Though some may find it strange, the word “innovation” evokes skepticism in many Russians. It is assumed that innovative technology requires huge financial investments, with unpredictable outcomes and questionable utility and efficiency.
The Ideal Products Factory is the joint brainchild of businessman Mikhail Dashkiev and scientist Aleksey Noniashvili, and offers rather simple and original technological development for various things ranging from the ideal iPhone case to the ideal air conditioner and transportation systems for lime production, setting them apart from other global Russian projects. WEJ invited the partners to define what innovation means in emerging markets.
No Inspiration in Boiling Metal
Mikhail Dashkiev: “My grandfather wanted me to become an engineer. He drove me to the factory in order to inspire me with the machines and boiling metal. But I didn’t have it in me to be an engineer or a scientist, and I went into sales. I was convinced that I was forever destined to be a salesman – until the day fate brought Aleksey Noniashvili and me together at the Business Youth entrepreneurs’ club. He wasn’t selling or buying anything, as most of our businessmen do, but was paid to make existing products or equipment more effective, cheaper, and more functional. Or he would just create some unique design from scratch. All year, I followed his work closely and tried to see what the catch was. How can a person create innovations in just any field: from castles and Chinese lanterns to entire stadiums – and earn millions doing so?
“At some point we realized that together we could create a really worthwhile project. Noniashvili became the guide for me and my colleagues into an unknown world of scientists, engineers, and inventors.”
Genius and Business – Are They Incompatible?
Aleksey Noniashvili: “Our government is trying to support inventors by giving them grants and creating business incubators and technoparks. But there haven’t been and still aren’t any business success stories. Why? Perhaps because scientists simply aren’t capable of doing business? Or is science what they call a ‘spherical horse in a vacuum’? Having been acquainted with numerous patent authors and having visited many laboratories, we came to the conclusion that, regrettably, we must admit that scientists don’t focus on profits. They are motivated by other things and have a different way of thinking, aiming at the idea and not at its applicability. In other words, ideas and the products they generate were not originally intended to be profitable.
“We went the empirical route and started looking for a way to solve this “personality conflict.” We needed to unify the entrepreneurial spirit and the inventive genius. The first thing we tried was to create a group of scientists and entrepreneurs. After awhile we concluded that while the idea seemed good at first, ultimately it was absolutely untenable. Different degrees of ambition and standards of living, as well as different speeds inherent in the work of businessmen and scientists would sooner or later lead to conflict.
“A year later, after we had tried everything, we found a solution algorithm. We focused on successful, effective businessmen. Whereas we previously thought that the starting point was the inventor or idea, it was now clear that the starting point is the entrepreneur who already has results.
“The people we were talking about already understood the market situation, knew all the mechanisms of an effective business, had the needed customer base and relationships in the market, and most importantly, knew the problems of this or that business and saw its growth potential. It was these people who had the unique ability to take a product that was superior to other products similar in function, quality, reliability, and cost, and quickly turn that idea into money, even big money.”
Mikhail Dashkiev: “The history of major corporations it the main proof. I always thought that innovations were things like the Large Hadron Collider. The equipment was as big as a house and the budgets were big enough to feed all the children in Africa. Innovation was certainly not something available to me as a businessman who runs a mid-sized business.
“It was only when I became really interested in innovative goods that I understood: Innovations can be any kind, anywhere. I learned to notice them in everyday life. Laundry detergent that fits into a tiny tablet, refined sugar, water-repellent spray for shoes, noiseless vacuum cleaners, baby monitors, an improved screwdriver, bandages that stick to skin for 24 hours and don’t wrinkle, lipstick that leaves no trace, bags that allow you to bring frozen products home without their thawing. These have turned out to be small inventions that can bring in enormous amounts of money.”
Where Do So Many Brilliant Ideas Come From?
Aleksey Noniashvili: “This is another myth about innovation: that brilliant ideas that can beget innovation come from the Muses or simply inspiration. Where do ideas usually come from, where can you find them? Under an apple tree, like Newton? In one’s dreams, like the great Mendeleev? Or does one just sit and think hard and voila! An idea!
“But there are examples of huge corporations like Gillette, Philips, Procter and Gamble – corporations with decades of systematically planned releases of innovative products. If innovation came about by ‘sitting and thinking,’ then these companies would have huge departments of people thinking hard. Corporations cannot rely on luck, or uncontrolled inspiration or chance revelations of researchers. Scientists working there have to produce necessary prototypes on time and at the proper standard. This means that these companies have algorithms, a technology to create innovation, and this is where the secret to their success lies.
“Such a technology was invented by our countryman Genrikh Altshuller. He compared all the patents and useful models he knew about and came to the conclusion that all the solutions are subject to certain patterns and rules. After many years of research, he gave the world a unique method for creating innovation – the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TIPS). TIPS came about because of a need to accelerate the inventive process by excluding the very elements of chance, which are usually attributed to the creative process: things like a sudden and unpredictable insight, blindly searching and tossing away ideas, and dependence on the mood of the inventor. The technology has spread around the world and is used successfully by leading corporations, continually being refined to this day.
“One of the first of our creations was the perfect cover for the iPhone for our customer, Marcel Robert studios. We had to create a cover that fit the iPhone perfectly, had a soft cover in order to gently clean the screen, while simultaneously being hard enough to be hooked to the back panel of the gadget while talking. We were able to do all of this in a few months’ time and now orders are coming in from all the major Russian Apple product distributors. Production of covers is for now still a niche market, with many handmade versions, but it’s slowly gaining momentum.
“Another example is the Universal Stadium project. Our goal was to build a single stadium where soccer could be played on natural grass, hockey on ice, where people could dance on a hard floor, host any exhibition, and invite rock stars. We developed a collapsible platform with support elements located outside the field of play and the ability to create and adjust the desired microclimate for the grass. We have already spent a year and a half on this. Development costs have reached 2 million rubles. The market potential, according to preliminary estimates, is about $3.5 billion.
“The next example is an adapter for inhalers with a helium-oxygen mixture for children and adults who have weakened lungs. The task we had to solve was that standard inhalers can’t be used by children and adults with weak lungs because of the device’s high loop resistance. We found a solution, invented an adapter that detects the person’s attempts to inhale and helps him to breathe the mixture through the loop of filters and tubes by increasing the flow rate of the mixture. Then the device detects the attempt to exhale and lowers the flow rate of the mixture back to the base rate, so that the person doesn’t suffocate. Solving this problem cost 800,000 rubles and four months’ time. The market potential for this innovation in Russia alone is about $80 million.
“There is another case: changing school pencil cases from manual to automatic production. The objective that automating solved was to increase production, reduce costs, and reduce the human factor in production. In seven months, we created a completely new line for automatically binding the fabric and cardboard pencil cases, including a transfer belt, primary producers, glue guns managed by a biaxial platform, and an automatic press. Development cost 1.2 million rubles and the economic effect was impressive. Labor costs were reduced by 70%, productivity doubled, and performance consistency for the pencil case production achieved nearly 100%.”
Mikhail Dashkiev: “The algorithm that we created really works. We have been able to create a business founded on science, even if not a large one, and a science that can make real money. Our innovations aren’t anything illusive or mythical – all of our products are tangible.”
Text: Marina Rubanova