Thursday, July 30, 2009


Four hours is a long time to watch any task force move forward, but it's left me still optimistic that the Idaho Innovation Council has great potential. The surface issue is tech transfer (I do wish they'd say "technology commercialization") but they are focusing on the Governor's mandate that we need to apply the new knowledge.

Innovation Summit (& Business Summit)
First item of note is the newly announced Innovation Summit (Sep 24, in conjunction with Stoel Rives Innovation Awards) and the Industry Summit (Aug. 31, for more traditional industries). Looks promising with the Governor planning to spend the day and 6 panels clustered by industry (high-tech manufacturing, software, power & energy, agtech/biotech, INL & higher ed research & small business). [Ed. Note: I must admit that I think attendees at both summits need some serious grounding in the 'big picture' BUT I hope the skeptics of the IIC will wait until both summits are done before unloading on these efforts, Have faith!]

Nice discussion of the metrics that the Council needs to work up - whether metrics for the innovation economy or metrics for the IIC's own performance. Jason Stolworthy (INL) made a great case to focus on process metrics. Much as we'd like to look at outcomes, those can be long-term & at least partly beyond our control. Mark Warbis made an eloquent case that if we can get a handle on job creation, etc. that would be highly useful for the Governor as we move toward the goals of Project 60.***

Jefferson Jewell raised the issue of the huge number of metrics already being used by different states/organizations. We need to develop a dashboard but what are the right measures?

One interesting set of metrics that arose relates to the barriers that entrepreneurs see as impeding progress toward turning ideas into commercial reality. The ensuing discussion led to the conclusion that we need to assess barriers [ed. note: need to also address facilitators, not just barriers to action].

The good news is that Idaho's DC delegation already asked Kickstand for exactly this list back in early 2008 but got lost in the shuffle, but not before the survey was already developed. This existing draft survey is based on the growing research on entrepreneurial intentions and barriers. And ESTech is already going to use this survey in the Treasure Valley. [Note to self: deliver draft survey and concise research review to the Council.]

*** Doug Sayer announced that he's now calling it Project 75 ! Gotta love the optimism and.. it does work if we argue that "60" is in base-12...

Regional Reports
North: Robin Woods (Alturas Analytics) noted that in her area the #1 concern is lack of resources [awareness?] though there was an undercurrent of feeling that universities really don't understand the process of tech commercialization [nor entrepreneurship at all..] Lack of mentoring was glaringly evident. (Shoot, if Brad Feld said at IdaVationthat we don't have enough mentors in Boise, so this is not surprising. However, doesn't growing a state-wide pool of mentors sound like a great long-term objective?)

East/Southeast: Doug Sayer (Premier Technologies) - very, very long PPT presentation [2 slides, 2 minutes] -
Jason Stolworthy - used the great 2004/5 report from Innovation Associates. See the link for some great bullet points. And read them.
[Ed. note: Very similar lists surfaced from the President's Council on Applied Science & Tech and the National Governors Association . I will follow up on the list in the IA doc -where we stand & we can actually do.

Doug Sayer then raised the issue of how Idaho businesses also work productively with outside universities like Stanford. Not only is this an additional opportunity for Idaho businesses but also role models for Idaho's innovation system. Check out my buddies, Tom & Tina, et al. over at !

Doug also raised another interesting question: What stimulus dollars are out there? Are we getting any??

Southwest: Steve Hodges introduced Mary Givens to give BSU's perspective – one interesting emphasis is that not all technologies are equally ready, so one issue would be find ways to advance the Technology Readiness Level (pretty cool). Really nice job by Mary to describe where BSU is going. (Gene Merrell checked in later from UI.)

Lots of discussion about gap funding - can we develop a microgrant-type fund to get, say, $5K to people to help them move their idea forward? (BSU has a great rapid prototyping gizmo but it's not free.) Research says that it's great bang-for-the-buck, but I'm thinking it probably should start as an informal mechanism outside normal channels. Jefferson noted the evidence that $ spent on SBIR had a much larger ROI than spending on SBDCs. Anyway, the discussion made me want to pass the hat and raise $10K for 2-5 of these seed grants!

Jefferson ended with his observations from 9 entrepreneur interviews. General consensus was that entrepreneurs didn't have bad experiences with universities, rather they had trouble engaging at all. (The basic vs. applied research battle may never be resolved. But we do need to ask our institutions this:)

Do universities (or any institutions) see themselves as: (pick only one)
a) engines of economic development or
b) engines to generate research dollars?
Which is it... really?

Jefferson then suggested a "heretical" observation - we need to ask the question of whether we overfocus on startups, when so many times the ideal home for a new idea is an existing business. Can incentives aimed at startups be better deployed?
[Note: Actually, he's not wrong. The latest gazelle data suggests the median age is over 15 years old AND that the growth spurt came from entering a new arena (e.g., with a new technology) Remember too that Idaho's net job creation is mostly from existing firms growing.].
Maybe Idaho's differentiation is figuring how to develop INTRApreneurship. Why not develop programs to help existing businesses become launchpads for new ideas? [Ed. note: We also have well-tested curricula for that... readily available.]

Brian Dickens then made the great observation that the two are not mutually exclusive. It made me think of Will Baumol's recent work on how large firms, small firms and other stakeholders are all needed for a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. [great book! Glad to loan it out...]

The last two agenda items were essentially tabled but appealed to my own biases. (1) What other info does the Council need to make sound recommendations? and (2) What guest presentations would they like to hear. (Doug Sayer argued for a DOE speaker and Jefferson thought he could lure the estimable Krisztina Holly from USC (and MIT) here. Later, I'll inflict a list of my contacts that might provoke some discussion. (I think the Council could create a killer National Advisory Board that would give us instant 'street cred'.)

Anyway - sometimes you DO have to spend some time watching the mills grinf the grain fa more slowly than we'd like. But I came away with my optimism intact!


Blogger Clint Nelsen said...

Brilliant post! After my own heart! Everyone is willing to work with a company once they have a million dollar balance sheet.

More needs to be done for entrepreneurs that are just starting their journey!

I'll check back, I really appreciate your posts!

11:51 PM  

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