After suffering a mild heart attack in 2011, restaurateur John Bentivoglio was given what was then considered a top-of-the-line heart monitor to keep a continuing check on what was happening in his chest.
The first time he wore it to bed, though, he woke up in the middle of the night with one of the leads wrapped around his neck, so he ripped the device off, placed it on his nightstand and went back to sleep.
The next day he was surprised to be told that it was the best monitor available, and that manufacturers just hadn't upgraded it. As his cardiologist told him, "It's just been like this forever and it doesn't seem to be changing."
That got Mr. Bentivoglio thinking, so he contacted his friend Richard Smith, an engineer in the aerospace industry. Together they started Event Cardio Group Inc., based in Mississauga, and after eight iterations of their flagship product, NowCardio, they received Health Canada approval to begin sales this month.
Leadless and wireless, as well as waterproof, the 12.7-centimetre-long NowCardio (below) is applied to the chest with an adhesive and provides real-time status updates on the heart.
(Event Cardio Group)
It's the kind of innovation that has long been missing in the health sector in this country, according to Zayna Khayat, the head of health at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
Even in other sectors, companies need to use innovation to their advantage, experts say.
"Obviously innovation is the key word today," says Louis-Martin Parent, director, president's office at the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses. "When you think of all the free-trade agreements that we've signed … there will be increased competition and many businesses will be feeling industry pressure to innovate to keep their market share."
And he does see innovation happening in businesses across the country. However, much of it is not the complete-overhaul or new-invention type of innovation. Rather, a lot of it is more applied or targeted innovation, where a business responds to a specific problem.
In the majority of cases for small business, that will be the reality, Mr. Parent says, not the kind of wholesale innovation that a business like Canadian e-commerce company Shopify has done in recent years. In his opinion, the whole point of innovation for small businesses is for economic development. So if 1,000 small businesses were to hire just two people each, for example, that results in more jobs than a large company growing from, say, 300 people to 1,000, although that is the story more likely to capture the headlines.
"Our fear is that when we talk about innovation we think about the heavy R&D, guys-in-white-lab-coat type of stuff, which, by default, excludes a significant part of the business population," he says. "Our general advice is not to forget the 60-70 per cent of the business population that is not in high tech."
Even for a company that does create a new product, innovation involves more than just invention.
For Event Cardio Group, its plans include getting approval for its device in both the United States and Australia, and while it is focused on its NowCardio product first and foremost – aiming to have 4,000 to 6,000 patients using the product by the end of 2016 – it will continue to innovate with future products.
The company also acquired National Cardiac Monitoring Center on the outskirts of Baltimore, Md., so now has about 50 employees in total, and plans to open up a similar facility in Mississauga.
However, just because a small business has an innovative product, it doesn't necessarily set itself apart from the competition. Innovation is about more than just the idea, says Ms. Khayat.
"I'll get a startup apply to MaRS and they think they're the only one in the world and all they had to do was a very simple Google search to realize that there's 55 others like them already. Your competitive advantage is in marketing and sales, it's not your technology."