Rodney Brooks (Rethink Robotics)

Rodney Brooks (Rethink Robotics)

There is a big gap to producing real hardware products at scale. Some players are trying to move into that space to help. It is going to be interesting to see if this gap can get debugged, so that the creativity and innovation which new funding models are unleashing can turn into new methods for mainstream product development. (By analogy, homebrew computer club software ended up dominating the world---that transition did happen.)

Linda Rottenberg (Endeavor)

Linda Rottenberg (Endeavor)

Forget B2B and B2C, it’s all about E2E (emerging market to emerging market). It’s astounding how many tech-powered companies are adapting to emerging market contexts. Often, they’re finding that what works in Brazil can work in the Middle East, or what works in India can work in Africa... Emerging market visionaries are quick to realize their competitive advantage over companies from the so-called G8 economies.

Kleanthis Xanthopoulos (Regulus Therapeutics)

Kleanthis Xanthopoulos (Regulus Therapeutics)

More innovation is clearly needed and large pharmaceutical companies are looking to smaller, biotechnology or biopharmaceutical companies to fulfill their early, innovative R&D needs. This trend is important because it will foster the creation of new life-sciences companies to focus on bringing new, improved medicines to the market and improve the lives of the sick.

Chris Rizik (Renaissance Venture Capital Fund)

Chris Rizik (Renaissance Venture Capital Fund)

Companies are finding out that distance and time zones really do make a difference in productivity. Having your support people, such as information technology staff, physically nearby and available to brainstorm and meet on short notice, allows you to create and iterate changes in products much, much faster and more efficiently. It actually saves money.

Ben Elowitz (Wetpaint)

Ben Elowitz (Wetpaint)

The trend I've seen and grown most concerned about in business and in the Valley is short-termism. Our economy is troubled, and businesses have been making changes to improve profitability, to harvest whatever assets they can, and to invest in areas that pay dividends oh-so-quickly. But what about the long term? Our investments in basic science and education to ensure our country's competitiveness are falling far behind where they need to be---and worst of all, that concern isn't even on the radar of the vast majority of Americans or business leaders.

Robert Langer (MIT)

Robert Langer (MIT)

Tough question. One area is developing super biocompatible biomaterials. That could have a huge effect on the medical device area.

David Nordfors (IIIJ Innovation and Communication)

David Nordfors (IIIJ Innovation and Communication)

Social network analysis is mixing with semantic analysis. It's happening, but few people understand how fundamentally big this is. Semantic analysis looks at how words connect. Social network analysis looks at how people connect. We used to do this separately. But words and people connect each other. So when semantic and social network analysis mix, we get new tools for analyzing society.

Robert Nelsen (Arch Venture Partners)

Robert Nelsen (Arch Venture Partners)

The biggest trend is innovation in our core energy sector, more specifically fracking, and new technologies that can turn natural gas into oil. The first is a product of oil industry and academic research; the second is a product of biotech innovation. This is probably the largest change in our economy in 50 years, and will rival the existence of Silicon Valley in its importance. It will make the USA a net exporter of fuels in 20 years, will take the ability to price oil away from OPEC and thus reduce tension in the Middle East, and will reduce strategic energy competition between the USA and China and Russia by letting them all increase their own domestic production.

Ramesh Rao (UC San Diego)

Ramesh Rao (UC San Diego)

This is an intriguing one. With all this interest in innovation you wonder how one might learn to innovate. Is there a neuro-scientific basis for innovation? Turns out there is some evidence that insight problem solving goes hand in hand with the ability to forget things at the right time. In any event, I am seeing (or hoping) that we can learn the art of innovation.

Lita Nelsen (MIT Technology Licensing Office)

Lita Nelsen (MIT Technology Licensing Office)

Two of them: (1) Concentration and progress on vaccines for tropical diseases (including AIDS). (2) Brain science.

Roger Ehrenberg (IA Ventures)

Roger Ehrenberg (IA Ventures)

Amazing innovation is happening in secondary and tertiary markets that are “off the beaten path” and little covered by traditional coastal VCs. This is changing. The sharply declining costs of enabling technologies to prove out businesses has made any physical location a potential startup hub.

Joe Chung (Redstar)

Joe Chung (Redstar)

A lot of the low hanging fruit has now been plucked and there's even more folks crowding round the base of the tree. So the most important trend in innovation (that nobody knows about) is investing time, energy, and money into solving the harder and more important problems in areas of the economy that may be harder to understand. These innovations are likely to arise from multidisciplinary creative teams which tap design, business, and technology experience.

Larry Smarr (Calit2), with granddaughter

Larry Smarr (Calit2), with granddaughter

One of the digital health trends that will "surprise" people is the emergence of personal portals that integrate multiple sensor measurements. These portals will come from a number of startups and non-profits. This is a quite logical development since the last few years saw a number of successful devices that measure exercise, heart rate, food intake, sleep, stress, and internal blood variables. What is needed is a way to get the "total picture" of an individual's health state and how each variable compares to general population. Critical success factors will include user interface, how the data is explained to the individual, suggestions for behavior modification, and social network capabilities.

