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!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Do Outside Entrepreneurship Experts Think About Idaho?

I think the discussions about where Idaho needs to go has been circling the real questions. Back in April, Utah was referenced as a great model for us, though skeptics point to the top-down support they received (including hefty financial support.)

HOWEVER, there is a great deal that we can learn from them. Yes, they had some terrific advantages that persist today, but what we need to focus on is: What they DID with what they had. The heart of what made them so effective had everything to do with making their culture more entrepreneurial and making their system remarkably entrepreneurial.

Strategy , not Tactics
I've been able to get observations from outside experts (a fair subset of the experts) about what Idaho is doing. One key observation of direct relevance here is that we have focused far too much on tactics – throwing out ideas that we'd like to see happen. However, they do not see that we have started with first principles, that we have not done a good job of looking at the strategic level. Part of that is that we don't have much expertise that understands the key strategic-level phenomena at the heat of a truly entrepreneurial economy. The Dept of Commerce's 'Project 60' is a nice first step and the entrepreneur-heavy makeup of the Idaho Innovation Council is another.

Step One: Understand what characterizes a successful entrepreneurial economy.
Step Two: Identify the key policy levers that help us grow an entrepreneurial economy
Step Three: Only then can we begin looking at ground-level tactics.

Here's a 'big picture' item that we should focus on: Knowledge Spillover. To be of any value, knowledge must 'spill over' into the marketplace. How does knowledge get turned into something of value? We have policy levers at our disposal to cost-effectively reduce barriers.

Another: Entrepreneurial economies grow bottom-up, one entrepreneur at a time. Technology commecialization is not driven by top-down institutions, Institutions can faciliate & can remove barriers but it's encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit of Idaho that will make or break the effort.

Think Strategically (not tactically)
Let me ask the question a different way - we seem fixated on tactics (what worked or not in a specific setting) when we really need to step back and look at the big picture.

The big question is: “How do we get more ideas to market?” (Jason Stolworthy noted back in April that it need not even be "Idaho" ideas.) This is more than just developing new technologies, this is about changing mindsets. Ideas we have, but that's not remotely enough to grow innovations – you need entrepreneurs. The real question is how do we do THAT.. and we do know how to do that. Yet, that has rarely been on the table. Why not?

Creativity + Entrepreneurship = Innovation
The best way to promote Idaho innovation is to grow a more entrepreneurial Idaho. A more entrepreneurial climate is almost always the scarce commodity. The dirty little secret of innovation is that the invention part is never the bottleneck, it's the entrepreneurial side where most places fall short.

60 Spinouts in Under 4 Years
At the April meeting, mention was made again about the Utah model. If you want a primer on what they've done, couched within the bigger picture, please look at - you can see the implications for Idaho. It's easy to dismiss what the U of U did because of their blessings - especially the budget surplus that enabled a major cash influx. However, what made Utah so successful was that they changed the climate to become much more entrepreneurial.

What that required will be very difficult for Idaho, but not because of any great cognitive complexity. It will be difficult because it requires a sea change in how the whole system operates. In a nutshell, here's what they did that WE could do. However, that also means we CAN change more quickly than we realize!

The Bully Pulpit - have all the top leaders beat the drum for making the system more entrepreneurial. Idaho's leaders will do this but only if/when they have faith in the key players. Do the things below and Idaho's leaders *will* step up. You heard Butch at the initial IIC meeting being very clear that he sees entrepreneurs as the answer. Legislative leaders agree completely. Why aren't we building on this?

No More Amateur Night - DIY is great for building your deck but not for building a state innovation system. Expertise from outside the state is likely necessary (and local wannabes need to let the experts drive the bus.) Outsiders look at Idaho & wonder why we've allowed local pseudo-experts to have any say at all. Just because they have the job title doesn't mean they get it.)
A huge part of any successful development effort is to start with strategy. It feels like 99% of what talk about are tactics. Strategy first, then tactics. (My next posting will address the key strategic elements that we must consider.)

Focus on Applied Research - commit to putting new dollars into applied research. The fetish for basic research is a hindrance (and I'm a basic researcher myself).
Look at the example of Ireland... and New Mexico and Utah and North Dakota and...

Put Entrepreneurs at the Heart of the System - make it not just entrepreneur-friendly but that having entrepreneurs heavily engaged throughout the system needs to become the norm.
* Open every door imaginable to the entrepreneurial community; make it clear they are more important.
* You will need to grow entrepreneurs - in the system and throughout the state (in Idaho, we'll need to grow entrepreneurial communities as well.)

Grow Entrepreneurs Everywhere – entrepreneurial citizens, entrepreneurial organizations (nonprofits too) and entrepreneurial communities. Why else would youth entrepreneurship programs be the #1 no-brainer in economic development these days?
* Grow entrepreneurial human capital – we know how to do this... cheaply.
* Grow entrepreneurial social capital – we know ho to do this...cheaply.

Signal Persuasively that the Climate HAS Changed
* Show that we fully understand that market pull always trumps technology push. No matter how cool and sexy the features of a technology might be, if features don't translate into customer benefits... we will never make progress.
* For example, Utah signaled the new culture by banning the phrase "tech transfer" - henceforth they want to say "technology commercialization".
* Don't go piecemeal - develop and deliver multiple best-in-class programs so that every member of the ecosystem will see credible evidence that things are indeed different.

Align Resources to a Strategic Road Map
* What makes an economy entrepreneurial? What are the critical characteristics? Once we have that, we can ask what are the policy levers available to us? Experts, national & global, can and should help us with that. Then and only then does it make any sense to talk tactics. But that's actually the easy part IF we listen to the experience & expertise available to Idaho.
* Once we have the strategy & likely tactics in place, then we have the tricky part: Aligning the resources to the road map. Odds are that most 'players' will not be doing what they want to do or feel entitled to do.. but they WILL be doing what adds the most value to the process. (Think 'distinctive competence' not 'core competence.')
* INL led the charge years ago when Idaho developed its initial list of competencies and harped on the need for alignment. We need to honor that strategic intent and make all of this happen.
* This might be a good place to start as Idaho is already working on a 'summit' with 8 key industries.

** Most important: Demonstrate that we "get it" - that everyone involved in designing and delivering programs understand how entrepreneurs think. Doing all of the above will send that signal - to the experts we want (and need) to help us AND to Idaho's entrepreneurial community.

Let me add my usual plaintive cry: How can I help? How can I help Idaho to "Entrepreneur Up!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Blog-Slacker is Back... Twitter Captured Me (but getting better)

Interesting news - I've polled my wonk friends in DC, etc. & they already are optimistic. But it will be an uphill battle to get entrepreneurs on the front burner.

I've had multiple short chats with Jim at meetings like IEDA and IRP and he gets "it" to a greater degree than many in DC. I'm passing along my contacts to his office & I've sent this news to them. There are some things that we can be doing here in Idaho that this could help but one thing I've been meaning to blog about is this.

When I talk with the 'best & brightest' folks on how to grow entrepreneurs, they perceive Idaho as needing to pull together, have one voice and we need to be thinking at the strategic level. Policy makers and policy implementers need to REALLY understand how an entrepreneurial economy actually works (some of which is pretty counter-intuitive and a lot of it runs contrary to the prevailing policy winds in DC.) To that end, the people I can send Jim's way will help & some of them are already in contact with the committee/staff; Jim can help them to be heard.

If any of you are interested in a chat about taking advantage of this - not just for us, but for the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem.. just drop me a note.
(or - LOL -tweet me via @entrep_thinking)