Reconnecting With the Spirit of Innovation

In spite of what may be charitably described as a lukewarm business climate, an annual conference of suppliers, distributors, and electronics reps is looking solidly toward the future and the innovation that drives the industry.

Attendance at this year's Electronic Components Industry Association Executive Conference is the highest since 2008, according to Robin Gray, president of the ECIA. Most attendees say they are facing a challenging business environment as oversupply plagues one part of the industry (semiconductors), and a potential shortage looms for the hard disk industry following flooding in Taiwan. But presenters gave the industry a much-needed shot in the arm by focusing on innovation, partnership, and profitability. Here are few highlights from the conference.

The cloud is going to be a good thing for the hardware industry for the near future, according to Glenn Derene, senior technology editor at Popular Mechanics magazine. In concept, he said, the ability to centralize and share data in the cloud should reduce the number of gadgets consumers use because memory and speed become less of a differentiator for each device.

But the opposite has occurred: Consumers still use their phones and their PCs or tablets for a variety of uses. Mobility is still the driving force behind the consumption of electronics. It's possible a device such as the “ultrabook” may bring together mobility with content creation, but for the near-term, PCs, tablets, and smartphones will continue to coexist.

The forecast for the 2011 semiconductor market continues to look grim and is still a moving target, according to IHS iSuppli director and chief analyst for semiconductor manufacturing Len Jelinek. Forecasts for 4.5 percent growth earlier in the year have been downgraded to 2.9 percent, and that number is still under pressure, says Jelinek. The reasons: US consumers are still afraid of spending because of the jobs market and the global economy; Europe is struggling with a debt crisis; Japan, in spite of a remarkable recovery from the March disaster, still remains a closed market to many foreign businesses; and emerging markets are fighting inflation.

The upshot: The semiconductor market is expected to see 2.9 percent growth in 2011; the market will stabilize in early 2012; and growth will begin to gain traction in the second half of the year.

In the most inspiring presentation of the day (if not the year) inventor Dean Kamen advocated the role of science and technology in education. Kamen, holder of 440 patents and the inventor of the Segway, said his greatest accomplishment was the founding of FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

FIRST is a mentoring program in which professionals help students compete in an annual robot-building contest for a total of $14 million in scholarships. From a handful of executive volunteers in 1989, FIRST has expanded to 50 countries around the globe. Independent studies show FIRST alumni go on to graduate high school and college and most pursue careers in science and technology. Kamen has had the support of Fortune 500 corporations and has developed technology that has vastly improved the quality of life for diabetics, amputees, and impoverished people around the world.

EBN will be writing more about his efforts in upcoming weeks. We'll also provide more information on other presentations and winners of the ECIA Marketing Awards.

18 comments on “Reconnecting With the Spirit of Innovation

  1. Eldredge
    October 25, 2011

    I have been involved with programs similar to FIRST. It is a great way to encourage our high school students to pursue a rewarding career in technology.

  2. saranyatil
    October 25, 2011

    This is really a good practice which will help to create an innovation era and can witness a better futuristic generation.

  3. Himanshugupta
    October 25, 2011

    “the ability to centralize and share data in the cloud should reduce the number of gadgets consumers use because memory and speed become less of a differentiator for each device.” Isn't cloud computing bad for the industry. This will increase the enterperize based business as enterprizes will need better performing servers but comsumer market will shrink. Would this open up a path to different kind of computing devices that are unknown today?

  4. AnalyzeThis
    October 25, 2011

    @Himanshugupta, the consumer market won't shrink… on the contrary, consumers will likely buy more/newer devices that can take full advantage of the new cloud-based services.

    I don't really see how cloud computing is bad for the industry. Certain companies will need to adapt to the new reality, but on the whole I think widespread cloud adoption will create all sorts of interesting new integrated devices and services with features that many have yet to even imagine.

    It is easy to fear something because it's so different from the traditional way, but I think the cloud is certainly nothing to worry about.

