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Innovation focus of Overseers discussion

Innovation

Joshua Wachs '87, CEO of Echo and Company, and Mark Donovan '89, COO of Thinaire, discuss innovation and entrepreneurship in a discussion event at Emerson October 28. Donna Heiland, vice president and special assistant to President Lee Pelton, served as moderator. (Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

Two alumni shared their expertise in marketing and innovation on October 28 in an event in the Max Mutchnick Campus Center called “Innovation Secrets That Will Make You Better at Everything You Do.”

Joshua Wachs ’87 and Mark Donovan ’89, who serve on Emerson’s Board of Overseers, offered perspectives on innovative products in today’s market. In a discussion moderated by Donna Heiland, vice president and special assistant to President Lee Pelton, the pair shared how they have guided companies such as Google, Verizon, Adidas, and Disney.

Wachs is managing partner and CEO of the Boston-based Echo and Company, and Donovan, a former strategic planner for Disney, is now a chief operating officer at Thinaire in New York City. Both have extensive experience in entrepreneurship and innovation, and were quick to disperse misconceptions about the latter.

“[Innovation] is usually thought of in a technological sense,” Donovan said. “But it isn’t all about technology.”

Donovan

Mark Donovan '89 at the Mutchnick Campus Center on October 28. (Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

The two also explained that innovation does not equal invention, but rather focuses on solving problems and taking action. Wachs used Google Glass as an example of an innovative invention that still needs some work.

“You see people wearing [Google Glass] and you kind of want to punch them,” Wachs joked of the Glass’s obtrusiveness. “But it’s an amazing product. Hopefully, they’ll make it better when they come out with the new version.”

Wachs

Joshua Wachs '87 at Emerson on October 28. (Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

He added that Google might have a marketing problem when it comes to Glass, claiming most users are middle-aged men. However, Wachs said with the proper innovations, Google will be able to make Glass appeal to a broader audience.

Donovan added 3-D printers to the list of innovative products, prompting an audience member to mention that Emerson has two of them for students to use for building sets.

“Wow, Emerson is so much cooler now than when I was here,” Wachs said, the audience laughing in response.

The event did not focus entirely on products or inventions. Donovan and Wachs took time to advise the audience on effective marketing and innovation. Both agreed that reaching out to competitors seemed like a controversial idea, but that competitors typically have the same problems and can thus assist each other in solving them and bringing in a common customer. They then drew on inspiration from some of their own influences.

“My dad always said innovation happens when everything that prevents it is removed,” Donovan said, and explained that he always tries to follow this mantra when difficulties emerge. 

The difficulties were another point of agreement for Wachs and Donovan. Both emphasized that innovation is hard, and that it is often much easier to give up on an idea. However, Donovan said it is worth it to keep trying.

“There is always some solution,” he said. “No matter how hard something seems to be, there will always be a way to solve the problem.”