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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Student programs and internships should be designed into the programs at the beginning.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.