Steve Cousins speaking at The Ideas Economy on Thursday
This Wednesday and Thursday, the esteemed magazine The Economist is hosting their second annual Ideas Economy: Innovation event. Technologists, politicians and thinkers from all over the world are descending on the U.C. Berkeley Campus for a discussion on all things Innovation. You can follow the event on Twitter (@ideaseconomy, #ideaseconomy) and fora.tv.
Our own CEO, Steve Cousins, will be interviewed on Thursday along with Jaron Lanier. As part of the lead up to the event, The Economist asked Steve and others to respond to three questions. Here are Steve's responses:
1. What is the proper role for government in catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship?
Government should make strategic long-term investments in science and industry that promise to grow industry and help entrepreneurs thrive. If there isn't already something called the 'Mosaic Model' (after the first Web browser), then I'd argue that there should be. In 1991, Congress passed The High Performance Computing and Communication Act (HPCA), a bill introduced by then Senator Al Gore. This in turn led to the High-Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, a program whose funding wound up at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In the talented hands of Marc Andreessen and others, Mosaic was introduced to the World Wide Web in 1992. Mosaic led to Netscape, and here we are twenty years later. The impact of this bill on the world today can't be understated.
If there's a change to that model I would recommend it is to invest in such a way that an innovation can't be locked up by an individual or a single corporation. Government-backed initiatives should result in open innovation that benefits all citizens, streamlining the process so that entrepreneurs can combine and extend results to bring value to everyone. The fact that Mosaic was generously shared was a key factor in the growth of the Web.
2. Is American innovation in decline, a.k.a., is power shifting? Why or why not?
The reality is that geography and national borders matter a lot less than they used to, and that innovation is in a constant state of flux around the world. While this may feel like a threat to U.S. business – and Silicon Valley, in particular – I don't see any evidence that American innovation is in decline. Arguably the two most significant developments from the past five years – the growth of Google's Android and Apple's iOS -- took place right in our innovation back yard. Try to imagine the growth of the smart-phone industry without these contributions.
The United States no longer has a stranglehold on innovation, but the assumption that innovation is Made in America is a very provincial myth. Yes, there's something unique about American culture that fosters innovation, but why does a cultural proclivity have to imply ownership? Innovation will ebb and flow across borders, but it's more accurate to say that innovation is accelerating worldwide, and that U.S. innovation continues to grow with this trend.
3. Are entrepreneurs born or made?
Entrepreneurs are made. Genetic factors like intelligence are distributed equally around the world, but education and opportunity are not. Entrepreneurship is environmental, and requirements for successful entrepreneurship – by and large- congregate in a small group of centers around the world. Silicon Valley has a disproportionate share of high-tech innovation due to the confluence of great educational institutions (Stanford, Berkeley, for example), access to capital up and down Sand Hill Road, and a workforce that has evolved to take economic risks.
You can identify these environments by looking at their output in terms of number of start-ups, and the economic impact those start-ups have. Innovation centers nurture entrepreneurs owing to the concentrated access to experience, support systems, and capital. At a certain point, a virtuous cycle develops where successful entrepreneurs are there to support the next generation.