Is imitation a sincere form of profit?

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Published on May 25, 2012 with No Comments

We’ve all heard of funding to support innovation but what about funds to support imitation? Yes, imitation, as in copying a successful idea, within the legal limits of course. By now many of us subscribe to the idea of “innovate or perish.” But as Ndubuisi Ekekwe noted, non-innovators need not perish if they copy successful ideas and adapt them to specific markets. Ekekwe who has several impressive degrees from American and African universities founded the African Institution of Technology, which may or may not be a copy of another famous Institute of Technology. Somewhere in Nigeria, of all places, he encountered a venture capitalist who is running an “Imitation Fund.” The idea is to look at successful global companies and tailor the ideas to the African marketplace.

Look around, says Ekekwe and it’s evident that imitation after innovation is a concept that is alive and well all around us. Copying an idea that’s already successful can lead to a shorter R & D cycle. As he sees it, the iPhone is a kind of, sort of imitation of the Blackberry. Similarly, iCloud, Skydrive and Dropbox are all the same concept imitated. Ekekwe referenced the not very well-liked Samwer brothers of Germany who made at least a billion dollars using the imitation route. Recently, the Samwer brothers landed in India with Jabong, which is like Zappos, and Wimdu, a clone of Airbnb. But if you are planning to imitate, proceed with caution, says Ekekwe. “For instance, pioneers can command strong market loyalty that could be difficult for copycats to overcome.” Also, it’s important not to violate copyright laws. Meanwhile, the imitation method is also known as “The Chinese Method.”

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