Resources, government regulations, access to capital and getting prospective customers to take notice of what they have to offer are some of the main hurdles. Then there is the daunting challenge of competing against the large first- and second-tier integrators once small suppliers achieve a certain critical mass. Thus, industry consolidation plays a very important role in the evolution of small, innovative businesses.
While smaller companies do not have an easy road, it may well be the most satisfying within the broader supply chain, considering the opportunities they have to develop new technological solutions to problems and the disproportionate impact they could have in any number of fields. That is especially true in fragmented, technically dynamic and rapidly growing markets in which there are low barriers to entry. It is in the third tier—component and small subsystem development—where smaller companies usually flourish.
“These enterprises generally are more agile and able to adapt to changes in market conditions much quicker than large corporations,” Wessner notes. “And they are committed to driving ideas forward. That is key.”
To capture the unique and indispensable role small companies play in the innovation process, a team of Aviation Week editors cast a wide net for such organizations representative of the thousands like them globally. Many of the ones profiled here were recommended by third-party centers of research and innovation, while others were selected on the basis of Aviation Week's own first-hand knowledge gained from past reporting on aerospace technology.
The industry snapshots that follow describe the companies' approaches to sustaining a culture of innovation and how they encourage new ideas. You also will read about examples of innovations they pioneered or introduced, and some of their signature products and processes.
Some of these suppliers will evolve into much larger concerns, while others will remain relatively small as they continue to engage in serial innovation. Many will wind up being acquired by much larger companies seeking to fill gaps in their technology portfolios.
Regardless of what their futures hold, they represent not so much a disparate collection of individual businesses as the bedrock on which past progress stands, future advances will be built, and innovation and entrepreneurship thrive. Without small companies, aerospace technology would not be where it is today any more than consumer information technology would be where it is without the likes of innovative giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft—all of which began as fledgling enterprises and dreams.
Small companies are a vibrant source of innovation and value-creation across the aerospace industry worldwide. To see an interactive map showing locations and details about the ones profiled here, check out the digital edition of AW&ST on leading tablets and smartphones, or visit AviationWeek.com/innovation