Innovations come in all shapes and sizes, but at The Brandery in Over-the-Rhine, only disruptive innovations will do.

“Our job at The Brandery is to create an environment where companies can work and eventually disrupt their industries,” says Rob McDonald, a co-founder of The Brandery, named one of the top 10 seed-stage business accelerators at South by Southwest (SXSW), the interactive conference.

That was one of the innovation insights offered at Cincy Magazine’s annual Power 100 breakfast forum in late February. Presented in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the forum drew more than 300 to the Hyatt Regency downtown for a discussion by some key Power 100 figures that have an important role in the region’s evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

McDonald distinguished between what he called discontinuous innovation and sustaining innovation.

“A sustaining innovation might be making an adjustment in an existing product. So, for example, switching from a dial phone to a touch-tone phone. A discontinuous innovation would be switching from a landline to a smart phone.”

As an example, he cited FlightCar, a Brandery company founded by Harvard, MIT and Princeton graduates, that is attempting to transform the airport car rental market by using software for short-term rentals of private cars parked at airports by travelers.

“They’re open in three airports, renting over 2,500 cars a month,” he says.

Besides McDonald, an attorney at Taft Law, the panel led by David M. Szymanski, dean of the Lindner School, included UC President Santa Ono; John Dubis, president and CEO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare; and Brent Cooper, president of C-Forward Information Technologies in Covington.

For Cooper, who is also interim chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, innovation starts with the hiring process.

“We make sure when we bring people in that they have a mindset of constantly learning and constantly adapting. Change is an everyday occurrence at C-Forward,” he says.

A provider of computer network and consulting services, C-Forward has averaged 22 percent growth since its founding 15 years ago, he says.

Echoing Cooper’s view, Dubis argues that employees, not management, drive innovation.

“It’s really a bottom-up driven process,” he says. “Our associates take great pride in finding new and better ways of delivering care to patients. It’s something they continually monitor and participate in on their own. We evaluate and recognize important successes because that’s how you reinforce the culture of taking risk, doing something different and making it better for patients. Even those that don’t succeed. It’s not a culture of being negative or punitive. It’s a culture of saying, ‘OK, we tried. Now what can we do to make it better?’ That’s something hard to do in large organizations, particularly health care.”

He also made the connection between innovation and quality.

“Quality is what makes the difference in great health care. We went on a journey back in 1999 and 2000 to really focus on those activities. We require every department, whether clinical or support area like housekeeping, to come up with two to three innovative ways to do their job better. Better quality lowers cost and means better value for our customers.”

Health care is in the midst of the most innovation it’s seen since the arrival of Medicare and Medicaid 50 years ago, he says.

“We’re going from a hospital-based health care system to an ambulatory-based health care system. That’s why St. Elizabeth’s has embraced urgent care centers,” he says. “We recognize we’re going to have to keep people healthier and, as such, have to do things like creating teams of staff that monitor patients’ activities and behaviors to ensure they do the right things.”

Ono says UC sees its role as being a catalyst for innovation in the region. One example is the University of Cincinnati Research Institute, a collaborative effort between private industry and UC faculty and students to solve problems.

In existence for little more than a year, Ono calls it “a smashing success,” involving more than 80 projects.

One of the more visible projects is UC’s partnership between its engineering faculty and GE Aviation to work on next-generation jet engine technology. Another example he cites is UC’s development of a college of medicine and a cooperative education institute in the central Chinese city of Chongqing. He says ultimately those efforts could bring as many as 2,000 Chinese students and $10 million a year to UC.

More than a century ago, UC was a pioneer in the development of cooperative education, and Ono says it’s continuing to innovate in the classroom with new techniques such as interdisciplinary classes.

“[In] the last four years, we’ve been building a different kind of classroom where two or three faculty members from different colleges get together with a group of students from all those colleges where they work on real world problems. That’s how they learn,” he says.

Partners & Sponsors

University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business