New partnerships advance the Cascadia Innovation Corridor

New cross-border initiatives to connect Washington state and British Columbia.

SEATTLESept. 12, 2017 /CNW/ — Leaders from Washington state and British Columbia today announced a suite of new initiatives focused on improving connectivity, strengthening innovation and generating economic opportunity.

Microsoft company logo. (PRNewsFoto/Microsoft Corp.)

Launched in September 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Cascadia Innovation Corridor is built upon a shared spirit of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The Corridor boasts world-renowned research organizations and global corporate leaders in a diverse array of existing and emerging technology disciplines, including aviation and aeronautics; software development; cloud computing; online retailing; big data transmission, storage and analysis; the Internet of things; mobile communications; biotechnology and the life sciences; and global health.

Governments, universities, companies, research institutions and others have joined together to tap the potential of the Cascadia region to create new and exciting economic opportunities while celebrating cultural diversity and inclusion.

By focusing on research, economic development and transportation, the Cascadia Innovation Corridor is enhancing greater connectivity, productivity and innovation for the nearly 12 million people living in British Columbia and Washington State.

Announcements today include these:

  • Three internationally recognized polytechnics have joined forces to provide industry aligned, high-skill talent for the Cascadia Corridor’s workforce needs. British Columbia Institute of Technology, Lake Washington Institute of Technology and Oregon Institute of Technology will collaborate to leverage their applied education offerings in high-demand STEM fields, and provide expanded professional practice for students and career opportunities for graduates within the Corridor’s path of influence.
  • Expansion of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) to include the University of British ColumbiaGIX is a global partnership between major research universities and innovative corporations to develop leaders in innovation. The University of Washington and Tsinghua University in Beijing are founding partners, with support from Microsoft Corp. GIX is expanding to include the University of British Columbia as an academic network member, building a bridge across the Pacific between the Cascadia Corridor and China, and between the higher-education community and the business community in a manner that benefits students. More academic network partners will be announced shortly.
  • Seattle-Vancouver Financial Innovation Network. Set to be launched in Q4 of 2017 with support from Microsoft and Madrona Venture Group, the Seattle-Vancouver Financial Innovation Network (FIN) will bring together leading Cascadia Corridor financial services and technology companies and relevant U.S. and Canadian regulatory authorities to establish an integrated international financial center (IFC). Initial FIN programs will include promotion of coordinated digital economy cross-border investments with an emphasis on fintech, mixed reality, artificial intelligence, intelligent apps and quantum computing. The long-term FIN strategic objective is the creation of an integrated financial services cluster that competes directly with other similar-sized IFCs, such as BostonDublinShenzhenMunich and Melbourne.
  • Progress on transportation connecting the Cascadia region
    • The state of Washington is performing an in-depth feasibility study for a potential high-speed rail line that would connect the Cascadia region. Microsoft is donating $50,000 to supplement the $300,000 in state funding approved for the study.
    • In addition, Harbour Air and Kenmore Air are working together on a new seaplane route linking Seattle and Vancouver, with a final announcement expected later this year.
  • A new cross-border startup accelerator partnership among British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. The Canadian Consulate General in Seattle, representing the government of Canada, has brought innovation partners in the three regions together to establish the Cascadia Innovation Network (CIN), which initially will include business incubators, accelerators and universities, but may later include venture capital firms and other innovation partners. The CIN focuses on bringing innovative ideas to the public by introducing startups to cross-border funding and support opportunities. A new memorandum of understanding will initially bring together the University of Washington (Co-Motion), Washington State UniversityCambia Grove, Oregon Health and Science University, Oregon Translational Research & Development Institute (OTRADI), Portland State University Business Accelerator, Innovation Boulevard (BC Health Tech Accelerator), University of British Columbia(e@entrepreneurship), Accelerate Okanagan, Wavefront, and Foresight.

The two-day conference, hosted by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, Washington Roundtable and Business Council of British Columbia, examines shared regional opportunities and challenges, including discussions on venture capital investment, higher education, life sciences, smart cities and augmented reality/virtually reality.

Speakers include Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minster of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, Hootsuite Chief Executive Officer Ryan Holmes, Microsoft President Brad Smith, BuildDirect President and CEO Jeff BoothUniversity of Washington President Ana Mari CauceUniversity of British Columbia President Santa Ono, LifeLabs President and CEO Sue Paish, and Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe.

