Today’s global economies are converging rapidly in large part due to technology advancements creating a new dynamically competitive global marketplace. This trend creates a way to compete for most developing global communities as technology creates a vehicle to entry for very creative entrepreneurs with diverse solutions to global issues. As for established global communities, it is once again time for us to adapt to these challenges and re-create ourselves. Thriving communities with strong economies must not remain complacent with “business as usual,” but attack these new challenges and strengthen their global position through innovation.
1. Start With a Solid Foundation
High-tech communities have deep innovative talent pools and large global companies operating within their ecosystems. The rich R&D environments established by these large companies and the university and government research programs create a solid basis for our innovation ecosystem. Companies within growth industries like energy, defense, aviation, and communications create the linkage to the global marketplace. These industries produce the need for specialized and advanced manufacturing capabilities, which is another source to stimulate innovation growth. A solid foundation becomes the basis for establishing the next economic growth cycle.
2. Create Your Own Value
Every community has hidden values that are core to their existing business success, and has contributed to the economic progress of the past. It is the community’s leadership who must challenge the existing status quo to find these hidden values and connect them to your community’s new growth model. The key is to learn from the Silicon Valleys, but don’t try to become a Silicon Valley.
3. Become Lean and Fast
Today, the global economy moves fast and competition is continuously challenging us to keep up. At GE, we are creating an entrepreneurial environment with our “Fastworks” program, which is based on Eric Reis’s “Lean Startup” concepts. Our objective is to spend less cost up front to prove out customers’ assumptions with iterative rapid prototyping. Failing fast and learning fast through a lean process of innovation creates a competitive advantage for us. Other companies are building similar entrepreneurial environments through intrapreneur programs. As large companies start to transform their operations to become lean and fast, it is even more important for the community to adopt an entrepreneurial focus in order to grow the innovation ecosystem.
4. The Importance of an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
The two major drivers behind a high-tech community are strong universities and a vibrant startup community, as Brad Feld brilliantly explains in his book Startup Communities. This ecosystem fosters the bold risk-takers and creates an innovation factory producing new talent pools as well as incubation of technologies. The core nucleus of a growing community today creates the support network for small businesses and entrepreneurs to allow them to take the big risk and create game-changing technologies and businesses.
5. Innovate Together to be Lean and Fast
As the global markets converge, we have learned that localizing your efforts are important to serving a region. We also learned over the past few decades that we must grow our core competencies internally and leverage non-core needs with outside partners. Today we are taking a step further towards improving our lifecycle efficiencies by adding another dimension, partnering locally on technologies. This is another critical component to strengthen our innovation ecosystem within our communities. It has become an important element of our innovation efforts to partner with local companies, which allows us to maximize our technological advancements through these partnerships.
We can learn faster by reusing our partner’s learning curves. Google is another example of how large companies partner and empowers entrepreneurs around the world through Startup Weekend events. This is an open forum for resources from local companies to brainstorm ideas together, and create a working prototype and business plan over a weekend. Together we are more powerful and can remain focused on solving our customers’ real problems faster.
As we continue to recreate our businesses, it is important for our community to recreate our ecosystem. Innovation is about creation through past learning and experiences. For us to generate a growing community, it is important that we get the community leaders involved, cultivate our local and global networks, and learn together. The ongoing competitive advantage that our businesses offer to our customer base will depend on how fast we innovate, and if we can innovate together.
Keith R. Szewczyk is the Global Executive GM for GE Transportation and co-founder of the Space Coast Tech Council, focused on growing high tech and entrepreneurial communities.