Expo 2023 & North Star


I was invited to speak at the July 2014 Expo 2023 event.  I gave an overview of the North Star Initiative that had been researching best practices for innovation centers and corporation innovation practices.    Innovation center are key drivers for economic development and a potential showpiece for the World’s Fair.   Their productivity comes from become a nexus of collaboration and co-opition creating opportunities through programs and serendipity that would not be possible without a focused environment and network.   The core of the best models revolve around corporate consortiums.   Their funding, combined with state & federal grants fuel the programs that support both start-up and corporate ventures.  Events range from industry, networking, venture capital, and student focused engagements.   Events and programs provide the tempo to keep the ecosystem moving and people to create plans and milestones around to make use of the events.   I have been seeing corporate to corporate joint ventures and shared patents being one of the strongest drivers and attracts corporations to have offices directly on premise.   That also positions them to be in the constant deal flow of new and maturing starts putting them on the pulse of opportunities and trends.   Universities play a key role as well bringing expertise and educational programs.  Students benefit on multiple fronts.   They can get a deeper level of entrepreneurial experience,  network across corporate mentors,  gain access to venture capital programs,  and intern directly in the centers working on start-up and corporate ventures.

Q&A that followed after the presentation focused on how we could get the center programs started.   I shared a few key first steps that provide the catalyst for many regions:

  1. Regional Clusters must be identified to prioritize the order and focus of the initial centers.   This must a balance between what the region may be known for and sectors that are emerging.
  2. State Government needs to publicly get behind the initiative and provide some basic funding to have skin the game.   State programs can be tailored over time to strengthen center programs.
  3. Corporate consortium need to be engaged based on the sectors prioritized.   Corporations play the leading roles in the success of centers.  Usually there is the core group that opt in early and become leading board members and sponsors during the design and roll out.  My tiers of corporate partnerships can be defined over time.   The majority of funding comes from corporate and venture funding.
  4. Federal grants are also key resources for center development, but competition between the states is high.   It is best to be through steps 1-3 when entering the granting process
  5. Universities need to play and active role.   While centers can provide new revenue streams to schools through commercialization and program revenues,  there needs to be a high level of volunteerism from the facaulty.
  6. Student programs and internships should be designed into the programs at the beginning.
  7. Corporations should look at centers as a new resources for employee development and lifelong learning.   Employees and executives should rotate in and out playing a variety of roles including teachers, coaches, mentors, board members, program developers, industry experts, commercialization strategist, and network facilitators.   Time embedded into the centers will broaden their entrepreneurial skills,  increase their own networks, and put them on the pulse of innovation in the region.
  8. Centers are built to also collaborate with other centers both regionally and globally.   International corridors should be established to bring the best ideas, talent, and investments into the region on a regular basis that is integrated into the tempo of standard programing.
  9. All stakeholders from government, corporate, academic, and venture community will need to play roles on boards and in center operations.  There are four types of board alone including operational, governance, funding, and investment.
  10. Regional should have many centers with different focuses, but they can all share resources and collaborate around all aspects of operations including  events and commercialization activities.

I was impressed with the energy and enthusiams around the topic.  I had many senior leaders approach me after the session that lead to many follow on meetings.

Initiative like this align well with the worlds fair.   Their challenge is that they need to be pursued and implemented to be fully in business to showcase the region when the fair brings the world to our door.



Visiting MN Secretary of State Office

SOS IMG_0459I continued the on going dialogue around Innovation Centers with the Minnesota Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, at his office in St. Paul.  We discussed key networking aspects around supporting the North Star Iniative to build support for starting several cluster focused centers in Minnepolis.   Some of the conversation included:
  1. Creation of a corporate advisory board.   This group would be comprised of innovation leaders of regional companies and talk about the actual model of center operations and funding structures.   This group would support and vest the research being collected until actual operational and governance boards would be formed around specific centers.
  2. Working with state agencies and corporate venture groups to identify which potential sectors would benefit from clusters focused centers.   This conversation is as simple as picking the major clusters we have, but to understand which are so mature that they wouldn’t benefit as much or those that are fading as we lose our advantage.   Other considerations are around which sectors we are growing in and could have an emerging cluster.  We may have emerging clusters that are horizontally centered, but that makes it hard to bring clusters to align to support them.   The balance may be around finding intersects of sectors to horizontal industries.  That could leverage the financial strength of the sector with the emerging opportunity of horizontal but retaining a clear focus.
  3. Looking around the globe at academic institutions that are leading in business and entrepreneurial programs and services.  This would have to transcend ideas of simple classes or student based concepts and be more aligned with actual business and venture spaces.     We had reworked with a number of global players who where doing actual international business and commercialization.    The best programs where heavily infused with corporate and venture practitioners with real experience and ability to apply knowledge.   It also demonstrate the best programs where built with a network of academic and corporate partners based on the focus of the centers.
  4. Minnesota already has some new companies that are leading efforts in pioneering new educational models.  New models of educaiton blend learning with working in industry directly.   This closes the enormous gap between school and work integrating them together.   It redefines the academic buzz word “experiential learning” to  learning and doing for real.   It redefines today’s concepts of short internships to full time internship is at the core of the DNA.   It also promotes the idea of life long learning as a key part of everyones profession and work and education are always continuing together.   Innovation Centers provide a cross roads for all of these to converge where students, start-ups, professional are all working and learning together.   Students are spending time at school, industry, and in centers.   Professional are teaching, mentoring, and staying up to date with the latest tech and trends.
  5. The formation of international exchange corridors is key to establishing a global brand and capitalizing on the innovations happening around the world for competitive advantage.   We had worked with a number of centers and academic programs that where already piloting cohorts of international companies to USA based centers.  These two way bridges between centers helped integrate clusters at a global level and would be key to overall model.
  6. Cluster ecosystems.   Given large USA companies have many of the capabilities for international business, partnerships, and commercialization they still are key players and leaders at the centers.    If a start-up on the other side of the world has a technology that could disrupt a large companies core business it is a priority for them to understand the situation.  For each large company that is either innovative or being disrupted, there are potentially thousands of small and medium sized businesses that can be impacted and the collaboration of the cluster ecosystem is essential for the sustainability and alignment of strategic direction.   Leadership is not just innovation or opening new markets, but is in leading and growing the overall ecosystem..
Next steps included identifying key introductions to continue to build the network working on the initiative.

MN State CIO Meeting

MN.IT Logo

I was recently a co-speaker at the KPMG Innovation Council along with the Minnesota State Director of Innovation James Kauth.   Our presentations both talked about data initiatives underlying economic development.   This lead to a follow on meeting with the Minnesota State CIO Carolyn Parnell.   I was able to present the full scope of the North Star Initiative to create innovation centers and highlighted to opportunities of building a data portfolio covering all aspects of the innovation process and sector activities.
There was good synergy between the state’s initiatives to make more sources of public data available via apis to drive innovation and see what creative ideas could be generated with the new data sources.   The data the innovation centers would both enrich that base of public data and we could see direct mapping opportunities liking data around corporate employee and revenue growth to companies involved with the innovation centers over the long term.   This would provide more data and insights into which sectors in the region where both innovating and prospering and help attract more interest to the region.
Finding grant support for fund a pilot to integrate the data platforms would be a key next step.