Quotes

Governor Jay Inslee“This special relationship between our two communities is worth celebrating, cultivating and growing. Our rich history together and our confidence in the future will allow us to tackle our biggest challenges head-on, and do it in a way that makes sure everyone throughout this great region has the opportunity to be a part of the progress, and the future we create.”

Premier John Horgan“By developing the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, we have the opportunity to unlock even more jobs and opportunities, not just in Metro Vancouver but across the province. We’re stronger when we work together. B.C. is looking forward to working with Gov. Jay Inslee and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop opportunities across Cascadia.”

Brad Smith, Microsoft President: “Last year we came together as a region to build something that we simply can’t create apart: an innovation corridor to create more opportunity and prosperity on both sides of the border. By linking our two cities together through cross-border collaboration, research, funding and educational opportunities, we will spur new economic activity and opportunity that creates a better future for everyone.”

Maud Daudon, President and CEO, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce: “We are at our best when we work together, and the spirit of collaboration between Washington and British Columbiais alive and well. We look forward to a lively discussion over the next two days about how we can work together to ensure our region can continue to compete on a global scale.”

Greg D’Avignon, President and CEO, Business Council of British Columbia: “The BC and Washington State economies were among the strongest in North America last year, due in large part to the diversity of our talent, technology and natural assets. Our two great countries, working in collaboration through the Cascadia Corridor, can make the Pacific Northwest a globally dominant digital innovation cluster that will benefit the future health and prosperity of our people, environment and economies for decades to come.”

Steve Mullin, President, Washington Roundtable: “Strong collaboration over the last year — among policy, business and community leaders from both sides of the border — has been exciting and catalyzing. I believe the shared commitment to growth and innovation will lead to great opportunities and expanded prosperity for both Washington stateand British Columbia.”

Michael Schutzler, CEO, Washington TechnologyIndustryAssociation: “Cross-border collaboration is exactly what our region needs. Business, academic and government leaders together in one room is a unique collaboration but an integral process to achieve results. We are proud to sponsor this year’s event to bring meaningful change to our city.”

Bill Tam, CEO and President, BC Tech Association: “It has been amazing to see the progress of the Cascadia corridor partnerships over the past year. This region more so than many others demonstrates the collaboration that’s needed to become among the top tech ecosystems in the world.”

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

About the Seattle Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce

The Seattle Metropolitan (Seattle Metro) Chamber of Commerce engages the innovation and entrepreneurship of its 2,200 members to advance economic prosperity, advocate for a vital business environment, and build sustainable and healthy communities in the Seattle region. Founded in 1882 by local business leaders, the Chamber today is an independent organization representing a regional workforce of approximately 700,000 people. For more information, visit www.seattlechamber.com.

About Washington Roundtable

The Washington Roundtable is a nonprofit organization comprised of senior executives of major private sector employers in Washington state. Our members work together to effect positive change on public policy issues that they believe are most important to supporting state economic vitality and fostering opportunity for all Washingtonians. Learn more at waroundtable.com.

About Business Council of British Columbia

Now in its 51st year as the premier business organization in British Columbia, the Business Council of BC is a non-partisan organization made up of 250 leading companies, post-secondary institutions and industry associations from across BC’s diverse economy. The Council produces exceptional public policy research and advocacy in support of creating a competitive economy for the benefit of all British Columbians.

About BC Tech Association

The BC Tech Association is guided by our mission to make BC the best place to grow a tech company. For more than 20 years, BC Tech has been providing opportunities for the tech industry to collaborate, learn and grow together. We are dedicated to connecting companies, developing talent, sharing stories and advocating on behalf of tech companies to keep our industry thriving.

Since our founding in 1993, the tech industry has quintupled to nearly $25 billion in revenue. In that time, we have played a privileged role in supporting the growth of the tech community that now includes over 9,000 companies, employs more than 90,000 people and that has been one of the strongest contributors to BC’s economic growth over the past decade.

