Archive for December, 2014

San Diego is a Hotbed of Innovation

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

On Thursday, December 4th, CONNECT held its 27th Annual Most Innovative New Product (MIP) Award dinner to honor San Diego companies that had launched innovative new products within the last year. There were more than 700 attendees at the event held at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine, led by Mistress of Ceremonies Maureen Cavanaugh of the Midday Edition of KPBS. There were 102 nominations that were narrowed down to 24 finalists by 100 judges, culminating in eight new MIP winners. The 2014 MIP Award winners selected were:

Aerospace & Security Technologies

CyberFlow Analytics for FlowScape – The “platform enables Advanced Threat Protection through a sophisticated Anomaly Detection system and has been designed in a modular fashion in alignment with cloud computing principles and runs entirely in the context of virtual machines…the system involves a series of connected multi-model ‘analytics engines’ that contain hundreds of mathematical predictors that can machine learn network communication transmissions and identify odd anomalous behavior across an entire network…[It} is scalable to handle big data network and application flows through cloud-ready virtualized analytics engines.”

The other finalists were: Cubic Defense Applications for Halo Array, 3D Robotics for IRIS, Space Micro, Inc. for IPC7000, Image Processing Computer.

Communications & IT

Cubic Transportation Systems for NextBus Fleet Management Application – The “application is a modular, mobile gateway for connecting passengers and public transport operators to valuable real-time travel and operations information. For passengers, this means knowing exactly where their next bus is so they know how long their wait time is. For operators, it is a cost-effective, high-quality and reliable application to keep buses on schedule and drive efficiencies in their services.”

This award shows that long-established company can still develop an innovative new product. Cubic Transportation System is “the leading provider of revenue collection management systems and services worldwide” and is one of three business segments of parent company, Cubic Corporation. Walter J. Zable founded Cubic Corporation as a small electronics company in San Diego in 1951, and he remained involved in the management of the company as CEO until his death in 2012 at the age of 97.

The other two segments are:

Mission Support Services is “an industry leader in providing comprehensive support services for all echelons of national militaries and security forces in the U.S. and allied nations.”

Cubic Defense Applications is “the leading provider of live air and ground combat training systems worldwide, a key supplier of virtual and immersive training systems, communications and electronics products, and an emerging provider of cyber technologies and global tracking solutions for commercial and national military customers.”

I started working at Cubic Defense when I was 19 years old for the Chief Scientist, Chief Physicist, and a Staff Engineer in the Marketing Department. The latter had previously developed the geodetic SECOR satellite surveying system, the first of its kind to produce a direct coast-to-coast measurement of the United States long before the Global Positioning System was developed. He was on the fast track for advancement and was promoted to Marketing Manager three years later, and I moved up with him as his assistant at age 22. When I started my own manufacturers’ sales rep agency in 1985, both Cubic Transportation and Cubic Defense became customers for companies that I have represented over the years.

The other finalists were: DVEO division of Computer Modules, Inc. for Ad+EAS Serter™ and Tricopian, LLC for FuelRod.

Diagnostics & Research Tools

Organovo, Inc. for 3D Human Liver Model – “Organovo’s Bioprinted Human Tissue Models are multi-cellular, dynamic, and functional 3D human tissue models for preclinical testing and drug discovery research. Created using proprietary 3D bioprinting process, the tissues remain viable and dynamic for extended time in vitro and exhibit key architectural and functional features that mimic key aspects of the natural 3D tissue environment. Biochemical, genomic, proteomic and unique histologic endpoints can be assessed over time.”

In addition to the MIP award, the life science magazine The Scientist’s selected Organovo’s ex Vive 3D human liver tissue for the seventh place spot of the top 10 innovations for 2014.

The other finalists were: bioTheranostics, Inc for Breast Cancer Index (BCI) and Edico Genome for DRAGEN Bio-IT Processor.

Mobile Apps

Rock My World, Inc. for RockMyRun – this is a mobile app that takes biometric data from smart phones and fitness wearable devices “to adjust the tempo of the music you’re listening to in order to match your pace or motivate you to push just a little harder.”

The other finalists were: GreatCall for Urgent Care and Visual Mobility Inc. for SEENiX.

Pharmaceutical Drugs and Medical Devices

Topera, Inc. for Topera’s 3D Mapping System – the system “consists of the FDA cleared and CE marked RhythmView™ Workstation and FIRMap™ Catheter, which are used in combination for the identification and localization of the sustaining mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, atrial tachycardia, and ventricular tachycardia.”

On October 30, 2014, the Chicago-based healthcare company, Abbott announced it would acquire Topera “with all outstanding equity for $250 million upfront with potential future payments tied to performance milestones.”

The other finalists were: Bioness for Vector Gait and Safety System and Diazyme for 25-OH Vitamin D Assay for Clinical Chemistry Analyzers.


