Inspiring Innovation Examples from Notable Pioneers

For aspiring entrepreneurs, the road ahead often seems dark and daunting. The odds are always stacked against you, and the initial investments can be staggering. In a classic high-risk high-reward scenario, you have to bet big to win big. There are many rags to riches stories, and just as many riches to rags stories in the world of business pioneers. However, there are a few encouraging stories that capture the imagination – that a small change, a tiny innovation, can change a good product to an absolutely necessary one. George De Mestral Electrical engineer George De Mestral went hunting one day in the Swiss Alps in 1941 with his dog. When he returned home, he noticed several spiny seeds – called burdock burrs – were stuck to his clothes and the dog’s fur. Noticing the odd adhesive properties of the seed, he took them home and examined them under a microscope, where he noticed hundreds of hooks that caught on anything with a loop, such as fabric, fur or hair. Mestral instantly saw the possibility of binding two sheets of similar material reversibly – with tiny hooks and loops, as a replacement for buttons, strings, zippers and other fasteners. His colleagues initially ridiculed his idea, but he stuck with the idea and took it to Lyon, France, the center of weaving and textiles, to create two prototype cotton strips which worked correctly. However, the proper match of hooks and loops was nearly impossible to manufacture. Mestral finally, as a last ditch idea, created two identical strips of loops, cut the loop tops off the second strip with scissors, and created perfectly matching loops and hooks. Perfecting this process took nearly a decade, until his product – Velcro- was finally patented in 1955. Murray Handwerker Murray Handwerker worked at his father’s hot dog stand in Coney Island in the 1920s, spending so much time in the restaurant that he said he regarded the hot dog bun boxes as his playpen. Throughout his youth, he worked at the stand for such long hours that his body had trouble recovering from the physical strain. A tour of Europe in World War II changed Handwerker’s perspective of the world. Handwerker saw that his father’s accumulated savings could be used to expand the popular hot dog stand to franchises. After three decades of expansion, which saw customers as famed and storied as Al Capone, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barbra Streisand, the restaurant, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, had expanded to 43 restaurants and 10 franchises by 1977. The company was sold to private investors in 1987, securing the future of the entire Handwerker family for generations to come.Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney In 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney were two computer programmers with a visionary idea – playable computer games on your home television. The pair founded Atari, the first major video game company of the modern era. The founders then hired Allan Alcorn, an electrical engineering and computer science specialist, to help in the development of the revolutionary idea of “video games”. Technology in 1972 was severely limited, with the creation of even a single moving pixel on the screen being an immense processing task, with many homes still using black and white television sets. It was a miracle that the trio was able to create a game with two movable paddles (two vertical lines) and a ball (a single pixel) to replicate a game of table tennis. Atari tested the product, Pong, at a local bar, placing the prototype next to pinball machines, the most popular entertainment system of the day, and the game became a smash hit. However, replicating the prototype for mass production was a painful and slow process, at only ten machines per day, many of which failed quality control testing. But patience paid off for the Pong trio – by the next year, Pong had spread to foreign countries and had been hailed as the seminal product in the new field of video gaming. Without Pong, we certainly wouldn’t have had Pac-Man (1980), Super Mario Brothers (1985) and today’s triple A titles such as Call of Duty, Mass Effect or World of Warcraft. The Atari trio made everyday consumers believe that controlling objects on a television could be a reality. These are just three inspiring stories from a library of success stories. Every entrepreneur must summon the courage to face the daunting abyss and believe that through hard work and perseverance, a business pioneer, an innovator, can be born.

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