About Washington Tech Industry Association

The Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) is a non-profit trade group. The primary mission of the WTIA is helping Washingtonresidents gain access to high-wage tech-industry jobs. The WTIA acts as an independent, unifying voice to motivate industry, education and government peers to collaborate effectively and also uses group buying power to help tech companies grow profitably. The WTIA group includes the 501c6 WTIA Member Trade Association, the 501c3 WTIA Workforce Institute, and the 501c9 WTIA Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiaries Association. Apprenti is a program operated by the WTIA Workforce Institute.

Are Artists the New Interpreters of Scientific Innovation?

WHEN WE THINK OF ARTIST residencies today, we think of the MacDowell Colony, in the woods of New Hampshire, and of the Skowhegan School, in Maine. There’s the Rome Prize fellowship, at the city’s American Academy, and Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, in Marfa. To be an ­artist in residence means removing yourself from the noise and obligations of regular life, and instead getting to concentrate on your creative life, often in a beautiful locale.

But once, an artist residency meant something very different: being embedded squarely within regular life, an experience meant both to inspire artists and to infuse what were seen as artless environments with creativity. In 1966, an artist named Barbara Steveni and her husband, John Latham, the influential British conceptual artist, started the Artist Placement Group, or A.P.G., in London, the goal of which was to embed artists in industrial and government organizations, to allow them to both learn about and to have a voice in the world of business and science — and then, when possible, organize exhibitions of work inspired by those experiences. Latham himself spent time at the Scottish Office in Edinburgh researching industrial waste heaps called ‘‘bings’’ that were created by distilling oil from shale, and the artist David Hall made 10 short films, called ‘‘TV Interruptions,’’ that were broadcast uncredited on Scottish Television and are now regarded as landmarks of British video art. The project, which was renamed Organization and Imagination, or O+I, in 1989, was considered groundbreaking and important enough that the Tate bought the A.P.G. archives in 2004.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., two visionaries were also campaigning for a greater collaborative relationship between modern art and science: Gyorgy Kepes, who founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T. in 1967, and the artist Robert Rauschenberg, who, around the same time, co-founded E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) with the engineers Billy Kluver and Fred Waldhauer and artist Robert Whitman, to initiate and support collaborations between artists and scientists. (Their most publicized project was a series of installations, including a water-vapor sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya and physicist Thomas Mee, made for the dome at the 1970 world’s fair, Expo ’70, in Osaka, Japan.) Two years later, NASA invited Rauschenberg to witness the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned voyage to the moon — an experience that resulted in ‘‘Stoned Moon,’’ a remarkable series of lithographic prints.

Photo

A fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya and Thomas Mee enmeshes the Pepsi Pavilion at the 1970 world’s fair in Osaka, Japan.CreditCourtesy of E.A.T.

This kind of residency eventually fell out of favor for the luxury-summer-camp variety. But in the last few years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the idea of inviting artists to observe, learn and work within mainstream government agencies and institutions, among entrepreneurs and scientists as well as among the artists themselves. In this innovation-hungry age of TED Talks and Silicon Valley, every company seems to be launching an experimental lab that is meant to foster innovation through the cross-fertilization of ideas in a variety of disciplines, including the creative arts. Two years ago, the art collector Dasha Zhukova donated a million dollars to M.I.T. to create an artist residency there in her name. At the same time, the work of artists like Thomas Struth, Vija Celmins, Tom Sachs and Olafur Eliasson is driven and influenced by the rapid pace of discoveries in scientific fields from artificial intelligence to astrophysics. The photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto has repeatedly explored the relationship between image and evolving technology, including in his Lightning Fields series, for which he used a 400,000-volt Van de Graaff generator to apply an electrical charge directly onto film.

Continue reading the main story

Gerfried Stocker, the artistic director of Ars Electronica, a think tank that started a festival celebrating arts and sciences in Linz, Austria, in 1979, believes that artists have become ‘‘cultural missionaries’’ in a time of ‘‘intensive transformation driven by new technology.’’ It’s crucial, he says, ‘‘that humanistic voices address the ethical and moral questions created by this transformation.’’ Ars Electronica helped institutions like the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN, its acronym in French), as well as the European Southern Observatory, when they recently founded their own artist residencies. With the assistance of Ars, CERN — which is based in Switzerland and is home to both the Large Hadron Collider and the world’s largest particle physics research facility — initiated Collide, its flagship art residency program, in 2011. Monica Bello, the head of Arts@CERN, explains, ‘‘The objective at CERN is to understand the fundamental structure of the universe. This is extremely compelling to artists, as they are often interested in studying matter itself.’’

