What’s Your Breakthrough Idea? Let’s Talk About How to Change the World on March 29

2/9/10Follow @gthuang

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an investor, a researcher, a corporate executive, a journalist, or a patent attorney, you’ve heard it: an idea that will supposedly change the world. In fact, you probably come across someone trying to pitch you an idea like that every week, if not every day. Maybe you even have one you’re working on yourself.

Breakthrough ideas are catalysts of innovation and progress. Think Amazon and its online books, Google and its Web search algorithms, Apple and its iTunes and iPhone. But in the technology and business world, seemingly great ideas are a dime a dozen. For every Amazon, there are dozens of online retailers that have failed. For every Google, dozens of search companies that went nowhere. And so on.

What really counts, of course, is forethought, execution, and results. But that’s much easier said than done. So what makes for a true breakthrough idea? And how can startups and business leaders make their biggest ideas more marketable and scalable, and really change the world? (Thanks to Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue Partners for inspiring this thread in a talk he gave at an NWEN event in December 2008.)

We’re asking these big questions, and we’re going to try to answer them. On the afternoon of March 29, Xconomy is convening a special forum in Seattle called “What’s Your Breakthrough Idea?” The event (agenda and registration info here) will be at the University of Washington, in the atrium of the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering. We are doing everything we can to make it a must-see for technology, life sciences, and business leaders who have a deep interest in the world’s biggest ideas—and how they will (or won’t) impact the future.

The centerpiece of the afternoon will be an in-depth discussion between two of the area’s top thinkers in innovation across broad realms of science, technology, and society: Nathan Myhrvold, the co-founder and CEO of Bellevue, WA-based Intellectual Ventures, and Leroy Hood, the co-founder and president of Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology (ISB). They will tackle the important issues of how to think about big ideas, how to tell promising ideas from not-so-promising ones, and how to get maximum bang from ideas that survive. They will speak from experience.

Myhrvold comes from the worlds of physics and software. As Microsoft’s former chief technology officer and the founder of Microsoft Research and later Intellectual Ventures, his company focused on the business of invention, he knows a thing or two about evaluating global-scale ideas. Meanwhile, Hood comes from the worlds of biology, life sciences, and genomics. As the co-founder of ISB as well as a new company focused on early detection of diseases, called Integrated Diagnostics, Hood can speak with great depth on the progress and challenges in biomedicine and human health. Their combined perspectives should make for a tremendously revealing and entertaining cross-disciplinary chat and Q&A.

We’ll also do some deeper dives into specific breakthrough ideas from a select group of speakers, who will include: David Bluhm, CEO of Seattle startup Z2Live, focused on mobile social gaming; Mick Mountz, CEO of the Boston area’s Kiva Systems, a robotics firm working on warehousing and logistics applications; Steve Seitz, professor of computer science and engineering at UW, an expert in computer vision and graphics (he helped develop the technology behind Microsoft’s Photosynth); Dan Weld, UW computer science professor, the co-founder of Netbot, AdRelevance, and Nimble Technology, and a venture partner with Madrona Venture Group; and Norm Wu, CEO of Qliance, a Seattle firm that provides healthcare to thousands while circumventing insurance companies.

Of course, changing the world is never easy. But we’re hoping the discussions and talks on March 29 will inspire our audience to think big, and think realistically—while also making useful connections that otherwise might not happen. Plus we’re going to have an absolute blast with this star-studded lineup, and we think you will too. For more information, and to register for “What’s Your Breakthrough Idea?”, please visit our event page.

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. Follow @gthuang

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