Deborah Dunsire (formerly at Millennium)

Deborah Dunsire (formerly at Millennium)

In a word, partnerships! In recent years, pharma pipelines have become increasingly dependent upon biotech partnerships for innovation to help close the pharma industry’s “innovation gap” stemming from increased costs, decreased productivity, and revenue gaps caused by the patent expiry of blockbuster drugs. Now, pharma and biotech are looking towards the academic institutions to forge innovative partnerships for transformation.

Deborah Dunsire

Jesse Berst (Global Smart Energy)

Jesse Berst (Global Smart Energy)

The coming flood of innovation from China.

Nate Westheimer (NY Tech Meetup)

Nate Westheimer (NY Tech Meetup)

Connectivity and hardware. Right now folks are getting excited about connected watches and home thermostats. But look around... things we've long dreamt of having better connected---our refrigerators, cars, gyms, grocery stores, transit systems---are going be hooked up in a big way. The revolution, however, may not come from the biggest manufacturers or other powers that be, but from upstarts in Brooklyn garages and Kickstarter campaigns.

Andy Ory (Acme Packet)

Andy Ory (Acme Packet)

(1) High-quality voice interaction over devices is underutilized, but it is about two generations from being truly unbelievable. In the meantime, it’s getting better. (2) The rapid pace of innovation happening in devices. They are getting much better and much smarter, much faster than ever before. The processing power alone has become incredible, yet we don’t even track processing power anymore. Soon, I imagine we won’t track storage either.

Bill Bryant (Draper Fisher Jurvetson)

Bill Bryant (Draper Fisher Jurvetson)

Neither our tech economy nor our country will make the big leaps to the next stratus of success by just making our iPads a millimeter thinner, an ounce lighter, or an inch smaller. But we will by encouraging---and funding as a nation and an industry---deep thinking, development of extraordinary talent, and big ideas.

John Abele (Boston Scientific)

John Abele (Boston Scientific)

Network science, Kaggle (Google it).

Joe Panetta (BIOCOM), with son

Joe Panetta (BIOCOM), with son

Renewable chemicals and agricultural production. So much of our everyday lives uses items made of plastics, synthetic or natural fabrics, or petroleum-based products. Add to that the need to produce food more efficiently. These areas have the potential to dwarf traditional life science.

Sramana Mitra (One Million by One Million)

Sramana Mitra (One Million by One Million)

Artificial Intelligence. In medicine. In business. In entertainment.

Bill Aulet (MIT Entrepreneurship Center)

Bill Aulet (MIT Entrepreneurship Center)

The vast majority of entrepreneurs seeking funding in Silicon Valley are far more focused on making money than they are on creating realities that only they can imagine---and yet we all know that the latter mode is the one that creates world-changing businesses. And when they talk to investors, who say they are looking for the next Apple, Google, or Cisco, those investors instead end up looking for "market traction" to "de-risk" their investments. As the venture system reshuffles its own business model in the face of new financial realities, its appetite for big, crazy bets on the unknown seems smaller than ever.

Chris DeVore (Founder's Co-op)

Chris DeVore (Founder's Co-op)

Disaggregation---the relentless dismantling of monolithic products, companies, industries, and job functions into smaller units that are dynamically assembled and reassembled based on changing market needs, using real-time data and marketplaces to match buyers and sellers.

What’s the most important trend in innovation that nobody is talking about?

We at Xconomy reached out across our national network of innovation leaders (the Xconomists) to get some answers to this question, and to spur some intercity discussion. What we got back was astounding for its diversity and depth. And while it’s no longer true that no one is talking about these trends, they are clearly issues that warrant more attention than they’re getting.

The Xconomists—who are a mix of entrepreneurs, executives, investors, and researchers—answered our innovation-trend question on several interesting levels:

Some chose to focus on high-level trends in areas such as global competitiveness, investing for the short or long term, and collaboration between startups and big companies. Some touched on the innovation process itself, bringing up issues of geography, communication, and psychology.

Others dove into specific fields of technology, life sciences, and energy. Their topics ranged from tech sectors like connected hardware to fracking to renewable chemicals and agriculture; from artificial intelligence and brain science to personal health portals; and from biomaterials and network science to vaccines for tropical diseases.

It’s not all good news. Several Xconomists lamented the short-term thinking and incrementalism of many of today’s entrepreneurs and investors; they sounded warning bells about the future impact on U.S. competitiveness and society in general. It remains to be seen whether the innovators will put their money where their mouth is—but, as leaders across our network, they are in a good position to do something about the problem, and urge future leaders to think bigger.

We hope you enjoy the 20-odd Xconomist perspectives (edited for length) in the slideshow above, and that it will lead to productive discussions—and actions—in your circles.

The Xconomy staff contributed reporting to this story.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323.