CloudBeds for CloudBeds – It is an operating system for hotels to “provide the hotel with an automated website, booking engine, Facebook presence, revenue management platform, distribution channels, rate and package manager, and light-weight property management system. The system “automates many of these functions so that an hotelier can focus on its guests instead of managing its property and selling its rooms.” Their “goal is to continue to help streamline connectivity between small hotels and their customers using the latest innovations in software — improving their operational and communication efficiencies.” Their focus is on “the large developing world marketplace.”

The other finalists were: Intific for NeuroBridge 2.0 and Raken, Inc. for Raken.

Sport & Active Lifestyle Technologies

Electrozyme LLC for ProFit SE Real-Time Sweat Electrolyte Sensor – this is world’s first wearable personal hydration monitor that can asses assess fluid and electrolyte loss in a real-time non-invasive way to determine if it’s time to rehydrate, what to rehydrate with, and how much to rehydrate.

The other finalists were: Bast Surf for Bast and Cardiff Skate Co. for Cardiff Skates.


Solatube International for Solatube SkyVault Series – the patented technologies of the Sky Vault series combines breakthrough optics with progressive engineering to enhance light capture, focus light over greater distances, or spread light evenly throughout a space.

I wrote about Solatube in the second edition of my book because they “reshored” by returning manufacturing from China to their plant in Vista at the end of 2011, partially because of the risk of intellectual property theft of their proprietary technologies, in addition to increasing costs and difficulty in managing their offshore manufacturing.

The other finalists were: Blue Wave International, Inc. for ClearWaveAir and Measurabl for Measurabl.

Two other awards were given at the event: CONNECT’s Distinguished Contribution Award for Life Sciences Innovation was awarded to philanthropist T. Denny Sanford received, and the Distinguished Contribution Award for Technology Innovation was awarded to Dr. Robert S. Sullivan, Dean of the Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego.

From inventors being educated and mentored through the San Diego Inventors Forum to entrepreneurial teams developing technology based products being assisted and mentored through CONNECT’s Springboard program, San Diego is a hotbed of innovation. “Since the inception of the program in 1993, more than 3000 scientific and technological breakthroughs have been guided through the process of innovation to commercialization. Together, these companies have raised over $ 1.4 Billion in capital.” To me, this makes San Diego the “Silicon Beach” of California.

Miller Ingenuity Combines Innovation and Lean to Create a Unique Culture

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Blue, President of Miller Ingenuity, located in Winona, Minnesota. Winona is a medium-sized Midwestern town of under 30,000 people located on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in the southeastern corner of Minnesota across the river from Wisconsin.

“Rudy” Miller founded the company more than 60 years ago after inventing the wick lubricator, a maintenance free lubricating system for locomotives. Miller’s inventiveness enabled the company to develop into a successful company by means of the ability to design, produce and deliver innovative railroad parts that meet the needs of the industry.

Miller Ingenuity currently has 50 employees at their 70, 000 sq. ft plant, but has 18 sales people around the world selling to 100 countries, including Asia. The company remained a privately held enterprise of the Miller family after Mr. Miller’s death 18 years ago, and Mr. Blue became president 15 years ago.

As described on their website, Mr. Blue is carrying on the innovation legacy of Mr. Miller: “Our continued innovations are driven by three core motivations: to take on customer challenges, to think more creatively about solutions, and, humbly, to be everyday heroes to our customers. We put these beliefs into action based on deep and “factory floor” relationships with our customers and on our ability to invent, engineer, and deliver ingenious solutions.”

Mr. Blue stated that the company started on their Lean journey ten years ago, and every employee went through the training. Two of their employees are Black Belts from training they had received when they worked for General Electric. The company has expanded Lean out of the shop floor into “lean office,” but not into “lean accounting” as yet.
In answer to my question as to whether the company is having problems finding employees with the right skills, Mr. Blue said, “Yes, but it is because we are picky by design. We have created a culture, and not everyone fits into our culture. We are slow to hire, but fast to fire if someone doesn’t fit. It’s easy to teach skills, but attitude is more important.”

Mr. Blue added, “We do continuous training as part of our Lean program. We have self-directed work teams and utilize peer interviewing and reviews. We have a “bounty” program with a $5,000 cash award for the most innovative ideas. For example, six production workers reduced a stamping die set up from four hours to 16 minutes.”

Since I saw a wide variety of products on their website utilizing many different fabrication processes, I asked if they were vertically integrated to do sheet metal fab, machining, rubber and plastic molding, wire forming, electronics assembly in-house or if they subcontracted out some of these fabrication services. Mr. Blue said, “We do metal stamping, compression rubber molding, and injection molding of plastics in-house, and subcontract out the other fabrication processes.”

