Monday, February 1, 2010

Commerce Secretary Locke almost gets it

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Locke seems to have a sense that innovation is what drives an economy, that supporting entrepreneurship is key. Yet, the worldview he presents of where innovation comes from is deeply entrenched in the idea that smart ideas come from universities, and entrepreneurs' role is essentially limited to bringing smart university folks' ideas to market.

[Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Announces Plans for Forum on R&D Commercialization at Universities]

The problem that Secretary Locke seems to miss is that:
The university system is BROKEN! The rewards and incentives are not extant for the majority of the country's best and brightest innovators, who fall through the cracks of a broken university system!
There are simply not enough research faculty positions to employ the great bulk of innovative thinkers who are not hired for standard faculty positions because they're focused on researching new ideas that don't easily fit within the confines of traditional and change-averse disciplines, who are therefore erroneously judged to be less-qualified or less-desirable as teachers. Those who are granted tenure track positions are quite often bogged down with too many classes, too many students, and too many committee assignments to effectively teach and research.

If we really want to leverage the capabilities of our universities and entrepreneurs, we need to strengthen both! If we want a real stimulus to the innovation economy, we must:
  • Provide the framework for universities to double their research faculty.
  • Judge universities on the percentage of their doctoral graduates who are fully and appropriately employed upon graduation, and create incentives for those who are most successful in this regard.
  • Provide the incentives for innovative thinkers to create, sustain, and grow their own research businesses (NEXT HINT: SBIR!)
  • Enough with the dilly-dallying: let's remove the roadblocks to reauthorization; let's remove the hindrances and watering down of a truly cost-effective, job-creating program and get SBIR pushed ahead.
  • Double the allocations (to 5%); keep award sizes within reason; retain the three-phase system; seed the ideas that drive the economy!

That's how to create a Research Entrepreneur economy! We want people who are equally passionate about research as about business. And we need to secure the environment where ideas thrive and are cultivated into proofs-of-concept; proofs are coaxed into prototypes; and prototypes are driven into the market.

Get on with it Washington!

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