutionize the world of food-based analogies and gives us a much more intuitive way of expressing it. The new methodology actually has a scale of how hard or easy the task is: soft, moist and chewy chocolate chip cookies represent the easiest tasks on one end of the spectrum and hard, crunchy oatmeal cookies signifying the harder tasks on the other end.  As a passionate developer of the “Task Complexity Completion Cookie” Scale or TC3 Scale, I strongly believe that my system is superior to the current nomenclature and hope that it can become the new standard for describing our actions.  Having done my market research, I know that practically every adult in America uses the outdated “cake” expression, so I have a potential market of almost 230 million people who could use the TC3 Scale!

Now I just have to convince my target audience about the potential benefits of my system compared to what they are using at the moment. But realistically, will this innovation ever be adopted by anyone, and if so how many people may start using it initially, and who may those individuals be, and how will I reach out to those specific individuals?  These are questions that any entrepreneur or inventor faces when trying to introduce a new product or idea.  Defining the target market can be one of the most challenging aspects of introducing an innovation.  Additionally, the more radically different the idea or product, the harder it may be to accurately identify the population likely to adopt the innovation.

The Diffusion of Innovations research, which I have mentioned in my previous columns, shows that only a very small portion of the target population, 2.5 percent to be precise, will be the ones to initially embrace the TC3 Scale. The innovators, or game changers as I call them, are the most curious and willing to play around with new ideas and frameworks and may even suggest improvements for my system.  They do not fear the cookie monster, but will take new paradigms head on!

The next segment of the population likely to get on the cookie bandwagon, comprising about 13.5 percent, is called the early adopters.  This is the group I call the “gotta have its.” When they see a new product that is allegedly cool, they are the first ones who want to get their hands on it, or get it on their hands in the case of the Apple Watch.  These are the people who pre-ordered it without knowing about all the features and waited in lines outside Apple stores to be the first ones to get other products on the first day of their release!  The thing to remember is that even the folks who “gotta have” a certain product before others get it, may not be the early adopters for every innovation, although that probability would be high. As a marketing person, I would seek them out to get them to try the TC3 Scale! Their decision to adopt the scale could have a remarkable impact on subsequent usage of this framework.

Another well recognized business book, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey Moore, builds on the Diffusion of Innovation theory and states that there is an abyss which must be bridged if you were to go beyond the innovators and early adopters.  Rogers called the third group the “early majority” and it comprises 34 percent of the target population of potential adoptees of the innovation.  Moore refers to them as the pragmatists and in simpler terms, I think of these people as the ones saying this technology or idea looks appealing and is worth trying.  They probably got a smart phone before many of their peers did, but did not feel the urge to camp outside the store overnight.  The technology chasm or abyss can be a significant challenge to overcome if the product is not simple enough to be used by a large majority of the population.  The perceived advantage of the new product and the compatibility with existing systems are among the key characteristics of innovations which make them much more likely to be adopted on a large scale.

Looking at a real world example rather than the fictitious TC3 Scale, please turn your attention to an innovative company whose principals are based in Olive Branch, Mississippi.  NG1 Technologies is the inventor of the NG1 TechFlo exhaust system, which is a fuel-saving product designed as an easy add-on for Class 8 or 18-wheeler-style trucks. The device increases flow rates of gases or fluids moving through a tube and can adapt as a retrofit exhaust system for large trucks and diesel engines – and it was recognized nationally as a leading invention in the clean technology sector.

With intense preparation assistance from Innovate Mississippi, NG1 Technologies qualified for and entered the 2014 Cleantech Open (CTO) National Accelerator’s Competition, whose intent is to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with innovative ideas that address today’s urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges. CTO is the world’s largest accelerator of its kind in the world and more than 1,000 participating companies in the United States have created thousands of jobs and raised more than $1.1 billion since 2006.  Innovate Mississippi has a memorandum of understanding with the Cleantech Open program to coach and connect appropriate companies with this accelerator.

After spending almost seven grueling months in the CTO accelerator, attending various workshops, boot camps and interviewing nearly a hundred potential customers,  NG1 Technologies placed first in the Southeast regional competition and then went on to be named the Grand Prize Winner at the CTO national event held in California.  NG1 received a substantial financial investment and in-kind services worth $200,000 to help grow the business through CTO.  As a result, the company is now in serious talks with several investors to garner additional investment.

“The NG1 TechFlo system is already on the market and capable of reducing an astounding 40,000 pounds of carbon emissions per year, per truck. In addition, the customer is expected to double its financial savings in the first year as the cost of investment is $2,600, and there is an average return of $6,000 to $10,000 per year because of the 10-20 percent fuel savings that the product creates,” said Dustin Nord who is the co-inventor of this technology and NG1’s chief technology officer.

NG1 is manufacturing the product in Mississippi and is also providing training at multiple independent diesel shop installation locations throughout the Mid-South.  “Through key assistance and connections from Innovate Mississippi, NG1’s products have been able to be manufactured and distributed by two Mississippi companies,” said Cynthia O’Donnell, chairman of the board of NG1 Technologies. “NG1 TechFlo is proud to be American and Mississippi-made and we look forward to continuing our business partnership with Innovate Mississippi.”

Cynthia was quick to add that this technology is still in the hands of the very early adopters and they have not reached the brink of the chasm yet.  She admitted the trucking industry is very hard to break into if you are an outsider.  Part of the problem stems from the fact that there are many products out there which promise fuel efficiency but have failed to deliver on the promise, which makes the industry very skeptical.  Jennifer Rohleder, executive director of the CTO-Southeast Division said it very succinctly, “The technology needs to be positioned properly with the right market of early adopters. Once it’s proven in one context, it becomes much easier to spur adoption more broadly. You cannot convince the world of anything, but you can convince the right people of the right thing.”

In closing I will leave you with this bit to chew on.  Adopting innovations is a piece of really hard and crusty cookie!  Contact me if you are ready to ditch the cake.

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is Vice President at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.

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