Naturally, I asked if he outsourced any manufacturing offshore to China or other Asian countries, and he responded, “We have some electronic subassemblies and surface mount printed circuit boards sourced overseas, along with some overmolded rubber parts because our competition was selling products at our U. S. cost.”

On their website, I had noticed a heading for the Larry McGee Company and asked Mr. Blue about the company. He said, “We acquired the Larry McGee Company in March of this year. They were our third acquisition in the past 10 years. They had a great product line of radio-controlled interface devices, but no sales force. It was a low risk opportunity to enter into a different technology. We moved their operations into our plant from their Chicago facility.”

I had received a press release about the company’s Creation Station, so I asked Mr. Blue why they started it. He said, “We started the Creation Station because our ability to innovate was slowing down and needed to be accelerated. We hired the ex-Chief Creativity Officer from QVC to teach us innovation principles. We started by having an innovation session every Tuesday, but wanted innovation to be more spontaneous and not wait until Tuesdays. This led to creating a space away from their working space in the middle of the manufacturing area. Glass panels provide natural light. Smart boards are scattered about the room, and there is a pool table in the middle of the room. But, the magic is in the people, not the room.”

An article in the Winona Daily News provides further information, “Creation Station is a big investment in creativity and entrepreneurialism in manufacturing at a level where it needs a shot in the arm,” said Steve Blue, Miller Ingenuity President and CEO. “It’s truly a breakthrough moment for our company, the town of Winona, the region, and small and mid-sized manufacturers in this country.”

“Creation Station offers a flexible workspace designed for both large and more intimate presentations, trainings and meetings. Creation Station will also be made available during off-business-hours for regional organizations and companies looking for a high-tech “think tank” space.”

In addition to the Creation Station, Miller Ingenuity created the 2014 Ingenuity Challenge, open to employees and the general public. The public invitation stated: “The Ingenuity Challenge invites ALL college and graduate students to submit plans and creative ideas in response to the challenge – How Might American Manufacturers Attract the Best and Brightest Innovative Minds to Pursue Careers in the Manufacturing Industry. The best solutions will win: 1st place $7,000; 2nd place $2,000; and 3rd place $1,000.” The deadline was November 19th, and they had eight entries at the time of our interview on November 17th. The winners have not been announced yet, but the results will be made publicly available, and the ideas will not be proprietary to Miller Ingenuity.

In answer to my final question as to what does he attribute the company’s ability to prosper after 60 years in business, he answered, “Our culture by design, not default has enabled us to prosper. We have a cohesive, collaborative, and creative culture.”

We will be hearing more from Steve Blue as he told me that he had just signed a deal with Praeger Publishing to publish a book titled “American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make it Right.” We obviously share a common love of manufacturing and realize its importance to our economy and the creation of good-paying jobs. His book is expected to be published in the fall of 2016 and will utilize “up-to-the-minute data and trends to discuss the future of manufacturing in America and offers an inspiring vision—featuring his own company’s case studies—for revitalizing an entire industry.”

Idea Jam Explores Future of Jobs in San Diego

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

On November 7, 2014, I attended the “Idea Jam – Innovating for the Future” session put on by the Pacific Center for Workforce Innovation in San Diego. The purpose of the session was to identify the major challenges to the San Diego workforce in the coming years and to generate audience participation in visioning exercises to explore new and innovative workforce development ideas. The event was held at Colman University, and major sponsors were SDG&E, Qualcomm, the Eastridge Group, Point Loma Nazarene College, and Cal State University, San Marcos.

To get our creative juices flowing, Master of Ceremonies, Susan Taylor, San Diego’s TV news icon, introduced Futurist Speaker, Thomas Frey, of the DaVinci Institute as the keynote speaker. It is difficult to do justice to his very visual presentation of images of break-through technologies, but his statements alone created much food for thought about the future. He stated, “We are a backward-looking society…the future gets created in the mind. The future creates the present…Visions of the future affect the way people act today.” He rhetorically asked, “What are the big things that need to be accomplished today?

He continued, “Catalytic innovation creates entirely new industries, like electricity did…Most successful companies today are in the second half of the bell curve…the steel industry had its peak employment in the 1980s.”

It was a shock to hear him state that “Two billion jobs will disappear by 2030…Every time you download a mobile app, you are eliminating a piece of a job.” In answer to his own rhetorical question, “Where will our next generation’s jobs come from, he answered, “from new industries that don’t exist now.” He added, “As you raise the bar for our achievement, we create the new norm.”

