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ASU’s Dr. Michael M. Crow on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Guest blog post by Nish Acharya, director of the U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This week, close to 100 entrepreneurs, innovators, small business owners, and stakeholders joined me for an in-depth conference call facilitated by the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Dr. Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University (ASU) and a member of the President’s National Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE). This was the first in a series of forums to highlight the work of NACIE, spotlight some of our nation’s most dynamic leaders, and share best practices and insight with potential applicants for the upcoming third round of the multiagency i6 Challenge.

During the conversation, Dr. Crow emphasized that for an institution to successfully spur innovation and entrepreneurship, its leadership must first purposefully decide to make entrepreneurship part of their core competency. This will empower the institution to put its time, energy, and resources towards fostering innovation and entrepreneurship broadly.

A trailblazer in his own right, Dr. Crow emphasized that promoting innovation must go beyond focusing on laboratory-based technology transfer. ASU, for example, leverages innovation not only through traditional areas, such as engineering and the sciences, but also from nontraditional areas as journalism and education. This has solidified Dr. Crow’s belief that talent is everywhere and an institution should be organized to leverage that talent in all areas.

ASU’s goal is to create an environment where entrepreneurship thrives, and the University has done just that under Dr. Crow’s leadership over the last 10 years. He notes that community engagement is very important and stated that applying the entrepreneurial culture of an institution to help solve specific problems in the local environment is vital.

The institution’s Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative provides funding, office space, and training for teams of students from across ASU to help them explore their innovative ideas for business products and services in partnership with faculty, researchers, and successful entrepreneurs from both the academic and private sectors. In addition, the ASU Innovation Challenge seeks out undergraduate and graduate students who are dedicated to making a difference in the local and global communities through innovation. Through the Challenge, students can win up to $10,000 to make their innovative project, prototype, venture, or community partnership ideas happen.

To measure success, Dr. Crow urged leaders to consider the following questions: Have we built a positive spirit for innovation? Have we influenced the general spirit of the community at large? Tangible measures include: whether venture funds were created, if private incubators were formed, and how many companies are growing in the region. This is good advice for potential applicants of the i6 competition. The knowledge and experiences Dr. Crow shared is particularly valuable to those looking to instill a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in an organization’s ecosystem.

Dr. Crow’s tenure with NACIE has been valuable as we look at ways to leverage public-private partnerships to better connect great ideas to great builders, and in the process enable the United States to remain competitive, grow its economy, and create jobs.

To learn about upcoming conference calls in this series and to register to participate, please click here.

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Innovation

Why is it that so few of the companies funded by VC's or Angel Investors seem to have any connection with the government or any government innovation programs? I recently visited an Entrepreneurship competition with major universities (CalTech, Chapman, UCLA, Stanford, UC Berkley, UofO, UW, UC Irvine, USC, etc.) pitching their best venture ideas to judges (successful active angel investors and a few VC people who really know what they are talking about). At stake was $100,000 first place + a million in funding for the proposal (just ten time what is touted above).

One of the takeaways from all these presentations was that only one required action by the government in any significant way (FDA medical device issue) and only one required any government participation, subsidies, or used any resources or land requiring government permits or EIR's or EPA approvals. This observation says something about innovation and government, and that isn't good for the government.

It makes me think of half a century ago when it became obvious that a lot of innovation was just transferring an idea from one area to another area and the field of "information transfer" was born. Being a young and very general scientist, I thought this was wonderful and full of promise so I followed the area. Alas, being a government initiative, it evolved bureaucratically into "information transfer experts" talking to "information transfer experts" with very little information getting transfered. Also, observing the ups and downs of the aerospace industry in So. California I noticed that real information transfer occurred when you fired someone and forced him into another field, to which he tansferred the knowledge from the last job.

The effects of pograms like the one above need to be examined. Are we get results? Are we truly creating lasting jobs or simply temporary stimulus jobs in addition to a plethora of bureaucratic ones.

D. Weaver, Ph.D.,P.E.