It also got me to thinking. How would I change things if I were in charge (not that I am asking for the job).
It seems to me there are two forces at work here -- research and entrepreneurship. The two do not always go hand-in-hand. It's much like my writing about technology. Were I to join a business or organization outside writing, even as its head, I would no longer be writing, I'd be in business. I long ago made the choice to remain a writer.
The same is true for many researchers. The impulse to research, to seek truth and hold little pieces of it in your hand, is not the entrepreneurial impulse. Entrepreneurs are special people, dedicated to building companies that work and make money.
How to marry them?
What Stanford did, in creating what we now call Silicon Valley, was unique, a product of its time. As books like Bill & Dave attest, it came out of a Depression, a War, and a generation that could turn science into engineering, and engineering into products, growing into the really big money while staying true to a public trust.
Maybe we're about to have that Depression. I don't know. I do know our young people are doing great things, that the forces which built Silicon Valley still live.
Just not all in silicon.
Instead it's in using the products of the Silicon Valley revolution -- the chips and networks we're using now -- to solve even deeper problems that the future will be driven. Instead of Germans and Japanese, we face direct threats to the survival of our species, and a genetic revolution that will transform us in this century. (God I wish I were 17 again.)
Georgia's tech effort, sadly, is based mostly in the north-south arc of Peachtree Road and Georgia 400. It is old tech, shaped mainly by old geezers my own age, whose great stories have mostly been written.
That needs to change. How?
- Horizontally. The ATDC can no longer be as closely linked to Georgia Tech as it is. Important research is now being done on a broad front. In Atlanta alone Emory and Georgia State are becoming as vital as Tech is. Every research institution in Georgia should have its own ATDC advocate, a sort of "block captain" who can funnel ideas and people to the Center, and who even has authority to lend their own support.
- Vertically. My alma mater, Rice University, has done great work with its annual Business Plan contest. Don't copy it, but drive it down. Why not have a contest judging the business plans of high school students? With scholarships as prizes? Take a page from Dean Kamen and organize the effort through "business clubs" dedicated to coming up with honing one great idea, every year?
- Publicly. Who outside the industry knows what the ATDC is? What it does? No one. Use the block captains and high school clubs to drive the public message of ATDC home. We're looking for great ideas, and great entrepreneurs. It's the ATDC's mission to create them.
- Nationally. Georgia's universities spend millions of dollars each year recruiting star athletes to campus. Scientists and business minds make a lot more money. The state needs to build its recruitment effort, both among the nation's high schools and its colleges, so the best minds of their generation come here. You're already offering the scholarships -- make sure those assets go to the right people.
Where will the money come from? Existing budgets, mainly. The research institutions that join ATDC could kick in enough to get a more robust effort going. Contests are easy to do, and the requisite scholarship funds are already in many schools' budgets. Once all schools are invested in ATDC, they will help bang the publicity drum. And all the successful entrepreneurs now in the city would love to be asked to help find their successors.
This is not a plan that takes a lot of money. It mainly takes a recognition that renewal is necessary, that expansion is possible, and that complacency is always the enemy of business growth.