Tech-Led Economic Development: What Lies Ahead?

July 26, 2010 at 7:46 am Leave a comment

The Biological World. If the 20th century was defined by physics, the 21st century will be defined by biology. Biomedical clusters will grow according to a very different set of rules than IT industries did.

Global, Networked Science. Science is becoming globalized, which means that local clusters cannot exist in isolated. To succeed they need to beconnected to other innovation hubs.

The New Scientist. The lone genius is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as young scientists pioneer massively collaborative work styles. Science 2.0 will shake the institutional foundations of science, from journals to patents to university departments.

Big Science, Lightweight Innovation. As the federal government pours money into basic research, companies are stripping their R&D organizations to the bone, instead favoring lightweight and open innovation strategies. The inevitable disconnect means a need for new systems that can take raw breakthroughs and prepare them for commercialization.

New Public Agenda. Turning federal dollars into jobs fast is the order of the day. But it’s not clear if research parks and incubators can deliver at the pace demanded.

The Persistence of Place. While science is taking full advantage of the web, place is more important than ever for the creative collaborative work that can’t be virtualized. But the way young innovators use space will bemore dynamic, ad hoc and flexible.

Universities Transformed. Today’s leading research universities treat intellectual property like corporations of yesterday, while the most innovative companies are opening up and becoming more like yesterday’s universities. As universities shift roles from ivory tower to economic engine, fundamental flaws in technology transfer mechanisms will become all too clear.

Towards a New Model: Building Regional Knowledge Ecosystems

The trends described in the preceding section are global trends, which means there is little that economic developers in any one community can do to shape the speed or scope of how they play out. But there is one more important trend, the growth of regional approaches to technology-based economic development. Unlike those, the rise of technology regions is a trend that you can help shape.

We are just beginning to see the outlines of this approach, which involves many partners – research parks, large research-driven companies, startups, universities, investors and professionals – working together to develop regional knowledge ecosystems. These networks consist of a number of elements, someformal and other informal:

  • Research partnerships between universities and companies
  • Social networks of entrepreneurs,professionals and amateurs
  • Investor cliques and clubs
  • Virtual networks and their members both inside and outside the region

Regional knowledge ecosystems are different from clusters, because they aren’t limited to a single industry, and companies aren’t necessarily the most important pieces. In a sense, for regional knowledge ecosystems, firms are the way that network expresses its ideas about what technologies ought to be commercially developed. For instance, when enough people in Silicon Valley begin experimenting with a new technology, inevitably a whole array of firms launch to develop it further. The firms emerge from the ecosystem, not the other way around.

The strength of regional knowledge ecosystems is that they can adapt faster than national systems, which are dictated by federal politics, and they can scale up successful enterprises much more effectively that individual research parks or municipalities. This is one reason why major policy think tanks in Washington – the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation – are all advocating that federal research grants be targeted to regional partnerships of federal labs, universities, companies and entrepreneurs.

Source: Anthony Townshend, Institute for the Future

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Entry filed under: Future of Economic Development, Tech-Led Economic Development. Tags: , , , .

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