Getting It Right—How Can the Public Sector Help the Innovation Sector Thrive?
What will the technological breakthroughs of 2062 look like? No one knows. What we do know, however, is that today’s innovation and entrepreneurship will be their foundation.
This was one of my takeaways from the Office of Advocacy’s symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962. A close second was a better understanding of the Innovation Sector and the kind of help it needs from government.
Advocacy was pleased to cosponsor this exciting event looking back 50 years to the futuristic 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and forward to the “Next 50.” Advocacy has a role to play as the independent voice for small business in government. It’s our job to amplify the voice of small business before policymakers. And to do this effectively, we wanted to engage entrepreneurs directly on regulatory issues that are of concern to them. Traveling to Seattle to listen to cutting-edge high-tech small businesses was an important part of educating our office. This is key to Advocacy’s Innovation Initiative, which highlights the unique needs of startups and small firms bringing innovative products and services to the marketplace.
The excitement generated by thirsty, risk-taking entrepreneurs in Seattle is a world away from the government bureaucracy of Washington, D.C. So Advocacy’s conference was an opportunity to listen and learn. Throughout the day, participants learned about an array of businesses and their varying needs and challenges; we learned about startup accelerators and participated in interactive exercises that have been the catalyst for many startup successes; and we learned about current and cutting-edge ways of financing innovation.
Introducing the day was Jenn Clark, the Northwest regional advocate whose dedication to her region’s businesses was a driving force in making the conference a reality. Advocacy’s 10 regional advocates were all in attendance, looking for ways of multiplying the lessons in play in Seattle. The D.C. office sent its legal expertise, in the form of regulatory attorneys who work directly with federal agencies.
Our keynote speaker, University of Washington President Michael K. Young, described UW’s quest to become America’s number one research institution through the dual goals of attracting the brightest faculty and students and accelerating the commercialization of UW research. His plan to make UW the best place in the world to do research rests on four principles:
• Researchers and top graduate student candidates in high-demand areas must care about commercialization,
• UW has to provide unparalleled commercialization support,
• The Northwest region needs to be recognized as a hotbed of entrepreneurship and tech transfer, and
• Leadership and policy need to support faculty entrepreneurship.
So far the plan seems to be working. A number of successful companies have spun-out from UW, and a subset of those have had a successful exit through either a merger or acquisition with a larger company.
The interaction of the private and public sectors was the focus of the first panel. It highlighted the role that government has played in the support and the funding of emerging companies. To help entrepreneurs increase their chances of successfully launching and growing companies, government must continue to adapt to the challenges these firms face. One example is the need to re-examine the structure of funding program cycles, to bring them into sync with the needs of small firms. This also means that the response time to funding proposals must have consistency and a timely reply.
The afternoon was kicked into high gear with a condensed version of Startup Weekend’s 54-hour boot camp, which let all in attendance experience the intensity of starting a company. This high-energy exercise helped to reinforce the kind of outside-the-box thinking from which a novel business plan might emerge. Showcasing innovation accelerators such as Startup Weekend and the Northwest Entrepreneur Network introduced entrepreneurs to the different types of mentors, funders, and managerial talent that are available to help launch a startup.
The symposium ended with a discussion of emerging capital strategies. Representatives of the venture capital, angel, crowd funding, and revenue loan communities offered advice on landing investment, including the importance of forging strong and lasting relationships with investors. When the discussion moved to crowd funding, panelists rolled up their sleeves and shared their opinions on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s anticipated rulemaking on crowd funding. Panelists warned that the easing of securities regulations must be done responsibly, but recognized that crowd funding could increase the number of new startups by freeing up a currently untapped funding source—the general public.
The conference launched Advocacy’s Innovation Initiative in a direct and relevant way, educating all present and gathering input to improve public support for innovators. Your ideas and continued feedback are most welcome. Please direct all input to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from many of you.