  5. alawson
    October 25, 2011

    Barb –Great post–sounds like a good theme for a conference with attendees like this one. And I can't say I'm not jealous to have missed Dean Kamen. Google his name and you have to fight through the untrue rumors of his death on a Segway.  once that is through, you'll see him praised for his ability to 'think differently' and reimagine how people get from place to place. I am glad to see someone with that ability is attacking other areas of need.  Thanks for bringing his message to us.

  6. Taimoor Zubar
    October 25, 2011

    I agree with DennisQ here. The good thing about cloud computing is that it allows consumer devices (such as smartphones, tablets etc) to access business reated information directly from the cloud. Tradionally this informaiton could only be accessed through dedicated machines. Considering this, the rise in cloud computing and storage may prove to be a good thing for electronic manufacturers as it would increase the consumption of consumer electronic devices. 

  7. Tim Votapka
    October 25, 2011

    I was on the board of directors for the Long Island FIRST during its initial six years here. The public competitions are high-toned arena-style competitions and well worth viewing. But what goes on during the 6 weeks prior; now that's the story. Kaman wanted youngsters to be as excited about technology as they are about the NCAA or NFL. Judging by the growth of this program region by region, he's getting his target met. Looking forward to hearing more.

    BTW, the program has a component for middle-school students as well. It's a Lego League version.

  8. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 26, 2011

    I like this FIRST initiative to promote the spirit of science and technology among the young generation. 

    Is this initiative spaning across the globe or it is restricted to US only?

  9. tioluwa
    October 26, 2011

    I'm hearing of FIRST for the first time, and i think its an awesome idea, i've been looking to start such a project in my country in africa.


  10. jbond
    October 26, 2011

    The FIRST program sounds like an excellent idea. It is great to hear about young students getting excited about science. These students are our future; we need them to be excited about the future possibilities. From the sounds of this, they are well under way to achieving significant growth and involving students from all over the country.

  11. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 26, 2011

     I hadn't heard of FIRST before this presentation, and I was amazed at its accomplishments. It has absolutely exploded. One of the last events was too big for the Disney Epcot Center and had to be moved to a sports arena. Kamen has made a huge impact on school-age children and they are developing their own roster of superstars. His message is spot-on: we have to get kids to idolize the folks with brains as well as brawn. Thanks to those of you that have already been involved, and for those of you that would like to, Kamen provided this email address:

  12. Ms. Daisy
    October 26, 2011

    Thanks for the post and the information on FIRST. this is the way to rejuvenate the innovative and enterpreneural spirit.

  13. Tim Votapka
    October 27, 2011

    Oh it's grown beyond U.S. borders. FIRST is primarily a national program that challenges teams of students and their mentors to design and build a 130 pound robot in a six-week timeframe using a standard “kit of parts” and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in a series of robotics competitions designed by Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers. The International Competition has grown to more than 1,303 teams competing in 37 Regional Events, including Israel and Brazil.

  14. Tim Votapka
    October 27, 2011

    And by the way, Kamen grew up on Long Island. So he's not your average Silicon Valley dude!

  15. Ms. Daisy
    October 29, 2011

    The FIRST model is how to get the young and bright minds to innovate. Other than the focus being on robotics, how is this different from Boys and girls club?

  16. Anna Young
    October 30, 2011

    FIRST mentoring program sounds great. This is a brilliant idea to involve and challenge young budding scientific minds. What's more to take these young talents  beyond this model program  is just fantastic and rewarding ( we owe it to the future generations).

    Well done Dean Kamen, this is indeed keeping with the spirit of innovation.

  17. Tim Votapka
    October 30, 2011

    Aspects that set FIRST apart:

    • Youngsters interact directly with engineer mentors from high-tech firms in their region.
    • The program involves kids of all shapes, sizes and interests. I've seen sports jocks and science buffs get into this with passion.
    • The program gives kids a sense of business too as they often get into fundraising activities to support their team.
    • Communities around the competing school get fired up about technology and science with the same enthusiasm as a high school homecoming game.

    …and that's not all.

  18. electronics862
    October 31, 2011

    Thanks for the post Barbara. It is really good idea of mentoring students, it will connect the students with tech professional where they learn ideas from industry professionals. 

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