Turning Innovation Into Enterprise

TCWV in the News

Developing An Innovation Mindset in West Virginia

February 2, 2015

Column in the Charleston Gazette, January 18, 2015 by Anne Barth

We hear a lot about the Innovation Economy, but what exactly does this mean?

It’s based on the idea that knowledge, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and collaboration all come together to fuel economic growth.  In the Innovation Economy, research turns money into knowledge, and innovation turns knowledge into wealth.

States that thrive in the Innovation Economy are strong supporters of research and development, tech transfer, entrepreneurial growth, and the creation and retention of a highly skilled workforce.   They also put serious funding in place to make sure they have healthy, high-performing innovation ecosystems.

These states also foster an innovation mindset in their leaders, institutions, cultures and values.

What does it take to develop an innovation mindset and how can we do that in West Virginia?  Are there tactics we can employ to find creative, innovative solutions?  Here are a few to consider:

  • Be willing to think outside the box. Just because it’s never been done here before doesn’t mean it never can be done here.  Maybe the right factors are coming together to make possible what was once impossible.
  • Grow more tolerant of what some call “failure.” Thomas Edison tried 1,000 times before he invented the light bulb.  When asked how it felt to fail so much he quipped, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times.  The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Give our entrepreneurs some breathing space when they launch startups and businesses.
  • Fund research. Resist the urge to cut back on research funding during tough financial times.  One discovery may be all that it takes to pave the way for a cure, or provide a solution to a long-standing challenge, or turn someone’s prototype into a manufacturing reality that offers good jobs and creates wealth.
  • Encourage problem solving in students and The challenges are many, and we need to look for solutions that can be monetized to solve real-world problems in as many places as possible.
  • Understand what we’re really good at and encourage growth in these areas. When TechConnect first released the West Virginia Blueprint for Technology Based Economic Development, it identified four targeted sectors where we have the best chance of growth and job creation: advanced energy, chemicals and advanced materials, biometrics and identity intelligence, and biotechnology.  Since that time, we’ve added advanced manufacturing because of its potential for job creation.
  • Seek new ideas from a wide range of sources. For several years, West Virginia has had a collegiate business plan competition which has generated many new and clever business ideas.  Now we also have a high school business plan competition, an annual TransTech Energy Business Development Conference, the Shale Gas Innovation Contest, pitch opportunities at the annual Create West Virginia Conference, and entrepreneur cafés in several cities and towns.   All of these innovation contests demonstrate that good ideas can be encouraged and launched right here at home.
  • Celebrate innovation success and encourage others who are working to start and grow businesses. TechConnect established the Spirit of Innovation Awards in 2013 to recognize our state’s researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who are opening doors to the future.

The “innovation mindset” can be cultivated and put to work for West Virginia, just as it is creating jobs and wealth in other areas of the country.

In an effort to highlight West Virginia’s Innovation Economy and the growth we’re experiencing in this sector, TechConnect and TransTech Industries of the Future-WV will co-sponsor “Innovation and Entrepreneurship Day at the State Capitol” on January 28, 2015.  This event—now in its third year–was created to demonstrate the critical mass that is building in new ideas and new projects around the state.

Last year, nearly 150 people came out on a cold winter day to help show that the Innovation Economy in West Virginia is not just a concept, but a reality.   Dr. Marjorie Darrah from WVU demonstrated how she uses the technology of haptics to improve learning outcomes in math and science.

The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing at Marshall University set up a 3-D printer in the hallway by the Rotunda and showed how a virtual image can become a 3-D prototype in just a few hours.  And more than 40 other innovators and entrepreneurs brought exhibits to the Capitol.

This year we hope to attract an even larger crowd to showcase the innovative technologies, experienced researchers, and spirit of entrepreneurism that is growing throughout West Virginia.   To join us, visit www.techconnectwv.org or contact me at anne@techconnectwv.org.