March 3, 2016

4 Things I Learned from the Ad2ATX Austin Innovators Panel

On Wednesday, March 2nd, Ad2ATX put together a panel of Austin innovators to talk about technology, innovation and where the industry is going.The panel included Kevin Callahan of Maggie Louise Confections, Brian Dainton of Spredfast and Michael Westgate of RealMassive, and it was lead by moderator Kristie Taylor, the VP of Technology at Edelman. Each of our panelists have a history of growing innovative companies, so they had a lot to share. Here are four things that they taught me at the Austin Innovators Panel.

1. Innovation Takes Many Forms

Each of the panelists talked about how innovation takes shape at their company... and responses varied.

Spredfast has structured hackathons so employees can get creative and work on passion projects.

For Maggie Louise Confections, being innovative is about using creative solutions to solve challenges such as delivering an un-melted box of chocolate in Austin in July.  Not to mention Maggie Louise Confections is incredibly innovative at using technology to creatively present their chocolate.

For RealMassive, innovation is about introducing processes and new technology into an industry, and creating more efficiency.

So no matter how innovation takes form at your company, it's important. It helps you stand out from your competitors. As Brian from Spredfast said, "[innovation] gives your customer something they didn't know they needed yet."

2. Innovative Companies Grow Their People

Austin's creative energy will help us weather any start-up bubble. But how can companies foster that energy to create a team of innovators?

Spredfast grows and attracts top engineers by giving them hard challenges to address and providing the right level of guidance and freedom.

Maggie Louise Confections looks for people with "spark," i.e., the people who are motivated and able to level up with the company as it grows.

Mike from RealMassive believes that transparency and collaboration are the key factors to empower employees toward a vision.

3. How can you be an Innovator?

We asked for advice on how to become successful in our own pursuits for innovation, and there was a theme: Always be learning.

Our panelists advised us to learn how to speak and listen. Seek a wide breadth of experience. Connect with people you can learn from. But remember that while you're learning, you should always give first.

4. Last but not Least... Virtual Reality is Coming

We've all heard of virtual reality and the many attempts to bring it into our every day lives (Google Glass, Oculus Prime, and now Google Cardboard).

But why hasn't virtual reality caught on? One panelist expressed that the "dork factor" may get in the way. But what if that's removed, and people consider VR to be more approachable? What if Google Glass looked like Ray-Bans? Would you buy it?

Perhaps virtual reality isn't a technology challenge, but a user experience challenge. This year may be a tipping point for the approachability of virtual reality.

Technology changes fast, so it's hard to know what will change in the next 3, 5, 10 years. What are your predictions?

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