Boston Scientific, www.bostonscientific.com
Creative Commons, http://creativecommons.org
“Don’t worry about developing the perfect product on the first try,” advises John Abele, cofounder of Boston Scientific Corp. who spoke at the recent PTC/User 20th Anniversary World Event in Orlando. “Instead, aim to create a product or service that creates a measurable value, while being clever about beating the competition.” Abele is well positioned to give such nuggets of business wisdom. In the late 1960s, he helped develop a “steerable” catheter, the platform product that gave nowglobal Boston Scientific its start.
Abele says it is a lot harder for start-ups to raise money than in the past. “But overall need and, therefore, opportunity is probably greater for figuring out how to do things more efficiently,” he says. He cites the health-care industry as an example. “Inventors must develop wholesystem- thinking ideas, not just solve one side of the equation. Designers might develop a product that cuts cost, time, and patient problems in one area, but exacerbates these factors in others. So it’s critical to have the big picture.”
He also tells start-ups to bootstrap their business-building instead of constantly borrowing or selling equity as has been the practice over the last 20 years. “Our first funding trick was to get our Japanese distributors to pay in advance for inventory,” says Abele. “Be clever. Look at the entire value chain and ensure you are providing a product of real value. A variation of an already-existing product is still that product. It’s hard to build a business on that base.”
When it comes to the “next big thing,” Abele touts an organization called Creative Commons as a group likely to influence the business of the future. The nonprofit corporation wants to boost creativity in cultural, educational, and scientific content. It provides free, legal licenses that give everyone from individuals to large companies a simple way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. Permissions range from the default “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved” and even to “no rights reserved.” “Loosening restrictions on intellectual property has obviously upset the Apples of the world. But the trend towards socializing tools such as engineering software
will continue to grow,” he says. “According to Darwin, it’s not the strongest or most brilliant of species that survive — it’s the most adaptable,” says Abele. “The challenge is, how do companies stay ‘small’ (adaptable) as they grow? How do firms keep a personal nature and philosophy?” Abele cites W.L. Gore & Associates, developers of Gore-Tex fabric, as having a special approach to these issues: The firm limits working groups to no more 200 people. Everyone knows each other, thus avoiding inefficient information silos commonly found in businesses. In the same vein, says Abele, future successes will be the companies practicing “coopetition” (cooperation + competition). This is a wise approach, he says, because in a global economy, you never know when your company might be bought out by a competitor or vice versa. The event also showcased several current PTC technologies. For example, Pro/Engineer Wildfire 5.0. will include direct editing, which lets users create models on-the-fly without worrying about a history tree. And Windchill ProductPoints software bolts onto Microsoft SharePoint Server to provide social-networking tools such as blogs, instant messaging, Wikis, and MySpace-like pages for engineering projects and product development.
— Leslie Gordon