Photo

Aoife van Linden Tol, who works with explosives, created “Second Story — Into the Dark,” for the 2016 Ars Electronica Festival while an artist in residence at the European Space Agency.CreditMaterials: book, black powder. Image and copyright Aoife Van Linden Tol

CERN HAS SINCE HOSTED about a dozen international artists through Collide, including Julius von Bismarck, a German artist who creates installations, often humorous, that are typically inspired by science, nature and technology. At CERN, he staged several interventions, including locking 30 physicists underground and asking what they saw in the dark, pushing them to describe physical matter that couldn’t be seen. More recently, CERN has partnered with FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool, England, which helps to produce as well as to provide a space to show the work inspired by the CERN residencies.

‘‘Science is too important to leave to the scientists,’’ says Mike Stubbs, director of FACT. ‘‘Science has kind of become a new church, but it’s clear now that technology has not been applied to everyone in society to their benefit. We need voices from the arts and sociocultural disciplines to provoke important debates.’’ As the artist Thomas Struth says, ‘‘My feeling is that somehow, since the 1980s, politics are always running behind the development of technology, and it’s very hard to create a legal framework to control what’s happening. Maybe artists are looked to because of their freedom and critical analysis, and because in general they are not corrupted. Someone brings up the self-driving car and within no time, someone yells, ‘Hurrah, the self-driving car!’ It’s like, who needs it? What about more public transport?’’

At the same time, institutions like CERN need artists to translate their findings to a larger audience. ‘‘Often experiments are invisible,’’ says Stubbs. ‘‘They just exist as pure data.’’ Agencies like CERN benefit when well-known and respected artists emphasize the importance of their work and explain it in an accessible visual medium. Stubbs takes it even further: ‘‘I think it’s absolutely essential that artists are part of the process not just in terms of visualizing information but how we understand scientific culture.’’ It’s also worth remembering that the cultural divide between art and science is a relatively new one; for much of human history, the two fields were not oppositional, but collaborative. This relationship reached its apotheosis in the Renaissance era, whose most famous artist — Leonardo da Vinci — was also a scientist. Art was aligned with religion, but it also explored the natural and physical world. In the Victorian era, however, the two worlds diverged into what the British physicist C. P. Snow called ‘‘the two cultures’’; these projects, and the people involved in them, aim to correct this schism. ‘‘Artists are no longer concerned with creating artwork that reflects or interprets reality; rather, they want to be active agents in creating it,’’ says Stocker, of Ars Electronica. ‘‘That means that artists need to have an even deeper understanding of the mechanics behind science and technology.’’

Photo

Billy Kluver and Robert Rauschenberg with two pieces of the sound sculpture Oracle in 1965.CreditLarry Morris/NYT, courtesy of E.A.T.

THE SEARCH FOR that understanding has been a kind of revelation for the contemporary figures involved in these new partnerships. A few months ago, when the artist Olafur Eliasson was in Montreal, he visited Buckminster Fuller’s 20-story geodesic dome, built for the 1967 world’s fair. ‘‘It gave me a great boost of creativity,’’ he says. ‘‘That was a time when there was a strong confidence that technology and creativity would shape the future.’’ Three years ago, Eliasson was awarded a several-weeks-long residency at M.I.T. He used the time to work on a project called ‘‘Little Sun,’’ a portable solar lamp that he designed with the engineer Frederik Ottesen, which is sold at high cost in wealthy countries so that it can be sold cheaply in poor ones. According to Eliasson, the lamp is meant to raise the question, ‘‘how can we create an affordable global energy system that factors in human emotion, creativity and desire?’’ His work, he says, often grapples with ‘‘how to tell people that they are not consumers of the world, they are co-producers of the world.’’

Struth, who will be showing large-scale studies of recent work at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York in November, has made his own artist residencies in science-related businesses and agencies over the years just by asking. Earlier this year, he spent several days in Houston taking photos at NASA. Struth says that despite the fact that he is extremely skeptical and critical of certain technological developments and the way they’re used, he enjoys working with scientific researchers: ‘‘They tend to be very open. They have certain similarities with artists because they are working on something they don’t know or can’t see.’’

