Meeting a Need
Innovation is a very different concept. When a need is identified and a product or service is developed to meet that need, you have an innovation. People talk about the "invention" of the lightbulb or the "invention" of the iPhone, when in fact neither Thomas Edison nor Steve Jobs were inventors. They both used existing technology in new ways with an eye toward a big market for the result. They were innovators.
This is not simply an exercise in definitions. Entrepreneurs work tirelessly to form and build businesses, and they need all the help they can get. When they are launching their first enterprise, it is important for them to understand that an invention, no matter how inspired, will not be worth much if nobody wants to buy it. For established businesses looking for new profit centers, it is important to understand that brainstorming new product ideas is worth far less than identifying consumer wants and needs and developing products or services to meet them. For policymakers trying to figure out how to support a region's entrepreneurial spirit, understanding the difference between invention and innovation can lead to distinctly different approaches.