By: Jonathan M. Fritz
Today is the bicentennial anniversary of Oliver Winchester’s birth. Winchester presents an example of a historic venture capitalist, entrepreneur and innovator who founded and transformed a business influential to the history of the United States.
Winchester, a New York clothing manufacturer, was a major investor and eventually acquired a technology business started by the founders of Smith & Wesson. The business started by Smith & Wesson was based on technology too immature for commercialization and ultimately failed. The business was later reorganized and became the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Winchester’s company was founded upon patented technology in the fields of ammunition and newly invented repeating firearm mechanisms. Through business acumen and innovation the original technology was adapted, improved, and successfully commercialized. Winchester’s innovation from the 1860s-1870s resulted in the Henry Rifle (U.S. Patent 30,446), newly designed ammunition, and the Winchester Rifle. Collectively these repeating rifles are often referred to as the “Gun that Won the West”.
Even 200 years after Winchester’s birth entrepreneurs today can learn valuable lessons from his story. First, patented technology can provide a start-up with a significant market advantage. However, there may not be a direct connection between patented technology and commercial success, which leads to the second lesson. Without a business goal towards actually commercializing the technology, the advantages provided by intellectual property won’t be realized. Lastly, the need for a successful businessman as CEO or investor/advisor can’t be taken for granted. Whether or not the experience is in the same business sector is less important.
Winchester identified an opportunity divergent from his existing clothing company, acquired the intellectual property and built a business through continued innovation and commercialization. Although his company has since been acquired, his name, trademarks and technology live on.