The Boulder Chamber gathers items of interest on the Innovation Economy from across the nation and around the world in its weekly Innovation Digest. Here is a synopsis from our latest Innovation Digest, linked to their sources.
Policymakers Must Keep Up with Entrepreneurs
Congressman Steve Chabot, who chairs the House Small Business Committee, writes in a Kauffman Foundation blog post of the importance of creating policies that support entrepreneurs. He cites the Foundation’s Main Street Entrepreneurship Index as a set of meaningful guidelines for forging such support. Says Chabot:
“These reports contain a number of useful data points that help us better understand what we hear from our small business owners at home. This invaluable input from a variety of sources will better inform the conversation surrounding entrepreneurship in our nation’s capital this coming year.”
The Boulder Chamber’s president and CEO, John Tayer, told an audience at Ignite Boulder that one essential element of assuring “greatness” in a city is to measure the right things that create conditions for greatness. Among them, he called out the Kauffman measurement.
GE’s Move to the City Part of a Larger Tech Trend Validating the “Boulder Model”
Place matters. And one of Boulder’s strengths has been the co-location of great innovation resources, such as the university, federally-funded labs, cutting-edge and diverse industries, and a highly educated workforce. So, as NPR and others have reported, GE announced it will move from its suburban location in Fairfield, CT, to Boston, presumably in order to get greater access to co-located resources such as universities and tech workers. And NPR’s report also speculates that this is part of a growing trend for such co-locations. Turns out the “Boulder Model” has been prescient.
Watch a report on the move from Boston public television station WGBH:
And Boulder’s Healthy, Outdoor Lifestyle Helps, Too
The number of STEM jobs in a given market is a good indicator of economic health, says Outside Online. Among other Colorado towns, Boulder is cited on the magazine’s “Best Towns” list and as one of the top fifteen metro areas for STEM jobs. In fact, of the top 15, nine are on Outside‘s list. And Outside features Boulder as a case study, saying:
“Boulder is the leading non-Silicon Valley tech center in the U.S. Outside of Silicon Valley and Framingham, Boulder’s STEM job raking is higher than any other region in the country. 8 tech companies based in the Boulder area made it on Outside’s 2014 Best Places to Work list.”
Not surprisingly, The Atlantic reported that America’s fittest cities also tend to be the richest. Urbanist Richard Florida “…took a detailed look at the connection between how metros rank on the American Fitness Index, or AFI (which rates metros on individual health indicators such as vegetable consumption and daily physical activity, as well as community or environmental indicators such as walkability or proximity to a local park), and the key socioeconomic characteristics of these metros.” HIs conclusion is that fitness is consistently linked with affluence, jobs, education and class position, all partially contingent on where people live.
Flint, MI, Water Issues Demonstrate Need for Infrastructure Investment
The crisis in Flint, MI, pertaining to elevated levels of lead in its water supply has created a health emergency for its citizens. While many factors played into the problems, the Bookings Institution put a spotlight on the outdated infrastructure of the city’s water system as a common theme across the nation. Says Brookings:
“Similar to many older industrial cities in the Midwest, Flint has struggled to pay for needed maintenance on pipes and other facilities, which not only buckle under time and pressure in the form of widespread leaks, but also result in higher costs and declining water quality. “
Many pipes are over a century old, and estimates for repairing them could exceed $1 trillion nationally. But some states and cities are, according to Brookings, trying out innovative ways to accelerate improvements. For example, Pennsylvania has used its PENNVEST effort to fund an assortment of water enhancements. And Massachusetts is targeting investments in facilities, as well.
The bottom line, says Brookings: Flint should provide a cautionary tale to the rest of the nation.
Robots Could Be Taking Over Even More Jobs Than You Think
Robots are taking more and more job tasks than ever, and this trend will increase in the years to come. CNN Money reports on job categories at risk, including such positions as models, sports referees, paralegals and telemarketers–each of which have a 90 – 100 percent risk of replacement. This “revolution” could dramatically transform the global economy, according to their sources, as these medium-skill jobs disappear or garner lower wages. These kinds of transitions are not new, but they are instructive for future job-seekers.
