By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
A few years ago, a contributor in Forbes put it this way: “Invention creates an ability, but innovation takes that ability and allows it to scale and create some kind of market impact.”
But which comes first? Does invention lead to innovation or it is the other way around? My answer would be neither. However, like the old song says, you can’t have one without the other.
Both start with a problem so significant that virtually any potential solution can command attention — even if said solution is far-fetched, from unconventional origins, or is brought forward by an entrepreneur who doesn’t have previous business experience.
One such innovator/inventor was Carl Magee, a lawyer and newspaper man of some reputation — partly for his role in exposing the Teapot Dome Scandal and partly because he was tried (and acquitted) of manslaughter after pulling a gun on a judge who insulted him and accidentally shooting a bystander.
Understandably, Magee sought a change of scene and ended up eventually at the Oklahoma City News. In the 1930s, as a member of the Oklahoma City Chamber, he served on the traffic committee.
By then, there were an estimated 500,000 cars in the state, registered mostly in and around Oklahoma City. Local merchants felt they were losing sales because people parked in the parking spaces in front of their stores and stayed all day. People who worked downtown complained that they had to arrive at work before daybreak just to get a parking place.
Magee came up with the idea of increasing traffic turnover with a coin-operated wind up meter that had to be fed coins.
Like the world’s best innovators, he assembled a team of experts that included folks from the Oklahoma State Engineering Department and a plumber to make the new machine watertight. He filed a patent and worked with city traffic enforcers who were already trying to justify parking tickets with chalk marks on car tires.
Magee completed a 175-meter beta test. As expected, the machines solved the parking problem. Less expected was the revenue in nickels-per-hour and fines that accrued to the city. Magee raised an “angel” investment round from local business people, contracted manufacturing in Tulsa, and by the early 1940s there were more than 140,000 parking meters in the U.S.
Innovation happens when the Carl Magees of the world, in the course of their daily responsibilities, envision opportunities and are willing to take on problems that no one else has been able to solve.
There are a lot of people like that in Oklahoma today. It’s our job to let them know that they have our support, whether with capital, advisory services, or legislative action that makes it easy to spread innovation and the businesses and jobs it creates across our state.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Read the article at newsok.com