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Necessity is the Mother of Invention and Father of Entrepreneurship

Thom Ruhe, Director of Entrepreneurship, The Kauffman Foundation

I recently attended the 39th Annual Induction Ceremony for the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which was held at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. As it has been in years past, it was awe-inspiring and of significant historical interest.

Some of the people inducted included George Devol for the industrial robot; N. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver for the first optically scanned barcode; and Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle for public key cryptography. Many other equally notable individuals were recognized for their contributions as well.

As I met these particular individuals, I was struck by the economic impact (on the world) of their inventions. The entrepreneurial, commercial and industrial endeavors enabled by these innovations had an economic impact of trillions of dollars.

Consider what the industrial robot did for manufacturing; arguably as revolutionary as the assembly line itself. And even though they didn’t invent the Internet, the public key cryptography team made it possible for commerce on the Web. Without that invention, eBay, Amazon, eTrade, Priceline, etc., do not exist. Imagine an Internet without the ability to buy, sell, reserve, order, or ship products. The optically scanned barcode likewise liberated shoppers from an arcane retail world.

Other inductees included Gary Michelson for spinal surgical devices, Eric Fossum for CMOS active pixel image sensor “camera-on-a-chip,” Esther Takeuchi for lithium/silver vanadium oxide battery, and Steven Sasson for the digital camera. To be certain, it was an evening of great innovation, entrepreneurship and inspiration. If you want to have a truly unique and special experience, mark your calendar for May 2nd 2012 for next year’s induction. Hopefully you will see me there – I will be the one looking like a star struck kid in the presence of his childhood heroes!

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