The Profit Motive

At the Battelle Memorial Institute, innovation is good. But not good enough.

Jeff-Wadsworth-WSJThe Battelle Memorial Institute was founded in the 1920s to encourage “creative and research work and the making of discoveries and inventions.” When it opened its doors on the eve of the Crash of 1929, it had fewer than 50 people, dedicated mainly to metallurgical research.

Today, the Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit—whose motto is “the business of innovation”—employs 23,000, runs an in-house research-and-development lab and manages or co-manages eight national laboratories for the federal government. The institute also conducts contract research and development for companies, mainly small and midsize businesses that don’t have their own R&D shops. And it does contract manufacturing—for instance, it makes parts of the cockpit display for the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter—and maintains its own venture investment fund.

Its most famous product is the office copier. Chester Carlson, a New York lawyer, had invented a method to duplicate printed documents but lacked the backing to commercialize the technology. In the early 1940s he took it to Battelle, which developed Mr. Carlson’s concept and later licensed the technology to the company that would become Xerox Corp. Battelle’s lab also has turned out the technologies behind the compact disc, automobile cruise control and the bar code.

The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Totty recently spoke with Jeffrey Wadsworth, who has been Battelle’s chief executive since early 2009, about managing a large research-and-development organization, fostering an inventive culture and what we get wrong about innovation. Here are edited excerpts of that conversation.

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Source: Michael Totty | The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Todd Yarington | The Wall Street Journal