Then there’s the conceptual artist Jorge Mañes Rubio, who in 2016 began a residency at the European Space Agency. The agency had announced plans to create an international moon village: ‘‘There was no budget but it was an important call to space agencies and private companies. Mars is far too distant of a goal, so the moon seemed like the next step,’’ explains Rubio, whose works are often about re-engaging neglected places and cultures.

After spending time with the ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team, which is based in the Netherlands, Rubio decided he would build a moon temple. Despite the team’s discomfort with the idea — they worried it was too religious and new-age for their purposes — he proceeded, spending months with experts to learn about the moon’s geology and the practicalities of living in an atmosphere with one-sixth the gravity of Earth’s. Rubio ended up designing a structure that could be 3D-printed from moon dust, giving it a utopian-adobe look. But the best part of the project might have been both his and his new collaborators’ understanding that science, contrary to popular belief, is not immune to the thrill of romance, the pull of magical thinking. ‘‘There was a lot of friction about building a temple,’’ Rubio recalled, ‘‘but then someone said, ‘Actually I like this idea. What if we just build this temple and leave? Maybe we decide not to stay and we just create a beautiful space to celebrate the earth’s relationship with the moon.

What Your Innovation Process Should Look Like

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Companies and government agencies often make the mistake of viewing innovation as a set of unconstrained activities with no discipline. In reality, for innovation to contribute to a company or government agency, it needs to be designed as a process from start to deployment.

When organizations lack a formal innovation pipeline process, project approvals tend to be based on who has the best demo or slides, or who lobbies the hardest. There is no burden on those who proposed a new idea or technology to talk to customers, build minimal viable products, test hypotheses or understand the barriers to deployment. And they count on well-intentioned, smart people sitting in a committee to decide which ideas are worth pursuing.

Instead, what organizations need is a self-regulating, evidence-based innovation pipeline. Instead of having a committee vet ideas, they need a process that operates with speed and urgencyand that helps innovators and other stakeholders to curate and prioritize problems, ideas, and technologies.

This prioritization process has to start before any new idea reaches engineering. This way, the innovations that do reach engineering will already have substantial evidence — about validated customer needs, processes, legal security, and integration issues. Most importantly, minimal viable products and working prototypes will have been tested.

A canonical Lean Innovation process inside a company or government agency would look something like this:

Innovation sourcing: Over a period of days, a group generates a list of problems, ideas, and technologies that might be worth investing in.

Curation: For a few days or even a week, innovators get out of their own offices and talk to colleagues and customers. As the head of the U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, one of us built a curation process to help technology solutions to be deployed rapidly. It included both an internal and an external survey, the goal of which was to find other places in the business where a given problem might exist in a slightly different form, to identify related internal projects already in existence, and to find commercially available solutions to problems. It also sought to identify legal issues, security issues, and support issues.

This process also helped identify who the customers for possible solutions would be, who the internal stakeholders would be, and even what initial minimum viable products might look like.

This phase also includes building initial MVPs. Some ideas drop out when the team recognizes that they may be technically, financially, or legally unfeasible or they may discover that other groups have already built a similar product.

Prioritization: Once a list of innovation ideas has been refined by curation, it needs to be prioritized. One of the quickest ways to sort innovation ideas is to use the McKinsey Three Horizons Model. Horizon 1 ideas provide continuous innovation to a company’s existing business model and core capabilities. Horizon 2 ideas extend a company’s existing business model and core capabilities to new customers, markets or targets. Horizon 3 is the creation of new capabilities to take advantage of or respond to disruptive opportunities or disruption. We’d add a new category, Horizon 0, which refers to graveyards ideas that are not viable or feasible.

Once projects have been classified, the team prioritizes them, starting by asking: is this project worth pursing for another few months full time? This prioritization is not done by a committee of executives but by the innovation teams themselves.

Solution exploration and hypothesis testing: The ideas that pass through the prioritization filter enter an incubation process like I-Corps, the system adopted by all U.S. government federal research agencies to turn ideas into products. Over a 1,000 teams of our country’s best scientists have gone through the program taught in over 50 universities. (Segments of the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence community have also adopted this model as the Hacking for Defense process.)

