Tuesday, December 21, 2010

They Won. And Then What?

An update on past winners of the Journal's Innovation Awards

Innovation is an accomplishment in itself, but it's just the beginning of a bigger story. So what happens next? Here's a look at how things have gone so far for some recent Innovation Award winners.



AWARD: Overall Silver, 2009; Medical Devices category winner

INNOVATION: The company won for the i-Limb, a prosthetic hand that is more lifelike than others in appearance and performance.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Touch Bionics began offering its second iteration of the prosthetic, called the i-Limb Pulse, in May. It gives the user an adjustable grip that can be up to 25% stronger than the original i-Limb. The Pulse allows objects to be held longer and offers better control over fine motor skills.

In December, the company unveiled motorized prosthetic fingers called ProDigits. Mark Ford, vice president for North American operations, says the market for ProDigits has the potential to far outstrip that for i-Limbs.

Touch Bionics has sold nearly 1,200 of the original i-Limbs and more than 100 of the i-Limb Pulse. About 100 ProDigits systems have been sold, each system consisting of one or more fingers.

LOCATION: Washington, D.C.

AWARD: Health-Care IT category winner, 2009

DataDyne's EpiSurveyor in the field

INNOVATION: This nonprofit won for developing EpiSurveyor, mobile-device software that can be used by organizations to gather and send health data on commonly used phones in remote areas of developing countries.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? EpiSurveyor has more than 2,400 users collecting data in more than 120 countries. Users include the government of Canada, Unicef and Boston-based health-care consulting firm John Snow Inc. Some are exploring new uses for the software, including the collection of economic data and information on the health of farm animals.

DataDyne.org co-founder and Chief Executive Joel Selanikio says he expects the program, funded in part by the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, to be self-sufficient through paid subscriptions in two years. The group offers a premium subscription that allows unlimited data collection for $5,000 a year. Basic users, who pay nothing, are limited to 20 distinct forms, or lists of questions to be answered in the field, and 500 completed questionnaires for each form.

DataDyne.org also has developed another program called the Mobile Information Platform. It allows information to be sent from a central location, for example a government agency, to locals through text messages on basic phones.

One pilot MIP project sends weather information to farmers in Chile. Another helps provide continuing education for community health-care workers in Peru via text messages.

LOCATION: Watertown, Mass.

AWARD: Materials and Other Base Technologies category winner, 2009

An LED bulb using QD Vision technology

INNOVATION: QD Vision won for turning harsh light from light-emitting diodes into a warmer-colored beam through the use of quantum dots, which are semiconducting nanocrystals. A warmer light, more like the glow of an incandescent bulb, is seen as essential to the widespread adoption of energy-efficient LED lighting.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Nexxus Lighting Inc. has been selling screw-in LED light bulbs with QD Vision's quantum dots since March. The bulbs are designed for use in hotels and retail spaces.

According to Seth Coe-Sullivan, QD Vision's co-founder and chief technology officer, the bulbs being sold by Nexxus last for 50,000 hours—the equivalent of about 17 years at eight hours a day—and burn about one-fifth of the energy consumed by comparable halogen bulbs, most of which last no more than about a year at the same rate of use. The LED lights are more costly upfront—one LED bulb costs just under $100, while a halogen equivalent is about $5. But Mr. Coe-Sullivan says an LED light pays for itself in 12 to 18 months from the energy savings.

QD Vision is working with a lighting company it declines to identify to make another commercial bulb and is collaborating with display makers in Asia on LED screens for devices from handsets to television sets.

LOCATION: Palo Alto, Calif.

AWARD: Software category winner, 2009

INNOVATION: VMware won for its virtualization software suite called vSphere, designed to make it easier for a company to turn its existing data centers into a private cloud—an array of IT services delivered throughout a company over its own computer network—that's secure, reliable and easy to manage.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? VSphere, VMware's flagship virtualization and cloud infrastructure platform, is used in more than 170,000 deployments at companies around the world. The latest version of the software, called vSphere 4.1, is designed to expand the capacity of the platform and lower its operational cost. VMware revenue for the first half of 2010 was $1.3 billion, an increase of about 41% from $926 million for the first half of last year.

LOCATION: Sunnyvale, Calif.

AWARD: Environment category winner, 2009

INNOVATION: This building-materials maker was recognized for a drywall substitute called EcoRock made of recycled material. The product requires 80% less energy to make than standard gypsum-based drywall and is termite and mold resistant, according to the company.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? EcoRock remains in the testing stage with projects in California, due to the slowdown in new construction, says the company's chairman and chief executive, Kevin Surace. Meanwhile, Serious Materials has refocused its resources on energy-efficient windows, an area of growth. The company has nearly doubled its number of employees to about 400.

Serious Materials is supplying more than 6,000 windows for the Empire State Building, a project that is planned for completion in the fall.

LOCATION: Santa Clara, Calif.

AWARD: Energy category winner, 2008

INNOVATION: This manufacturing-equipment maker won for its SunFab production line, which was designed to manufacture large solar panels using thin-film photovoltaic material more quickly and cheaply than traditional production methods. It promised to drive down the cost of solar power, which would make it more competitive with traditional electricity sources.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The SunFab line was discontinued in July, due to the weakness of the economy and a reduction of government incentives for solar energy, according to Applied Materials spokesman Matt Ceniceros.

Meanwhile, Applied Materials' sales of equipment used in the crystalline silicon solar-energy business are strong, driven by demand from China. And the company intends to focus as well on opportunities in LED lighting.

LOCATION: Santa Barbara, Calif.

AWARD: Consumer Electronics category winner, 2006

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Sonos music-networking gear

INNOVATION: This company won for a user-friendly digital-music networking system that allows music to be streamed wirelessly to speakers in different rooms of a home.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The company is five times bigger than it was in 2006 in terms of revenue, according to co-founder Tom Cullen. And it continues to expand its product line. Among other things, it has developed software that allows a Sonos network to be controlled from an iPhone or iPad. The company also has expanded its expertise by hiring staff with acoustics knowledge.

In 2006, Sonos was just beginning to tap the European market; now about half of its business is outside the U.S., mainly in Europe, with Asia being the next target.

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