I’m torn on this one.
I’m always a little wary when the word innovation gets kicked around. Innovation is hard enough to do in the pursuit of something else. Like it’s hard to innovate in the field of brain surgery. Believe me.
But it’s even harder to innovate on purpose, like, to sit down with a whole bunch of people and talk for a few hours and come out of the room with innovation.
This is sort of what Innovate Raleigh is attempting. Founded a couple years ago and chaired by Raleigh Councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin, who has been a huge supporter of startups and entrepreneurism and bringing more of both of those things to Raleigh, they call themselves “a connector and celebrator of the smart people doing things in the region.”
Connection and celebration is cool. I’m a big fan. But that doesn’t result in innovation.
So what does? Entrepreneurism. So how do we encourage and foster that?
That’s the task Innovate Raleigh took on at Wednesday’s day-long Innovation Summit 2013 at the Convention Center downtown. Entrepreneurs, business leaders, civic leaders, and anyone else who was interested in making Raleigh and the Triangle a better hub for startups, was invited to hear presentations and panels, and then break out into workgroups to come up with some concrete ideas for execution. (Read more WRALTechWire coverage of the day online.)
That last part is the tough part, so it’s where I spent most of my time. I also chose the Creating a Startup Culture panel because that’s equally as crazy-difficult to nail down. I have an open mind, so I sat in and gave it a go.
This was the second Innovation Summit and the second one I’ve attended. The conference is very much ideation, although one of the stated goals is to come up with actionable steps to bring those ideas to fruition.
Easier said than done, but what are you if you don’t even try?
As the event was running late, I had some time to catch up with session facilitators F. Scott Moody, not 24-hours removed from having his former company AuthenTec announced as the fingerprint-scanning solution in the iPhone 5S, and Justin Miller, co-founder of WedPics, who just raised $1.1 million dollars.
So the innovator was well-represented at the session.
Bull City Forward’s Chris Gergen laid down the rules to about 60 people who were assigned to the session (there were two other sessions running concurrently). American Underground’s Adam Klein was the facilitator at our table.
The problem to solve, Gergen said, was how do you build a broader entrepreneurial ecosystem?
“Five Levers to Pull”
Earlier in the day, a consensus was achieved for “Five levers to pull,” meaning five things that would need to be accomplished to help the Triangle boost its startup-hub standing:
• Build the talent pipeline. Home-growing it and maintaining it.
• Enabling the environment and connecting entrepreneurs.
• Metrics – How well are we doing in measuring the entrepreneurial impact to the economy and the community?
• Advocacy and Policy – Are traditional policies the way to go and how well are they working?
• Sharing our story – How good are we at telling the world what we’re up to.
The goal, Gergen said, was to emerge from this session with some practical, actionable ideas that can then be brought to a broader audience.
There are some concepts I agree with in that list, others I don’t. Words like “enable,” “advocacy,” and “policy” make me cringe. They make me think of terms like “rabbit-hole.”
But again, open mind. This isn’t about creating innovation from scratch, it’s about the feeders of the entrepreneurial community doing what they can to foster an environment where the innovators, the entrepreneurs, have a better shot at succeeding. It’s something for the entrepreneurs to keep an eye on and participate in, think of it as a civic duty for the entrepreneurial community.
If you’re into that sort of thing.
After the teams ideated for a half hour on the five levers, Scott Moody then talked about lifestyle startups vs. high growth startups. In the latter, he said, it is no longer your business, it’s owned by the investors and there is an expectation of exit, either via IPO or acquisition. Everybody complains that there’s not enough money in the Triangle, he said. So how do we bring more investment in?
We ideated again, this time with an eye on funding.
The Big Ideas
Ninety minutes after we started, Justin Miller presented the session findings to the entire attendance of the Summit, along with two other facilitators from the other sessions.
A number of ideas were discussed and debated. These included:
• Working on making crowdfunding legal in NC.
• More big exits. The region won’t be known as a startup hub until we have a few more big successes.
• Putting more resources behind a portal for entrepreneurs.
• More press for local entrepreneurs, more interaction with the local press.
• Less emphasis on Raleigh and Durham, more emphasis on the Triangle.
• Once we move the emphasis to the Triangle, focus on the strengths of the Triangle.
• Leveraging the universities and the corporate entities.
• Bringing light rail to the Triangle.
• Making the Triangle a destination, not just a great place to live.
I think I’m just as torn coming out as I was going in. These ideas are good ideas, but also some of the same ideas that have been stated and restated in what is not a new pursuit.
The differentiator, of course, is what is done with these ideas, and that’s where the conference stopped just short. Don’t get me wrong, my expectation wasn’t to come out of there thinking we were on our way to greatness, but over the next year, some of these ideas need to take flight. I believe that’s now on Innovate Raleigh’s plate.
I left the Summit and went right back to work, as we had a push to production later that night and two more new projects that would need attention in the morning. As an entrepreneur, I won’t be working much on the execution of the above ideas, I’ll leave that to the feeders.
But I hope they succeed, because if they accomplish what they want to accomplish, it will make my life a little easier.
Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at http://joeprocopio.com