Inventables Sells Innovation

Read the case and answer the questions that follow. Studying this case will help you better understand how concepts relating to innovation can be applied in a company such as Inventables. Today’s organization relies heavily on innovation.

             Developing new products, finding efficient means to deliver services to customers, or simply improving manufacturing processes are all innovative practices sought by companies. But one firm has crafted a business out of innovation itself. Inventables, a Chicago-based company, helps other firms solve problems in a very unique way.

                   Inventables connects sellers of innovative materials and technologies to businesses. The firm does not actually manufacture anything. It simply provides a venue for creative marketers and engineers to reach out to inventors.

            When the company started in 2003, Inventables mailed a huge package of items to big-name companies like Nike, BMW, Boeing, Motorola, and Procter & Gamble. The idea was to inspire the creative teams at these firms to use new-to-the-market ideas. These businesses eagerly paid the $63,000 subscription fee to garner these packages from Inventables. However, that business model has changed. Now, companies simply visit the Inventables website and see what’s available.

           Cofounded by college buddies Zach Kaplan and Keith Schacht, the company has grown to become an international venture with “technology hunters” who scour the world for undiscovered innovations. Some of these ideas could almost be thought of as science fiction. For example, Inventables has a textured glass that changes color as the temperature changes. It also represents a steel foil that is transparent. Or how about a surface coating that is resistant to ice, corrosion, and bacteria, or a substance that looks like glass and breaks like glass but feels like rubber? These ideas and hundreds more are available through Inventables.48

              The application of each new idea may not be readily apparent, but that’s part of Inventables’ charm: Give companies material and technologies, and let the creative process happen. “The unexpected property expands your understanding of what’s possible,” said Kaplan, the CEO of the company.49

               On Inventables’ website, one can view—free of charge— many of the innovative products the company has found. Savvy inventors who want a wider audience are encouraged to approach the Inventables team and have their ideas showcased on the website. These inventors pay only when they decide to pursue a lead generated through the site. In other words, Inventables serves as a clearinghouse for ideas and does not profit from the actual sale of those ideas. According to Kaplan, “We’re really creating the platform to get people communicating. We create a common language and increase the chance that the exchange will be worth the user’s time.”50

             An example of a company that has benefited from a partnership with Inventables is Antoine Amrani Chocolates. Inventables provided the chocolate company with an edible substance that adds a decorative shimmer to chocolate, thereby attracting more customers. It’s something quite simple but provides enough differentiation for the company to stand out among its competitors.

             Another example is the Palm Treo Pro. The cradle for this state-of-the-art smartphone uses a micro-suction tape. On the tape’s surface are thousands of tiny suction cups; these barely perceptible suction cups replace adhesives. Thanks to Palm’s partnership with Inventables, users of the Palm Treo Pro can now set their smartphone cradle on most surfaces, and it won’t slip or slide or ever leave a sticky residue.

              Although many companies closely guard their innovations and new product developments, Inventables makes available all manner of new ideas to the marketplace. In addition, it provides a venue for inventors to gain a foothold in what could be a very lucrative environment. At one time, if an inventor developed a new material or technology, he or she had to also identify an application for it. But, through Inventables, all an inventor has to do is present the idea and let other firms determine how best to apply that idea.


1.How has Inventables changed the innovation process in businesses?

2.Discuss how creativity and innovation are linked at Inventables.

3.If you were Zach Kaplan, how would you innovate Inventables even further?

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