Brainstorming entrepreneur creates new innovation business

Brainstorming entrepreneur creates new innovation business

By Jason Stitt • 02/13/06


Madison, Wis. He may have just graduated last year, but Anand Chhatpar is already launching a new global business, hot on the heels of his brainstorming service that sells the ideas of university students to companies needing an innovation boost.

Innovation Trip, a seven-day tour, will take attendees to both coasts for sessions on the Harvard and Stanford campuses with time to sample local culture. Participants are coming from around the world it's being billed as a way for global industry leaders to learn from U.S. innovation experts.

"There was a gap in the innovation knowledge that exists in the U.S. and that exists in other countries," said Chhatpar. He's made innovation his business: the firm he founded while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, BrainReactions, pays smart students to participate in brainstorming sessions for major companies.

The chief operating officer BrainReactions hired last October, Daran Ich, has taken enough responsibility for the firm to let Chhatpar focus his attention on Innovation Trip and unnamed other projects in the works. Both Chhatpar and Atul Khekade, chief operating officer of Innovation Trip and formerly BrainReactions, have taken extended trips to India and elsewhere abroad to promote the event.

So how do you draw in executives from all over the world, some of whom need to spend six months getting visitor visas?

"Most customers at BrainReactions wanted us to also teach them, and say 'how can we have an innovative environment internally so that we can be more productive?'" Chhatpar said.

So he and his team are working with executives and consultants to produce day-long workshops on topics like company culture, innovation, and employee retention. Participants will land in Boston, have a night to relax and shed some jet lag, then dive into sessions held in some of the country's most innovative places.

One of the experts is Sue Baechler, who has been working with Chhatpar since a year ago, when a relative in Wisconsin mailed her a newspaper clip on BrainReactions. She runs Originati, a firm in California that creates large-scale face-to-face or online interactions among a company's employees to foster change.

She spent years in large corporations where, she said, "the old command and control environment was keeping people from being innovative." At the workshop she's constructing at Stanford, she said participants will be doing most of the talking  as part of a simulation of a 21st century enterprise modeled after a board game.

Presenting on employee retention will be Ken Tanner, a consultant based in Georgia. He left corporate training and operations in the fast-food industry to form an HR consultancy, then switched further from recruiting to retaining the best people.

"Top performers can always find a job somewhere else," Tanner said. "Turnover may be down, but that means the only people who can quit and find another job are the top performers. so there's no comfort [in the downturn]."

He said one of the keys to keeping people is to bend the Golden Rule a bit. "[Executives] are out there trying to motivate their employees with the things that motivate them personally," he said  perhaps a better title, when someone really wants better daycare.

Dealing with an audience from all over the world isn't something they've done before. Baechler said her productions are usually very customized for a company's needs, so "there's a little bit of guesswork" involved in making this trip work.

Chhatpar said five trips is probably the limit for this year, with a maximum of 30 people per trip, though his team might try for more in the future. And while a conference in one location, that is might be easier to put together, it's the travel element that he thinks makes this a special event.

"You can't bring Stanford, the Technology Center of Innovation, the MIT museum, all these places to one place," Chhatpar said.

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