By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
In the world of entrepreneurship, there is no one word that carries more weight than innovation.
Innovation can be hard to pin down. It’s a feeling. It’s a culture. When it really takes hold in a region, it almost becomes a way of life.
The requirements of innovation are many and specific starting with excellent sources of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education from grade school on, preparing our students to become innovators in how they view the world around them. In its simplest form, innovation is problem solving.
Innovation demands well-funded research institutions that are proactive about spinning out new technology, and a continual pipeline of eager entrepreneurs with access to investment capital and purposeful mentoring. Widespread application of technology in all business sectors boosts innovation as do startup-friendly regulations and tax incentives for investors.
Oklahoma was founded on innovation. We’ve seen it repeatedly in the oil and gas industry. Innovation made our state one of only seven global aerospace hubs and home to the largest military and commercial aircraft maintenance operations in the nation. We’re seeing innovative patents in bioscience and in information technology. We like to see ourselves as a leader in innovation.
But here’s a sobering fact.
The “2014 State New Economy Index,” a study based on 25 key indicators produced by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, ranks Oklahoma 48th of the 50 states in innovation. This isn’t some cursory report from a survey on the Internet. This is serious analysis, built on six prior economy indexes that go back to 1999.
Historically many of the states at the bottom of the list have relied on mass-production manufacturing, tourism, low costs, or natural resources (for example, oil and gas) rather than innovative capacity to grow their economies.
It’s obviously bad for Oklahoma to be at the bottom when it comes to innovation. It’s even riskier to be there when one considers that we are relying on both the price and the availability of oil and gas to prop us up. The recent decline in the price of oil has only highlighted this vulnerability in our economy.
Innovation isn’t easy. It’s full of risk, false starts, and failures. Certainly, it isn’t free. The payoff isn’t immediate; innovation requires vision, multiyear commitment of resources, and loud champions to keep a state on track. We can do better than 48th!
Innovation comes with three guarantees. It’s going to take longer than anyone wants or projects. When it hits, it really hits big, and the greatest requirement of innovation is change.
That’s what makes innovation so hard. Inertia is a powerful force. It’s easier for all of us to keep doing what we are doing the way we are doing it.
Until what we are doing doesn’t work anymore.
As our state Legislature approaches the 2015 budgeting process, 48th of 50 is a number we all need to keep in mind.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW? On any given day, each state will be home to businesses that receive an average of 12 patents and release 9 new products. SOURCE: ITIF