More Awards for Innovation

Stephen DeAngelis

December 28, 2009

In a couple of recent posts (Promoting Innovation and Entrepreneurship and The New York Times’ Year in Ideas), I’ve focused on end of the year recognition for innovative ideas and companies. The Economist has also published its list of winning innovators for 2009 [“And the winners were…,” 12 December 2009 print issue]. The article notes that The Economist “was established in 1843 to take part in ‘a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress’. One of the chief ways in which intelligence presses forward is through innovation, which is now recognised as one of the most important contributors to economic growth. Innovation, in turn, depends on the creative individuals who dream up new ideas and turn them into reality.” The magazine presents Innovation Awards in eight categories: bioscience, computing and telecommunications, energy and the environment, social and economic innovation, business-process innovation, consumer products, a flexible “no boundaries” category, and the corporate use of innovation. This year’s winners include some innovators who have been mentioned before in my blogs. The list of winners this year is:

Bio-Science: Craig Venter — Dr. Venter is chief executive of Synthetic Genomics, and was recognized “for his contributions to genomics. Dr Venter pioneered the use of expressed sequence tags as a new way to identify human genes, and went on to lead the private initiative to sequence the human genome, completed in 2000. He is now working in the field of synthetic biology, developing modified micro-organisms with the scope to produce clean fuels, among other things.” To learn more about what he is currently working on, see my post entitled Biofuel from Algae.

Business Process: Ratan Tata — Mr. Tata is chairman of the Tata Group, and was recognized “for pioneering the globalisation of corporate India. In 1991, Mr Tata assumed the reins of his family-run company. He has since been the architect of a series of bold foreign acquisitions and is the man behind the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, which costs $2,200.” I first mentioned the Tata Nano in a post entitled Will Cheap Cars Undermine India’s Future? I also mentioned the Tata Group in post about affordable housing entitled Building Little Houses.

Computing and Telecommunications: Raymond Kurzweil — Mr. Kurzweil is founder of Kurzweil Technologies, and was recognized “for his work in artificial intelligence. Mr Kurzweil led the development of the first omni-font character-recognition system, the first text-to-speech reading machine and the first commercial speech-recognition system.” For more information about Mr. Kurzweil and his work, read by post entitled Looking towards the Future with Ray Kurzweil.

Consumer Products and Services: Steve Sasson — Mr. Sasson works with Eastman Kodak and was recognized “for inventing the digital camera. Mr Sasson built the world’s first digital camera in 1975. It had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels and stored images on tape. Digital cameras have since revolutionised photography.”

Energy and the Environment: Richard Swanson — Dr. Swanson is president and chief technology officer of SunPower. He was recognized “for his contributions to solar-cell technology. In 1985 Dr Swanson founded SunPower Corporation to commercialise the solar-cell technology he developed while he was a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University. His design made solar cells thinner, more efficient and cheaper.”

No Boundaries: Mark Zuckerberg — Mr. Zuckerberg is chief executive of Facebook. He was recognized “for popularising social networking. In 2004 Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, a social-networking site, from his dorm room at Harvard University. Initially available only to Harvard students, it is now a global phenomenon with over 300m active users.” For more about social networking, see my post entitled The Social Media Revolution.

Social and Economic Innovation: Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen — Mr. Vestergaard is chief executive of Vestergaard Frandsen, a Swiss-based international company specializing in complex emergency response and disease control products. He was recognized “for developing low-cost health devices for the poor. Mr Vestergaard Frandsen reoriented his family firm from making uniforms to developing products to address the developing world’s greatest health problems. They include PermaNet mosquito nets, ZeroFly insecticide-treated plastic sheeting and the LifeStraw, a portable water-purification device.” The company claims to be “guided by a unique Humanitarian Entrepreneurship business model, whose “profit for a purpose” approach has turned humanitarian responsibility into its core business.”

Corporate Use of Innovation: Reckitt Benckiser — The company was recognized for “its innovative and entrepreneurial corporate culture. Reckitt Benckiser is one of the world’s biggest makers of household cleaning products. It has maintained strong sales and profit growth, despite the recession, because of its diverse, dynamic and innovative culture.”

The article listing the winners also includes a list of the judges who made the selections. That list of people is also impressive. Mired as the global economy is in a terrible recession, there has perhaps never been a more important time to inspire hope in the future by recognizing the efforts of the innovative people on whose work the future will be built. I add my congratulations to them all.