06 Jun Italian view on invention and innovation
This is part two of this column. Part one can be found here.
Chicago, Ill. – Since the Renaissance (which, by the way, started in Florence), Italy has been an extraordinarily inventive nation. Italians are among the most original and creative people on this planet. As is well appreciated, “Made in Italy” is a mark of quality and style.
More significantly, “invented in Italy” could well be the moniker for much of what we take for granted in our modern world. Radio communication (Guglielmo Marconi), the atom bomb (Enrico Fermi), double-entry bookkeeping (Luca Pacioli), opera and many more remarkable yet now routine ideas were invented by Italians.
Indeed, Italians have not uncommonly been described by their fellow Europeans as being “slightly crazy” in deference to the very Italian ability to think just a bit differently than others. The invention of a new world is what only an Italian such as Christopher Columbus could do.
This uniquely Italian problem – invention without innovation – has two major consequences: economic stagnation and psychic disappointment. It has also given rise to the significant emigration of inventive talent out of Italy. There is a reason why Marconi, for example, went to England, Fermi went to the U.S., and Columbus reached America via Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.
Pharma Finance 2008: Fostering innovation
Pharma Finance 2008 was recently arranged not necessarily to showcase Italian ingenuity and invention (of which there is plenty) but more to foster the partnerships and collaborations necessary for innovation.
Government-sponsored business gatherings are often premised by “look at our great stuff and give us funding.” Here in Rome, the goal was more imaginatively along the lines of “we have great ingenuity here. How can we work together to make it happen?” The conference was also about opening up local entrepreneurs to the possibilities of partnership. A senior conference organizer told me:
“Italians are very proud of their discoveries. It’s very personal for them. They hold their ideas quite close to their heart. Such an attitude can make it difficult to form the necessary collaborations – for example, giving up majority control to a venture capitalist – or other partnerships that are necessary for success.”
Another conference official summed it up pithily when he noted that:
“In Italy, it’s not impossible to have someone like a Michelangelo or even several Michelangelos. But how do you innovate around or commercialize something so precious? That is the challenge.”
Scrambler therapy: An example of cross-border innovation
Professor Giuseppe Marineo of the Tor Vergata University in Rome was frustrated. Marineo had invented a new approach to treating visceral pain (the sort of intractable, deep neuropathic pain that arises, for example, from abdominal cancers). His frustration stemmed from an inability to bring this revolutionary technology (which he called “scrambler therapy”) to market.
Instead of using conventional pharmacological pain killers or interventional surgery such as neurolysis, scrambler therapy uses externally applied electromagnetic signals to confuse endogenous pain pathways into transmitting a signal of “non-pain” rather than “pain” to the brain. This represents a biophysical approach to treatment rather than a chemical (medical) or mechanical (surgical) one.
Marineo’s frustration – “malessere,” if you will – was not to last long. During Pharma Finance 2007, the goal of bringing Italian invention to market was in fact realized.
At that time, Leonardo Zangani (of the Zangani Investor Community) introduced Marineo and his work to John Nano. Nano is the chairman of Competitive Technologies, Inc., which is a technology holding company based in the U.S. The company took up the technique and formed a partnership with GEOMC, a South Korean radio and television manufacturing company for the device’s fabrication.
The Hong Kong-based company Lee’s Pharmaceutical Holdings was further enlisted to help with its Asian distribution. The successful trans-national marriage of Marineo’s invention with industrial production and worldwide distribution embodied true innovation.
This was a direct result of Pharma Finance 2007. The hope is that Pharma Finance 2008 will do the same.
Previous articles by Ogan Gurel
• Ogan Gurel: Socialized risk not confined to subprime mess; healthcare impacted
• Ogan Gurel: Innovation versus invention: Why accelerating development makes sense
• Ogan Gurel: Fostering innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum
• Ogan Gurel: Innovation vs. invention: Knowing the difference makes a difference
He is also an adjunct associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Gurel has a Bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard, earned his M.D. degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and completed surgical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital. As a health care technology expert and futurist, Gurel has been a frequent conference speaker worldwide. His particular focus has been on convergent medical technologies, including medical nanotechnology.
In addition to Wisconsin Technology Network, his commentaries have been published in the Wall Street Journal and other print and online venues. His regular blog on life sciences, business and investment can be found here.
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.