Inventing the Innovation Ecosystem

STEMCourier-Journal
G. Nagesh Rao and Yolanda Comedy
22 August 2015

Louisville, Ky., is home to the Louisville Slugger, Churchill Downs, The Cardinals, and of course world famous bourbon makers like Heaven Hills Distillery. But when you look past the pop-culture icons that make Louisville so distinctly eclectic and wonderful, one begins to also recognize the sheer magnitude of potential the city has to be a leading model for what a 21st century city might want to emulate.

As members of the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors program Working Group, it is in our mission to help cultivate a new and diverse generation of inventors and increase global understanding of the role of invention in creating new products and building new businesses, and the importance of inventors and invention education in building economies, improving or quality of life and fostering innovation. We think a lot about the possibility that invention will create new knowledge and be key for solving 21st century societal problems.

Realizing this reality starts with many of the ingredients that Louisville has to build on: fostering incredible talent and embracing and inspiring the power of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

So what can Louisville and cities like it do to help move the needle forward and ensure a robust innovation ecosystem?
The keys to cultivating a long term sustainable economy requires investing in a long-term plan, creating a stable infrastructure, and having a commitment to a 10-15 year growth strategy around three types of capital: intellectual, social, and financial.

Intellectual

Building a well-educated community is key. Early childhood education that includes a passion for curiosity and hands-on experiences are important for creating inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. A strong university education system provides incredible human capital and the potential for research and development. Coupling this talent curation with longer term efforts underway by University of Louisville, NUCLEUS KY, Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, FirstBuild, and KentuckianaWorks are a great way to further develop your region’s talent pool.

Social

Social capital helps build connections, resources and shared values that need to exist between people in your communities. Social capital helps to ensure that there will be funding, investment, experts, and viable teams. Curating a social network should not be underestimated. “Baking and breaking bread” together means that everyone shares in the everyday experiences and are more vested in the outcomes coming to life! Through meet-ups, conferences, workshops, or whatever it may be, the opportunity to collaborate across different genres of disciplines and culture sets enables for a more robust and proactive innovation ecosystem.

Financial

The best mantra for Louisville and other innovative, thriving and sustainable cities is to invest and re-invest in your communities. Local governments can increase access to financial educators/ counselors by creating referral networks or connecting education to existing programs. This can be realized in a variety of ways:

  1. through brick-and-mortar centers;
  2. by utilizing existing citywide infrastructure (for example, explicitly connecting business development assistance to government social services);
  3. fostering small business incubators/ nonprofits that provide technical assistance; and
  4. providing training, where needed.

Resolve to act local, think global

To be successful in the 21st century it is no surprise that Louisville needs to both act local and think global. Firms need to be supported locally, while also helping them to connect to the world around them. It is important to realize that strong innovation zones like Silicon Valley did not occur overnight. The region was the result of tenacity and good old fashion (long-term) American grit. From leading scientific research facilities to proactive small business growth policies, to culturally vibrant cities, to cultivating invention, communities like Louisville are necessary if the U.S. is to maintain its unparalleled leadership in the global economy.