Video Spotlight: How Virtual Reality-based Training Could Help Athletes Improve Their Play
Cities Taking the Lead on Climate Action
Because they are more directly responsive to their citizens, and because they have to deal with the practical effects of climate change, cities are taking the lead in addressing those issues. Through organizations such as the Compact of Mayors—to which the City of Boulder belongs—they are coming up with real solutions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, track their progress, and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Read more
Here’s a video clip by Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and leader of the Compact of Mayors:
Corporate Venture Participation Growing
According to the National Venture Capital Association, corporate venture capital participation has jumped to over one-fifth of all venture deals in the third quarter of 2015. For example, corporate venture capital accounted for half of all funding for energy startups. Moreover, corporate venture groups are beginning to get more involved in earlier stage investing. Read more
Businesses Finding More Uses for Virtual Reality
Seen by some initially as an entertainment technology, TechCrunch notes that virtual reality is being engaged in an ever-widening portfolio of business uses. Besides Oculus Rift, a number of companies such as Samsung, Sony, Google, and Microsoft reportedly are creating VR-based systems. Already we see possibilities involving crime scene reconstructions, pain relief, immersion journalism, virtual workspaces, manufacturing, education, and big data management. Read more
College Campuses Becoming Test Beds for Applying Emerging Technologies
TechCrunch also reports that colleges and universities—longtime leaders in innovation and technology—are coming to the fore as test beds for applying the technologies they help create. In doing so, they’re attracting students to more advanced and enriching experiential worlds. They’re also helping ensure that when their students leave, the graduates will demand and utilize these technologies in real-world applications. Read more
The Future of Work: Autonomy, Flexibility, Customization
We’ve read a lot about the “Gig Economy,” but no matter what you call it, tomorrow’s world of work likely will look somewhat different than today’s. As Forbes magazine reports, employees are increasingly looking for freedom and flexibility in deciding on which company to work for. We may be moving beyond work/life balance and more into work/life integration. Read more
Why Cities Need to Take the Lead in Promoting Innovation
A recent paper by the Brookings Institution underscores the importance of urban areas as centers of innovation and social progress, due to the increasing urbanization of the world’s population and seeming paralysis in Washington, DC.
Brookings points out certain fiscal realities inherent in the shift of market, demographic, political and forces. Brookings author Bruce Katz–head of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program–cites a recent Pew Research report that found only 24 percent of Americans said they trusted the federal government always or most of the time. At the same time, 55 percent of Americans said they wanted their presidential candidates to have “new ideas and a different approach” rather than “experience and a proven record.”
In other words, we’re looking for innovation in solving our big issues, and we don’t think the central government can provide them. So cities, which have to react and respond to these issues, are becoming more central to developing innovation approaches. Katz predicts that the rise of cities will accelerate due to structural shifts in the federal budget, in which most federal resources will be focused on entitlements and defense. By default, it will fall to states and cities to garner the resources necessary to address issues such as housing, infrastructure, education, economic development, environment and research.
The Brookings Institution highlighted a program by Greater Portland Inc., a regional public-private program to “achieve economic prosperity for all across the region.” In addition, Brookings noted the Portland Development Commission’s (PDC) programs for improving wealth creation and economic opportunity in the entrepreneurial and tech sectors of the economy.
“Yet despite our economic success, Portland faces serious challenges that undermine our long-term ability to compete and for more residents to participate in the gains of economic growth. Wages and income growth, especially for blacks, Hispanics and immigrant Asian communities, have not kept up with our cost of living; poverty rates are on the rise. We also have difficulty recruiting and retaining diverse talent due to perceptions of Portland as a city that is not diverse and not welcoming for professionals of color.”