This six- to ten-week process delivers evidence for defensible, data-based decisions. For each idea, the innovation team fills out a business model — or for the government, mission model – canvas. Everything on that canvas is a hypothesis, and the I-Corps model is designed to test each one. This not only includes the obvious — is there product/market or solution/mission fit? — but the other “gotchas” that innovators always seem to forget. The framework has the team talking not just to potential customers but also with regulators, and people responsible for legal, policy, finance, support. It also requires that they think through compatibility, scalability and deployment long before this gets presented to engineering. There is now another major milestone for the team: to show compelling evidence that this project deserves to be a new mainstream capability and inserted into engineering. Alternatively, the team might decide that it should be spun into its own organization or that it should be killed.

Incubation: Once hypothesis testing is complete, many projects will still need a period of incubation as the teams championing the projects gather additional data about the application, further build the MVP, and get used to working together. Incubation requires dedicated leadership oversight from the horizon 1 organization to insure the fledgling project does not die of malnutrition (a lack of access to resources) or become an orphan (no parent to guide them).

Integration and refactoring: At this point, if the innovation is Horizon 1 or 2, it’s time to integrate it into the existing organization. (Horizon 3 innovations are more likely set up as their own entities or at least divisions.) Trying to integrate new, unbudgeted, and unscheduled innovation projects into an engineering organization that has line item budgets for people and resources results in chaos and frustration. In addition, innovation projects carry both technical and organizational debt.

Technical debt is software or hardware built to validate hypotheses and find early customers. This quick and dirty development can become unwieldy, difficult to maintain, and incapable of scaling. Organizational debt is all the people and culture compromises made to “just get it done” in the early stages of an innovation project. The answer is refactoring, which is an engineering term that describes fixing code to make it more stable. In the process of refactoring, the engineering team helps fix technical debt by going into the existing code and restructuring it to make the code stable and understandable. Fixing organizational debt means “refactoring” the team – the innovation team that built the prototype may not be the right team to take it to scale, and is more valuable starting the next innovation initiative.

This refactoring stage requires that engineering build a small, dedicated refactoring team that’s focused on moving these validated prototypes into production. In addition, to solve the problem that innovation is always unscheduled and unbudgeted, this group has a dedicated annual budget.

By now, most organizations have concluded that they face the threat of disruption. Some have even started to realize that because technological advantage degrades every year, standing still means falling behind. Hence the interest in innovation, complete with hip innovation labs complete with fancy coffee machines. But done right, innovation requires a rigorous process. It starts by generating ideas, but the hard work is in prioritizing, categorizing, gathering data, testing and refactoring.

Just What Is Innovation?

Yes, it’s innovation.

It seems that every ill the world faces can be cured with a dose of innovation. Economic growth, better education, increased productivity, faster computers, better mobile phones, increased gas mileage… it seems that just about everything can be made better, cheaper, and faster by the use of the ubiquitous innovation.

Why do we care about innovation in Northern Kentucky?

Innovation is a key driver to increasing our economic output. Economic output is increased in one of two ways: increased inputs, or Innovation.

  1. Increased inputs will increase total economic output. For example, if we desire more corn production, an easy solution is to plant more acres of land to increase corn production (of course, more acres growing corn reduces acres growing other crops)

  2. Innovation can increase economic outputs. For example, in the period 1866 to 1936, corn yield per acre was flat at 26 bushels per acre. From 1936 to 2016, corn yield grew to 175 bushels per acres. That amazing increase was due to innovations in farming like crop genetics, fertilization, chemical pesticides, and agricultural mechanization.

The economic growth in computing, medicine, and business processes all have innovation as the core driver. Innovation has changed the lives of Americans. We live healthier lives due to the development of innovative antibiotics and immunizations, travel the world with the development of jet engines, and conduct business around the world due to telecommunication innovations and the computer in our pocket called a mobile phone.

This article is the first in a series of articles by the Kentucky Innovation Office of Northern Kentucky and its guests. This series will discuss innovation in our region, Northern Kentucky: how innovation is nurtured from the primary education system through startups and their funding sources, small and large businesses, and industry-specific companies. Along the way, you will learn about the companies using innovation to increase our region’s economic output.

