Innovation is the fuel of economic growth, and the Holy Grail for companies and countries around the globe; Israel’s Innovation Formula

February 25, 2013, 4:49 p.m. ET

In Search of the Spark…and the Next Big Thing

Innovation is the fuel of economic growth, and the Holy Grail for companies and countries around the globe


What makes a company innovative? An individual? A country? Why is Silicon Valley still such an exceptional—and singular—example of self-propelled creativity? And what will happen when India and China finally learn to mix the magic sauce of innovation in bulk?

Innovation isn’t just at the center of human creativity and corporate profit. It’s fuel for economic growth and one reason hundreds of millions of people in developing countries have leapt up the income curve over the past two decades. Governments, especially authoritarian ones, understand that without it, growth may slow, jobs may get scarce and instability may rise.

“There are already areas of entrepreneurial ferment across Asia,” Tarun Khanna of the Harvard Business School told a group of entrepreneurs, CEOs and industry executives at The Wall Street Journal’s conference on Unleashing Innovation in Singapore last week. The key question, Mr. Khanna counseled the delegates from 25 countries, “is how do we take these little sparks and scale them up in some way that’s meaningful.”

That’s the same question corporate chiefs—from General Electric GE -2.48% toNokia NOK1V.HE +0.98% to Sony 6758.TO -2.31% —are asking every day. How can they generate the spark that ignites the next big thing? Executives at the conference heard some familiar advice: cultivate creativity, a dynamic workplace, irreverence, risk-taking and cross-discipline networking.

But they also got practical. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman of Biocon, a biotech company, zeroed in on the need for more “regulatory innovation,” specifically more use of analytics to measure the safety of drugs. “Do you really need extended clinical trials? Isn’t enough information available to know these drugs are safe and efficacious?”

During a week when Singapore announced it was entering the space race and China faced new accusations of cyberespionage in its hunt for the innovations of others, the delegates also heard how innovation can feed the human spirit, not just the other way round.

“Sometimes in China, there is no freedom of speech,” Michael Anti, a Chinese microblogger based in Beijing, told the gathering. “But you should act and practice freedom of speech as if it existed. Because if you do that, you can create a free mind.”

Updated February 25, 2013, 5:06 p.m. ET

TheTask Forces’ Priorities

Leaders at the Unleashing Innovation conference agreed on these as their top agenda items

Driving Innovation in Large Companies

1. LEARNING CURVE: Innovation skills can be learned. Leaders can impart them in different ways: by observing, by experimenting, by discussion. Great corporate leaders embed innovation into the DNA of their companies.

2. COMMUNICATION IS KEY:A culture of innovation starts with having a common language, which at its most basic level describes to employees what innovation really means.

3. GIVE THEM SPACE: You need to understand the idea of creative space for individuals, teams and the organization. Then you break down barriers within the organization to make it happen.

4. LEARN FROM FAILURE: When it happens, ask: What aspect of customer demand did we neglect? At KodakEKDKQ -0.99% for example, it was digital. The customer should be the ultimate driver of a company’s innovative efforts.


Scott Anthony,Managing Partner, Innosight

Duncan Clark,Chairman, BDA China

Hal Gregersen,Professor of Innovation and Leadership, INSEAD

Ya-Qin Zhang, Chairman, Microsoft Asia-Pacific R&D Group, and Corporate Vice President, Microsoft MSFT -1.40%

Public Policies to Encourage Innovation

1. START YOUNG: Revolutionize education with a curriculum that from a young age stimulates creativity and risk taking.

2. ON MESSAGE: Create an innovative national culture with top public officials sending the message that innovation is vital and failure acceptable. Establish the position of an innovation minister to champion these messages.

3. REWARD RESEARCH: Promote scientific research and establish channels for linking it with business. Stimulate people to innovate on some of society’s biggest challenges by establishing national prizes for solving particular problems.

4. BUILDING BLOCKS: Invest in the basics of education and infrastructure so citizens have a solid foundation to be able to take risks and innovate.


Michael Anti, Journalist, political commentator and microblogger

James E. Rogers, Chairman, President and CEO, Duke Energy

Gary Wang, Founder,

Achieving Entrepreneurial Success

1. SEE A CHANCE: Successful entrepreneurs must have self-confidence, passion, focus. They must have a dream they believe in.

2. TAKE IT: They must have a tolerance for risk. They may fear failure, but they have to be willing to chance it. They must be resilient.

3. FIND RESOURCES: They need enough capital to get their idea off the ground. Capital for an entrepreneur is like oxygen for a scuba diver.

4. STAND APART: They need a clear strategic vision—a strong sense of their customers, their goals and the reasons their products or services are substantially different from others already in the marketplace.


Rohan Mahadevan, Vice President, PayPal Asia

Kiran Mazumdar-ShawChairman and Managing Director, Biocon

Ronnie Screwvala, Entrepreneur, Founder and Trustee, Swades Foundation

Jay S. Walker, Founder,, and Curator, TEDMED

Updated February 25, 2013, 5:04 p.m. ET

Israel’s Innovation Formula

Nava Swersky Sofer is founder and co-chair of NanoIsrael and former president and chief executive of Yissum-Hebrew University Technology Transfer.

On the recipe for Israel’s innovation success:

We have a cultural heritage of academic excellence. We also are a small country with not many friends around us, and we managed to find the only corner of the Middle East with no natural resources.

That leaves you with brainpower and brainpower alone—and the determination to make things work.

On how the military helps business culture:

The military takes people at the age they would normally go to university or college in the U.S., and they spend time in compulsory military service. You find yourself doing things at a very tender age that you wouldn’t normally do at that age in other countries. People grow up. People develop skill sets that they might never develop.

These are people who have learned problem-solving skills, to think quickly on their feet, to work together as teams. Typically, that takes time to learn in life.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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