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How to rev up your company’s innovation engine

3-minute read

Mobile air compressors don’t seem like a product that would be ripe for innovation. After all, they’ve been a staple of the construction industry for decades, where they’re used to power tools such as nail guns and jackhammers.

But there was a problem. Compressors were so heavy and bulky that they needed to be towed behind a truck. That’s where Vancouver Island’s VMAC came up with a better idea. That idea revolutionized the mobile compressor industry and created a robust international business for VMAC.

The company developed a rotary screw compressor technology in the late 1990s that made air compressors lighter, more powerful and compact enough to fit under the hood of a truck.

"There weren’t a lot of folks pushing the envelope of this technology," says Jim Hogan, president and co-founder of VMAC. "They were either complacent or not technically savvy enough. So we took advantage of that opportunity."

Constantly improve your products and services

Today, VMAC’s full line of compressors and systems can be found in thousands of vehicles worldwide. And with many of its more than 100 employees focused on R&D, the new products, improvements and efficiencies keep coming.

The company, which does most of its design, engineering and manufacturing at a three-hectare facility in Nanaimo, has won multiple awards for its manufacturing excellence and business savvy.

VMAC (Vehicle Mounted Air Compressors) is among the thousands of Canadian companies that are developing new products or improving existing technologies, processes, designs and marketing to solve problems and reach new customers. Now, the challenge is to persuade thousands more—particularly small and medium-sized businesses—to do the same.

To stay competitive, entrepreneurs should invest in things that enable them to constantly improve their products and services, and how they produce them. An investment in information and communications technologies is a good place to start.

However, the greatest source of innovation will always be business leaders with a sustained commitment to doing things better and a willingness to seize opportunities.

7 tips to help you adopt an innovative mindset

  1. With your team’s help, develop a strategy for improving your products or services, your processes, your marketing strategy, your business model and your supply chain. Then keep it up to date.
  2. Tap the creativity of your employees. They have intimate knowledge of your business and industry, and will often be your best source of ideas.
  3. Look for ideas and feedback from suppliers, customers and other stakeholders. An idea could be as simple as changing a process, adapting a product to a new market or exploring new ways to reach customers.
  4. Invest in capital assets that improve your competitiveness, especially information and communications technology.
  5. Don’t look for the magic bullet. Focus on continuous incremental improvements.
  6. Study innovation, change and creativity. Educate yourself. Go to conferences and travel.
  7. Take action on new ideas. Even if they fail, have faith that you’re on the path to innovation.