Innovation not for faint of heart, panelists say

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Ken Huth

Four people were inducted in RIT’s Innovation Hall of Fame on May 4. From left to right, Kevin Surace ’85; Robin Cass, representing the School for American Crafts in honor of the late Aileen Osborn Webb; Patricia Moore ’74; Dean Kamen and President Bill Destler.

The president of the company that developed the Segway Human Transporter says it takes patience to be an innovator.

A former Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year says innovation means thinking about what value your product brings to the consumer.

And an internationally renowned gerontologist and designer says when someone says something can’t be done, that’s when you know you are on the right track.

Dean Kamen, Kevin Surace ’85 (electrical engineering technology) and Patricia Moore ’74 (industrial design) were part of a panel discussion May 4 on innovation. The three visited campus to be inducted into RIT’s Innovation Hall of Fame. They, along with the late Aileen Osborn Webb, founder of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts who was instrumental in bringing the School for American Craftsmen to RIT, made up the third class of inductees.

“Innovation is not for the faint of heart,” says Kamen, founder and president of DEKA Research & Development Corp. DEKA also developed the HomeChoice portable dialysis machine. “Get the invention right. Buckle your seatbelt and keep working at it and in 20 years you will have success.”

The discussion ranged from the meaning of innovation to the importance of design. The panelists all emphasized the need to take risks and agreed that it can take a generation for innovation to be accepted.

“When someone tells me we can’t afford to do something, I know I’m on the right track,” says Moore, who was named by ID magazine as one of the 40 Most Socially Conscious Designers in the world.

Moore traveled throughout North America from 1979 to 1982 disguised as a woman in her 80s to learn firsthand about ageism and discrimination. She wrote about those experiences in her books Disguised: A True Story and The Business of Aging.

Surace, who was named by Inc. magazine as its 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year, says timing is critical when it comes to innovation. He made a product in the early 1990s that could surf the Web, but the problem was that there was no Web to search at that time.

He says most innovation happens at universities and startups instead of at big companies. Surace is CEO and president of Serious Materials and a member of RIT’s Board of Trustees. Serious Materials retrofitted all 6,514 windows in the Empire State Building as part of an effort to make the iconic landmark more sustainable and energy efficient.

“RIT is uniquely positioned to push innovation,” he says.

The panel discussion and induction ceremony were held in conjunction with the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, which was May 5.

For more information about the RIT Innovation Hall of Fame, go to