Kim Howard – When people hear the term “innovation” they think of Silicon Valley; Apple, Google; high tech ideas and processes. And while I can’t argue that these associations shouldn’t rise to the top, most SBDCs are not working with clients like Google or Apple. They work with a range of start ups, from small manufacturers to retail to service. That’s important to note, because it highlights the importance of considering other industry sectors when developing and growing a community’s economic base.
My new association for innovation is Lifesong Academy.
Lifesong Academy is a small start-up in Evansville that has a customized approach to treating autism. I don’t know much about autism and even less about the therapy used to treat it. The technique used at Lifesong is still new enough that there are limited places in the country where providers can go for training. What really interests me about the company is how it was started and how it’s changing the way a particular segment of the market receives services. This is innovation at its best: offering something unique that has value to the end user.
Here’s the short version: Lifesong Academy was started by a successful former G.E. executive and the mother of an autistic child. She recognized that to improve her son’s successful integration into the adult world, he needed to work with therapists who employed a radically different treatment model; one that had an underlying assumption that how a person acts doesn’t always reflect who a person is or who they can be.
So, she quit her job and, after an extensive search found a new therapeutic approach that did not rely on a diagnosis or baseline cause for treating children with behavior challenges. After completing the educational requirements to receive her own certification as a provider, her next step was to bring the practice to a broader audience. She is now offering applied behavior analysis to children and young adults at a refurbished historic high school in the near downtown area. Fall 2012 will be her official first class.
This type of start-up, where the target market is entrenched with existing providers who use accepted protocols can be an uphill battle. However, if Lifesong is successful, it offers an opportunity for talented individuals from various professional backgrounds the chance to learn cutting edge ways to work with behaviorally challenged children. It has the potential to function as a research facility that publishes outcomes and results so that more families can benefit from a broader spectrum of support and options.
I share this story because it’s important to see innovation in a broader context. You don’t hear much about companies like this one. Our definition of innovation continues to be dominated by the high tech industry sector. Fortunately, though, there are risk-takers who realize that innovation is not just reserved for techies. Conceptual innovation can come from anywhere. And, that’s good news for all of us.
Kim Howard is the Regional Director for the Southwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, an organization with the mission of having a positive and measurable impact on the formation, growth, and sustainability of Indiana’s small businesses by providing entrepreneurs expert guidance and a comprehensive network of resources. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.