By taking advantage of low-cost computers, freely shared software and high-speed Web connections, the next wave of innovations may not come from any venture-capital funded skunkworks or big business research lab.

“Now people with a good idea are willing to take the risk with $10,000 instead of $10 million. If the idea doesn’t pan out they move on,” said Justin Chapweske, 26, founder and CEO, of Onion Networks of Lauderdale, Minnesota. “The cost of failure today is just a lot lower.”



Onion provides a technology to speed up video over office networks. It allows users to skip ahead without downloading an entire video. While his own business requires heavy investments in a network of computers to speed video delivery, Chapweske sees himself as an enabler of low-cost innovations.



“On today’s Web you no longer need to build all the components of your system,” trend watcher Tim O’Reilly, publisher of a line of popular computer manuals and do-it-yourself guides. His company recently introduced a new magazine called Make, a kind of home hobbyists guide for hackers that offers detailed instructions on how to do aerial photography with kites and digital cameras, for example.



Tim Halle and friend Jeremy Roberts recently assembled what he humbly calls “a simple platform for interactive television” using widely available parts and software code.



The resulting system, which should sell less than $600 allows not just TV to be stored and replayed, like a Tivo, but can be easily programed to go out on the Web and searches for any type of video, digital photo or Web site content.



“Once you can surf by it, all your content kind of turns into television,” says Halle, who once worked on interactive TV projects for a Public Broadcasting System station in Boston but became frustrated by the high cost of available gear.



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