Innovation takes more than inventive minds

The summiteers met at the summit to summit.

The conveners convened to convene.

Did they get anything done? Anything concrete? Well, maybe. But, hey, there was magic in the air. Just ask Gov. Hickenlooper.

“From the moment the summit began you could feel magic happening,” he said.

That’s nice, but, really, where did it all lead?

Well, at the end of the two-day Colorado Innovation Network Summit in Denver last Friday (Aug. 31), the organizers put out a press release saying the event had wrapped up with “commitments for action from the state’s most innovative leaders on ways to make Colorado the most innovative state in the nation.”

The “most innovative state in the nation?” Wow. I think a lot of us would be happy if Colorado could simply move up a few notches in the innovation rankings.

Innovation’s important, of course, because the more Eli Whitneys, Henry Fords and Steve Jobs we can encourage, the more jobs we’ll create, the more competitive we’ll be, the more wealth we’ll create.

Colorado has many of the ingredients necessary to develop its innovation economy but we’re far from leading the way.

What’s the problem?

Stephan Weiler, a Colorado State University economics professor, sheds some light on the question with a new Colorado Innovation Index, which was shared with all at the conference. The index evaluated innovation in Colorado in four categories — ideas, talent, capital and entrepreneurship.

First, the good news:

• Colorado continues to exceed the national average for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree attainment.

• Colorado trails only Massachusetts for having the most workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the nation.

• Colorado outperforms many benchmark states in patents, issuing more than 450 patents per million residents in 2011.

Now the not-so-good news:

• The nonprofit and university sectors in Colorado contribute an above-average amount to expenditure in R&D, but overall R&D intensity lags the nation. The state reinvested just over 2 percent of its GDP back into R&D in 2008, well below the U.S. rate.

• While Colorado has a high prevalence of self-employment establishments, they are only average in terms of entrepreneurial returns.

Weiler and his team did not go so far as to offer potential solutions.

Instead, hints of what needs to happen came from the keynote speaker at the event, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, who talked about the importance of business, government and civil society working together.

Mark Sirangelo, the chairman of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Space Systems, spoke along the same lines.

“At a time when innovation and change are needed, Colorado has proven yet again it’s a lot closer to reaching the stars by taking the lead and bringing industry, academia and government together to layout a roadmap to the future,” he said.

Actually, whether a two-day conference offers any real proof we’re any closer to reaching the stars is to be determined. But what’s key is getting business, education and government to cooperate and coordinate.

On its website, COIN bemoans the “lack of true leadership and solutions” presented to the 2012 Colorado General Assembly.

Will we come any closer to addressing the issues that COIN raises in next year’s session? Can business count on state lawmakers to help? More to the point, even if they want to help, where will they find the money?

A lot needs to happen to make next year’s innovation index any better. Ask most any entrepreneur, especially those behind tech startups. To build it, they look for and readily accept all kinds of government help.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or agreenberg@ncbr.com.

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