Five Things You Need to Know from the 2018 Crain's Most Innovative Companies Breakfast
November 30, 2018

Five Things You Need to Know from the 2018 Crain’s Most Innovative Companies Breakfast

On November 1, 2018, some of Chicago’s most innovative companies met at The Chicago Club for the first annual Crain’s Most Innovative Companies Breakfast. The event honored the city’s 10 most innovative companies and the 10 companies that received the most patents in the previous year.

Photo Credit: Serio Photography -
Gus Siller, Brinks President and Panel Moderator
Photo Credit: Serio Photography

The Crain’s event follows Chicago’s ascent in recent years to innovation hub -- not only in the Midwest, but globally. Gus Siller, President of Intellectual Property law firm Brinks Gilson & Lione, moderated a panel of executives at the event that focused on managing challenges and business solutions through innovation – specifically regarding patents. Here are five key takeaways and insights:

1. Make Incremental Advancements, But Take Risks

All three panelists said innovation must align with corporate strategy, and vice versa. Ashish Khanna, CFO and CBO of clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company Aptinyx, said product development through incremental advances of already existing products is important. But, to truly innovate, companies must not be overly cautious. “Taking calculated leaps in the design and R&D phases can be more risky, but also more rewarding, than smaller, incremental advances,” he said. “Companies need to find people who are like-minded and build an appetite for risk into the fabric of the company culture.” Risks are inherent to creating patents and to innovation, generally, he said.

2. Foster Innovation Through Company Culture

The panelists represent different industries, but the one word that kept coming up was culture. “Culture is everything,” Khanna said. “Our business functions both top-down and bottom-up. Garnering insight from folks throughout the organization and different business functions is key.” Implementing this type of thinking from the beginning is important, too. In early stage companies, fostering an innovative mindset is tied to success, said Nick Beil, COO of artificial intelligence technology company Narrative Science. Bob Thurman, Vice President of Innovation at Wilson Sporting Goods, agreed that you should always be open to the unknown. “Connected collaboration is huge. It allows us to have multiple conversations with a lot of people -- and results in a better product and a more satisfied consumer of your goods.”

3. Talent is Budding in Illinois

When questioned on challenges that innovation-driven companies face being headquartered in Illinois rather than more well-known tech communities, all three panelists were similar in tone and sincerity. “Success breeds more success,” Khanna said. “Chicago will benefit from local business innovation triumphs as it continues to encourage innovators to come here and stay here.” The panelists said they don’t have any trouble recruiting top-notch talent, especially from the universities and hospitals in the area. They said young people often move away for college and then come back to Chicago to look for work. In the end, recruiting and retention are not really things the panelists worry about.

Photo Credit: Serio Photography -
Panelists Nick Beil of Narrative Science, Ashish Khanna of Aptinyx, and Bob Thurman of Wilson
Photo Credit: Serio Photography

4. Expect the Unexpected

Each panelist emphasized that they had found distinct and unexpected ways to innovate. Thurman said that Wilson breeds a culture of curiosity, one that makes employees think outside the box. He said that just recently, the company collaborated with Forever21, something he could not have predicted even a few years ago. According to Khanna, “Of course innovating is intrinsic to what our R&D groups do. But unexpected answers also come from those folks who don’t hold R&D roles. Innovation in our business comes not only from cutting edge science but also from talking to patients, caregivers, and physicians. You learn how to innovate through hearing their needs.” At Narrative Science, Beil said they have a dedicated incubation team to design and develop ideas. “The incubation team is actually where a lot of our patents have come from,” he said, which is not the traditional or expected way he had imagined they would innovate.

5. The Everchanging IP Landscape

Intellectual assets are vital to a company’s business model as they can help the company increase revenue and can help create value once the company is sold. “Every person on our team gets a list once a week to see where other companies are filing,” Thurman said. “We are able to learn where the industry or competitors are headed.” Additionally, Thurman stressed the importance of relying on IP legal counsel to know what they should be aware of, how they can protect themselves, and where they should be thinking steps ahead of the competition. Khanna agreed, “The contribution of IP counsel to help ensure we are fully compliant and cognizant of developments in the complex and nuanced landscape in which we conduct business can be a differentiating factor.”

2018 Crain's Most Innovative Companies Breakfast
Photo Credit: Serio Photography

Brinks was honored to be a part of this unique and first of its kind event with Crain’s and our co-sponsors, Baker Tilly and Savills Studley. As a full-service IP boutique, we understand the challenges, concerns and excitement about successes that our clients experience throughout their development. We look forward to continuing to serve our clients as innovation strategic partners for years to come.