Early last October, I was kidnapped. Here’s what happened. Matt Pierson called and suggested that I be one of the judges for the New Hampshire High-Tech Council’s (NHHTC) contest for the New Hampshire product of the year. Matt was the chairman for the event. He assured me that my time in the iron-butt meetings would be minimal. He lied.
About 30 companies were vying for the big award and dinner in January 2007. Each contender had to pay a small entry fee to be considered. Our first meeting was to introduce the judges to each other, and to establish procedures for selection. Most of the judges knew each other. New Hampshire, after all, has only 1.2 million people. For the record, the rest of the judges were Hutch Hutchinson, Bob McCray, Ed Mitchell and Steve Varga.
Our decision process was similar to the “American Idol” TV show. We interviewed each applicant for a short time—a matter of minutes. After plowing through the 30, we then took the short list of semifinalists to select the five nominees for the award dinner. All our votes were confidential.
The nominees then made summary presentations to the audience. The judges’ opinion is only half the vote; the audience’s vote counts for the other half. A tie would use the judges’ vote only.
When making the cuts for nominees, we used our emotions and overall views. Most of us had a technology background, so we discussed a methodology that would allow the winners to emerge from analysis. So I proposed a selection criterion and was shot down. The other wiser judges wanted us to think like a jury, not like a computer. Our chairman did have some suggestions. The candidate had to have, in addition to a New Hampshire presence, a product that showed innovation, ease of use, value, uniqueness and performance.
The definition of these terms was up to us. My personal logical list also included marketing and money. I used it as a guide, but threw out any rating system. Using wisdom, not logic is clearly the way to go. We were all surprised that us wise old guys had no real disagreements in ranking. I had expected some heated arguments, but none were forthcoming.
The nominees and their products were
- Animetrics, for a face-recognition system for surveillance;
- Jetboil, for a high-efficiency, outdoor cooking system;
- MetaMersion, for a virtual-reality, immersion gaming system;
- Kollsman, for an enhanced, all-weather vision system for aircraft;
- Nanocomp Technologies, for electrothermal nanotubes made from long carbon fibers, and then spun into fibers, yarns and felts.
|THE WINNER’S CIRCLE|
Nanocomp Technologies’ fibers, yarns and felts made from electrothermal nanotubes are “disruptive technology.”
The winner was Nanocomp. Its fabrics, which company materials call “lightweight structural composites,” have applications ranging from use in batteries and antenna systems to golf clubs and implantable human nerve replacements. Airplanes and body armor are some of the immediate uses.
This is a truly disruptive technology. As cell phones and fiber-optic cables challenged the copper business, Nanocomp’s high-tech fibers and felts disrupt the steel and aluminum business. According to Nanocomp, carbon nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel, 30% percent lighter than aluminum, conduct electricity as efficiently as copper, and heat better than metal.
Whew! I was reminded that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a plastic shell, not aluminum, and is mostly fly-by-wire and managed by computer.
What did I learn in judging these new products? I knew that New Hampshire was the real Massachusetts miracle, and now it’s a high-tech hotbed, too. What I didn’t appreciate was that the tech markets have changed over the last several decades. They’re into security, government and leisure markets and not simply industrial products. Offerings from all the candidates emphasized everyday human use, not just for players in the technology sandbox. All seemed to say that the interface between the company and the user is the key to success.
What should you learn? Simple understanding of technology and physics can supply the core for a successful new product. Even Jetboil’s riff on the camp stove, featuring an expanded surface area, uses basic physics to boil water in half the time. Although this was a technology-based award, each company understood its marketplace. Remember that marketing and technology are twins and must have equal emphasis for success.
I also sat for part of the dinner at the governor’s table with lots of state and federal statesmen eating good food, and supplying stimulating conversation. These folks are intelligent leaders and try their best. We may disagree with them, but they ain’t dumb. I look forward to being kidnapped next year.
|About the Author|