— PDC Director of Economic Development
This program has important context for Boulder County, given the information recently released in the Boulder County Trends Report, from the Community Foundation. The report discloses that although Boulder County is becoming more diverse, and our economy is strong, our poverty is also growing, especially with regard to Latino children. The gap between Anglo households and Latino households is high, and wider than the gap nationally, according to the report. The gap is reportedly exacerbated by higher-than-average housing and childcare costs.
Venture Beat reports on how in recent years, “a growing number of coding boot camps have helped address the large gap between available software engineering positions and qualified candidates to fill them. Coding bootcamps have been so successful that observers have wondered whether these programs are beginning to replace traditional college computer science degrees.” Interestingly, the article cites Department of Education statistics showing a decline in the percentage of degrees conferred in computer science.
Why is this happening? According to the article, it could be a combination of the high demand for developer skills couple with the lack of tangible skills being taught in computer science programs. But there are some caveats cited. For one, there are no recognized standards covering the quality and certification from the myriad of private coding programs. In addition, the lack of standards could lead to cases of consumer fraud and abuse. And it remains true that in most cases it still pays to get a college education, as Entrepreneur Magazine has pointed out.
The bottom line seems to be that each individual needs to evaluate the various options and opportunities for realizing meaningful careers.
The finance and economic site Calculated Risk reports that although many focus on the issues associated with our aging population. And in fact, the population cohort in the 25-to-54 age group did stagnate for a while. However, the article’s author, Bill McBride, reports that the prime working age group has begun to grow again, at about 0.5% per year. This, he says, should boost economic activity.
Number of Accelerators Growing because they Fill Important Market Needs
Entrepreneur Magazine explores the reasons for a reported increase in the number of business accelerators. Taking numbers from AngelList, author Scott Shane reports that this number has grown dramatically since 2005. Why?
Because, he says, they address a persistent issue in financing high-potential “pre-seed-stage” companies: They offer a structure under which to evaluate and assist new ventures, and they give investors options to further diversify their portfolios. In addition, they reduce the cost to investors of searching for investment opportunities.
In the innovation economy, accelerators have proven to be an innovation in the new business funding and development process. Shane therefore posits that they are not just a fad, but they are a lasting change in the venture-finance marketplace.
The State Science and Technology Institute reports on a Wharton study showing that investors need not expect lower returns as a tradeoff for impact investing. Wharton researchers evaluated the financial performance of 63 impact investing private equity funds relative to public market indexes and other factors. The conclusion: the funds studied showed they could “achieve results comparable to market indices.”
Such studies bolster the case for spotlighting opportunities to invest in companies doing good that can also do well. Such was the inspiration for this year’s Esprit Venture Challenge, in which socially responsible startups compete for cash prizes. The applicants had to demonstrate that they not only addressed big issues, but also that they could achieve financial results.
TechCrunch writer Baron Schwartz writes that in spite of how much we spotlight a “talent shortage” for businesses, that term may be a misnomer. There are plenty of talented people, he says, but businesses need to invest in them to develop the skill sets they need.
It’s true that there is a lot of competition for the top engineers, for example, and it’s spawned a sort of arms race, according to Baron. But Baron opines that if we see people as talent, then we need to create the right environment in which to develop it. And that’s where businesses should step in, he believes. He differentiates the education people may receive in colleges with the skills training businesses can provide. And that means more than just providing internships, paid or unpaid. It requires
- a longer term investment in talented people
- reducing gender and racial inequality
- institutionalizing “privilege”—that is, overcoming the notion that opportunities are only available to people in relatively privileged groups.
The bottom line, he says, is to invest in talented people, not just lament the shortage of qualified workers and compete for a limited pool.
Video Feature: The Future of the Internet is Without Screens
Designer Tom Uglow delivers a TED talk about a future in which we don’t access the Internet through a screen device. He proposes melding our love for nature and simple tools with our need for information. Finding a “happy place” in which the information we gather is more natural in our lives.