Novation: Innovation in Austin

Take the "i" and the "n" off the front of innovation and what changes? Not a darn thing, actually–Austin based Novation embodies the innovation that has made these silicon hills famous in the last decade.

Founded in 1995, Novation designs and manufactures software, or "partnerware", to help companies automate their sales process and facilitate customer/’supplier interactions. The company’s product is included in a small but growing list of completely Internet-based software, and Novation can, therefore, continuously upgrade the system for its clients.

"The sales environment is very relationship-oriented. There are multiple people and multiple products to manage," says Eric Hills, President and founder of Novation. "There are two keys to being successful in this environment–communication and information management. We’re not espousing technology as a replacement for people in relationships, but rather as an enhancement. Information management is at the heart of what companies are trying do with technology. It’s just that, in many cases, they’re not doing it efficiently, and in some cases, they’re not doing it at all!"

And Mr. Hills should know. With a sales background in the chemical industry, an Information Management MBA from The University of Texas at Austin, and two years of experience running Novation, a MOOT Corp winner and current Austin Technology Incubator company, Mr. Hills has immersed himself in sales information management analysis for the last several years.

"Part of our value proposition is that we want to change the way that customers see their suppliers. We don’t want them to think of them as `vendors’ anymore, but instead as `partners,’" says Hills. "If we can do that, our system, N~Unison will become the defacto standard for partnerware."

This young entrepreneur will be the first to admit that launching a high tech startup might be more difficult than reaching the summit of Mount Everest. Novation faces one tricky climb in particular- convincing sales people that technology can help them be more effective. "One of the biggest problems, of course, is resistance to technology–some companies will present larger challenges than others, depending on the industry and how progressive it is. If it (technology) is presented properly, however, it (the resistance) is not insurmountable," says Mr. Hills. "The challenges are always going to be there when you are selling leading edge technology’*"

Several poignant votes of confidence boost Novation’s optimism. Billion dollar database software company Sybase recently told Mr. Hills that they had never seen a more powerful use of Sybase *add ‘new web development ‘*software than Novation’s application. *Add ‘Sybase has invited Novation to present its innovations at the largest sales automation conference and is featuring N~Unison in several industry white papers.’* The company has also received impressive feedback from companies who have used Novation software. Acceptance into the IC2 Austin Technology Incubator lends some invaluable high profile support as well.

Novation hopes an alliance it has formed with Sybase will prove fruitful. "The catch 22 (associated with startup software companies) is that companies want to deal with folks they know will be around (in the future)," laments Hills. "That’s why we’re doing our best to leverage our connection with bigger, *replace ‘older’ with ‘more established’* companies."

Mr. Hills feels part of his company’s success thus far is due to its environment, as well. "The key inputs (for a high tech startup) are in Austin: the people I need to build a successful company are in Austin because it’s a great place to live and there are lots of things happening. That’s why I’m here too!’"

Environment is key, but Novation is no stranger to the raw commitment the company’s growth commands as well. "What we really have going for us is a great idea and a small team of people dedicated to bringing it to life. Also there is my belief in myself and my ability to communicate that to others," says Hills.

Mr. Hills recommendation to those thinking about a startup: "Make sure you really want to do it. It’s not easy and you should be prepared to make sacrifices. Also, do something you believe in–it’s the only way to qualify for number 1."

By Amy Musgrave