Five Steps to Building a Regional Innovation Ecosystem

June 12, 2010 by  

Our firm recently participated in the Regional Innovation & Jobs Summit hosted by the Washington Economic Development Commission. Kudos to Egils Milberg and Noreen Hobin for a very full day of content and conversation. The full day was webcast, including the intro to our session.  Also thanks to our colleague from the WA-based Ingenesist Project, Dan Robles, who took great photos of our session.

Our session came at the end of the day. After a day of talking, our role was to get people engaged and active in improving specific ecosystems for the state.  Here are our intro slides on SlideShare:

adams at wedcIn Intangible Capital, we make the case that innovation is more than a process, it is also an ecosystem. And that ecosystem is its intangible capital. When you apply these ideas to a geographic region or cluster, the innovation ecosystem is made up of the same group of intangible (knowledge-based) resources that we use at the organizational level. These include:

  • Human capital: specific areas of expertise shared by groups in the region
  • Structural capital: shared communication, information, process and program resources that facilitate collaboration and innovation within the region
  • Relationship capital: links with resources/knowledge outside the region

oleksak at wedcTo understand the full picture, you also want to understand these in the context of tangible (physical) resources:

  • Educational facilities
  • Production capacity
  • Research laboratories
  • Financial resources

Sounds good–but where to start? Well, the first thing that most of us default to is a study. But these can take months, even years, and cost a lot of money. Then, who is to say that anyone is going to read it? We have learned the hard way in our corporate consulting that it isn’t perfect information that inspires change, it is collaboration and engagement. That’s why, even though the fee is better with a study, we often propose collaborative projects that have a much better chance of achieving breakthrough results.

groups-at-workHow did we do this at WEDC? We used an exercise that included five steps:

  1. Create a high level inventory of the region’s innovation ecosystem
  2. Construct a graphical representation-a map-of this ecosystem
  3. Do a quick assessment of current strengths and weaknesses of the ecosystem
  4. Undertake a “show and tell” among the regions
  5. Capture to-do’s for future collaborations

This approach is a simple way to pull together a group of diverse representatives of a region’s business, educational and public sector leaders and get them focused on building within and among their regions. Here are some photos of the exercise:

close up of group We had less time than we usually have in our corporate workshops. But the participants got an amazing amount of work done. The groups built maps of a number of key innovation ecosystems:

  • Infrastructure
  • Food
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health
  • Manufacturing
  • Energy
  • Export
  • R&D Commercialization
  • Learning

We look forward to hearing how the lessons learned get applied in the coming months and years.

What are your innovation ecosystems? What can you do to improve them and create economic growth?

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