“Software is heating the world,” he proclaimed. “In 2030, there will be 100 trillion sensors in the world. Information is being parsed into small things.” He cited some of the new enhanced objects such as: Amazon’s Track Car, the Asteroid Moon Micro-imager Experiment (amie) For Smart-1 Mission, the Vitality Glow Cap for medication management, the Ambient Umbrella by Ambient Devices, Mimo’s Baby monitor, the flying Nixie camera (a tiny wearable camera on a wrist band in which the wrist straps unfold to create a quadcopter that flies, takes photos or video, then comes back to you), the Philips biometrics coffee maker that can recognize users via their fingerprint and make coffee just the way that individual likes it, and the Pintofeed, calling itself the “first intelligent pet feeder”

He explained that “we are entering the age of hyperawareness and the quantified self with products such as printable skin sensors, smart body watches, brain hacking, transcranial brain stimulation.”

Frey stated, “3D printing is changing the world. The new HP 3D printer has 30,000 spray nozzles and can utilize over 200 materials. The iBox Nano is now the world’s smallest, least expensive 3D resin printer. Even shoes can be 3D printed, and Contour Crafting has developed a type of ceramics printing that could be used in construction. Whole walls can now be made by 3D printing, and a company in China was the first company to print a small house for under $5,000. The goal is to print an entire house in one day. In the future, you may live in a printed house…Bio printing can now print skin, veins, organs like a liver, limbs, and an exo skeleton, and there is a pill printer that chemprints antibiotics.” He quoted Chris Anderson, former editor of WIRED magazine and now cofounder and CEO of 3DRobotics, as saying, “3D printing is going to be bigger than the internet.”

“We need to prepare our children for jobs that don’t exist and technology that hasn’t been invented, he declared…By 2030, the average person will have to ‘reboot’ their career six times in their lifetime. To do this, we need to frame our work to train people in a faster way…By 2020, half of all traditional colleges will disappear.”

To facilitate this rapid training, he shared that the DaVinci Institute now offers 11-13-week courses in such topics as 3D printing, web design, game design and development and becoming a drone pilot.” He concluded by saying, “The fastest way to create new jobs is to eliminate the old ones out of existence.”

In California, the community college system is already providing this type of accelerated, focused training through their certificate programs in such subjects as multimedia, web design, web server maintenance and security, and culinary arts. It will be relatively easy to add new training topics to the curriculum to meet future needs.

After Mr. Frey’s predictions of the future, a panel of business leaders discussed what is happening in their industries and what new industries should we focus on. Jeff Nichols from Sempra Energy stated that “San Diego is the nexus of cyber security…Delivering electricity and water is synergistic, so there are opportunities to putting these two together.”

Dr. Ed Abeyta from the University of California, San Diego said, “We need to teach skill sets in a non-university setting but he hasn’t seen an online program that successfully replaces teaching in person.” He added, “We need micro-credentials that you could earn rapidly.”

Matt Grob of Qualcomm said, “The companies that change fastest are the small, startup companies. San Diego is very well placed in the robotics industry…UCSD is starting an incubator for robotics” With regard to training, he said, “A combination of a person and a computer are better than a computer or a person alone.”

In answer to the question, how do we prepare for the change and foster the culture of change in others? Dr. Abeyta responded, “Humanity had its core values before technology came, and we must instill those in our children. We need to marry the technology with our core values. It is not about getting the answer; it is Are we asking the right questions?” Dr. Smith of West Health commented, “We can teach how to think and not what to know.”

The last half of the morning was spent in an idea jam session by small table groups to come up with two ideas: most innovative and most likely to succeed. After lunch, the following panel of judges discussed the ideas developed by the audience: Molly Cartmill, Sempra Energy, Michael Alston, Qualcomm, and Mary Walter-Brown, Voice of San Diego. After presenting all of the ideas for the 17 different tables, the audience voted on the best ideas for both categories. The best ideas were:

Most Likely to Succeed

“Tinder, but for networking and mentoring.” (Note: Tinder is a matchmaking mobile app that uses GPS technology, in which users can set a specific radius have the option to match with anyone that is within that distance.)

“Industry developed after school programs to build skill sets and networking for specific career areas.”

“Change the hiring process from resumes to problem solving practices.”

“Retool community centers and libraries to be career path hubs.” (my idea at my table)

Most Innovative:

“Programmer boot camps for under-served communities integrated with soft and life skills.”

“Establish a mentoring program for retired professionals to share advice and knowledge to persons in transition”

“Implement playgrounds of interests at schools to help students see the possibilities i.e. Maker Spacers & digital playgrounds.”

“Geolocation app that reveals available parking, especially in downtown SD via satellite, with timer alerts”

When I think of the fact that I am now on my fourth career path, I can see that six career paths is a realistic prediction for the future. Just like continuous improvement is one of the tools for becoming a Lean company, continuous learning will be a prerequisite for everyone who wants to keep working during their even longer productive lifetime in the future. My definition of success has been to learn something new to the point of proficiency, so I can highly recommend continuous learning to others. It’s what makes life interesting, challenging, and fun!