Is Innovation The New Black?

Absolutely.  So I am honored to be speaking next week at the Global Innovation Forum at the fabled Xerox-PARC.  The NFTC has pulled together 150 business and innovation thought leaders, including more than 50 CEOs from innovative companies in clean tech, life sciences, information technology, Internet-related businesses and top innovation thinkers like Rob Atkinson to help facilitate a more robust dialogue between Silicon Valley and the Beltway. 

The timing couldn’t be better.  As Tom Friedman accurately framed it earlier in a column this week:

Although there are many “innovation” initiatives ongoing in this administration, they are not well coordinated or a top priority… (a)nd that partly explains why this administration has been mostly interested in pushing taxes, social spending and regulation — not pushing trade expansion, competitiveness and new company formation.

So what’s the solutions set?   

First let me plug a great NDN event next week in Washington DC on this very topic.   On Wednesday June 16, NDN will host a speech by Congressman Ron Kind (WI-3), Vice-Chair of the New Democrat Coalition and Co-Chair of the NDC Task Force on Innovation and Competitiveness,  Kind will speak about the value of innovation to the American economy and the recently released New Dem Agenda for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Meanwhile, on the left coast, here’s a preview of what I will be saying:

1-Yes, it’s President Obama’s job to re-do the federal economic development pipeline to water the right beanfields – and there are initiatives rolling and more ideas on the table to do that.  Frankly though, it may take years for federal agencies to deliver on the promise of good ideas like the HUD-DOT-EPA Sustainable Communities program or create a few regional innovation clusters as proposed by the DOE and federal partners like Commerce. 

But as that old SNL sketch used to say: we need more cowbell.  The Obama team especially needs to understand that more federal IT and transparency alone does not guarantee innovation – you need smart intermediaries and acceleration mechanisms deployed in the field to break down the silos slowing down the recovery.   Why not create public-private “jobs and innovation” one-stop centers?    

2-At the same time, the innovation and entrepreneurship community also needs to step up our game if we are to scale success.   Right now however, we are less than the sum of our parts, some of us pushing small business entrepreneurship, some touting infrastructure writ large, others energy R&D.  The secret sauce of course is integration -- anchored around regional and metropolitan market outcomes.  

Here’s an example: it’s great that top corporate leaders like Bill Gates and Jeff Immelt are calling this week for more energy innovation research but what does this do not just for Stanford Phds but for Joe Lunchbucket?    

We need to help the Obama Administration build an innovation narrative and policies that close these critical cultural divides -- so that our argument about America stepping up to innovate isn’t just about Stanford University Research-Starbucks and Harvard Square, but about Manufacturing-Walmart and Main Street.   (Plus 20 million freelancers and 20 million Millenials.)

3-Key to all of this is the development and deployment of distributed finance and implementation mechanisms that seed locally-led innovation.  For that, we are going to need a new generation of collaborative partnerships, policies and institutions to engage trillions in untapped community assets and union/public pension funds as the federal stimulus runs out.  

In the end, the federal role can only be catalytic.

So on innovation and jobs, let’s be the ones we have been waiting for.