A recent Kauffman report offers new and valuable insights into where venture-driven growth comes from. Literally. Not from what attributes of social media founders or which San Francisco coffee shops, but rather which sectors of the economy and which regions of the country. The findings are surprising and important for entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business, and policymakers thinking of helping them.
The NYT article on Apple and employment, How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work , offers valuable insights into the future of manufacturing. But there is a way out.
Steve Jobs died. The outpouring of sorrow and admiration is nothing short of stunning, and more than most heads of state would engender. Jobs deserves credit for so much that Apple (and Pixar) have wrought, and a tribute to his purely technological contributions would be plenty. But there is something intensely personal—something that speaks to us more than the phones, or laptops, or iPads—that in passing shakes us to the core and asks what we want of our leaders and of ourselves.
The Kauffman Foundation just posted a nice sketchbook talk by CEO Carl Schramm (embedded below), summarizing the good and vital research the company has supported that looks at the role of entrepreneurs in society. These numbers should guide both policy and personal decisions.
The Solyndra debacle raises significant questions about how to best pursue a clean tech revolution. As I argued before, most of these questions will go ignored in the scramble for political advantage but several others are raising the same questions (E.G., Real Solyndra Scandal). A good post by Bruce Krasting actually brings testimony from an engineer with Solyndra that makes the company look very much like any other venture-capital backed business—consuming cash as fast as possible to grow as quickly as possible to meet a rapidly closing window of opportunity.
In particular, the Department of Energy’s recent loan guarantee program, through which Solyndra received its loan guarantees. has backstopped roughly $2 billion to venture-capital backed clean tech startups with the honorable motive of fostering a clean tech revolution. In a search for means to foster a clean tech revolution, the Obama Administration made venture capital a cornerstone of its energy policy. Yet, despite venture capital’s leading role in clean technology this past decade, we don’t really know when it works well and, as importantly, when it doesn’t.
Last spring, my colleague Martin Kenney and I completed a research paper that looked at the boundary conditions underlying venture capital’s success and its appropriateness in pursuing a clean tech revolution: "Misguided Policy: Following Venture Capital into Clean Technology." The paper looked directly at the funding of Solyndra, Tesla, and other new ventures. It is forthcoming in California Management Review but, given the circumstance, wanted to introduce it here.
Last week, Bob Sutton asked me to add my two bits to the dog-pile surrounding the “Steve-Jobs-is-the-modern-Thomas-Edison” analogy. I initially balked. There were plenty of folks who’d already made this connection. Then I balked because Bob’s own brilliant post on Apple took the discussion in a much more productive direction. Over the weekend, however, I bit. Not because of how the analogy fit, but because of how it didn’t.
What if innovation was not about solving problems? This thought nags me whenever I'm forced to read about the grave responsibility of "innovation" to solve such persistent problems as climate change, healthcare, poverty, and education. Or listening to how innovation might solve all of Acme, Incorporated's problems but especially that gaping hole in Q3 revenues for 2012, their obsolete technology platform, or declining share values.
Some recent (bad) news from VC investments in greentech raise more questions about whether this is the best model for pursuing innovation. Despite its glory days in the halls of the Obama administration in general and the DOE in particular, venture capital is not the cure for all ills. In particular, the factors that make venture capital successful are not always those that make new ventures successful. Understanding the difference is critical for national policy makers, venture capitalists, and scientist-entrepreneurs alike.
Networks play two very different roles in innovation. Broad-ranging social networks are great for moving knowledge about ideas, technologies, and people from where they're known to where they're not. And those with broad-ranging networks tend to be in a better position to see these ideas. But ideas are not so valuable in the innovation process, as I and others have argued.
This past week's New Yorker features a terrific article by Malcolm Gladwell, "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted," that illustrates this difference—between social networking as our kids know it and social networking as our parents' generation did.