I will close this article’s discussion with a math equation and a client story regarding innovation.  First the math equation:

Invention x Successful Commercialization = Innovation

I am confident that all the readers can spot an “invention”. It is one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it things. Now, the average reader may not have heard of “commercialization”. Commercialization is the process of the preparation, introduction, and pivoting an invented idea, product, or service into the marketplace. Taking companies through the commercialization process is the “bread and butter” work of the Innovation Network Office.

Let’s review our math equation (Invention x Successful Commercialization = Innovation) in relation to an Innovation Network client story. About ten years ago, at the height of the Iraq War, a client invented a product that was a new and revolutionary way to quickly build structures in the desert that protected soldiers. It was a better and cheaper method than anything on the market. The Innovation Network Office helped the client develop drawings, build and test prototypes, made industry introductions, and assisted in fundraising. The company raised $5 million to build and test prototypes, commission production, and to undertake marketing and sales. But by the time the product was ready for market entry, the war was largely winding down. The founders shopped the product to many possible customers without success.

Nobody bought the product. Finally, a quasi-competing company bought the company essentially to remove a competitor from the marketplace.

So the client had a great invention with lots of hope and promise but, the commercialization process failed despite the best efforts of all involved. Did the product ever reach the level of an innovation? Let’s go back to the equation as it applies to this client’s product:

Who Makes The Real Money In Innovation?

Everyone talks about innovation. Many governments, universities, and corporations spend fortunes to innovate – to develop new businesses that can create wealth and jobs. But the real money in new products and emerging industries has been made by billion-dollar entrepreneurs, such as Gates, Jobs, Dell, Page-Brin, and Zuckerberg. They have become among the world’s richest individuals by using innovations.

How exactly have they used innovation?

Billion-dollar entrepreneurs have mainly focused on innovative business strategies that takes advantage of products or services developed by others. They “improve” the product, or they focus on a customer segment that offers a long-term edge over competitors. They don’t start with a blank sheet to come up with a “Eureka” product. They improve on other people’s innovations. Then they find a trend that will help them grow and dominate an emerging industry.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – MAY 25: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the commencement address at the Alumni Exercises at Harvard’s 366th commencement exercises on May 25, 2017 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Zuckerberg studied computer science at Harvard before leaving to move Facebook to Paolo Alto, CA. He returned to the campus this week to his former dorm room and live streamed his visit. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Sam Walton imitated the big-box trend along with Target and K-Mart, but decided to grow in small towns where he had to beat small retailers, while the other giants focused on urban areas. Then he expanded to urban America and beat Kmart and Target to become the largest. They believed, until it was too late, that they could not make a profit in small towns.

Mark Zuckerberg copied Myspace to develop a linking site. However, he innovated in the business strategy and focused his efforts on college students. University students were in the vanguard of using the Internet for social reasons, and Zuckerberg helped them along.

Google did not invent the search engine, but improved it based on the needs of web users looking for a rational method to get search results. This gave Google an edge to dominate search for the last two decades.

Travis Kalanick succeeded by developing a better business strategy than a better product. The only difference was that he improved on himself. His initial effort with Uber was to develop an app to help people get limo rides. Uber took off when he switched his business strategy to make it possible for any driver to give a ride to any passenger. This new business model is changing the world of transportation.

Business strategies are also innovating rapidly in other industries, where companies are in danger of losing out to corporations and ventures that know how to succeed in the new trends:

  • Large banks, such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, are developing new business models by forming alliances with online lenders for small-business loans (Economist, 12/5/2015, page 74). Small banks – watch out. You’ll be losing a very profitable segment of your business soon.
  • Kiko, an Italian company, is bringing fast-fashion business models used by Zara and H&M to the cosmetics industry (Economist, 12/5/2015, page 65). This will affect all fashion retailers.
  • Smart cars are all the rage in Silicon Valley with Google and Apple working on, or considering self-driving cars (I’d like to see them test this in Mumbai or Panama). Car manufacturers such as Ford and GM will be relegated to metal benders unless they develop the intelligence needed.

Snapchat Spectacles Review

Snapchat’s Spectacles seemed on the surface, doomed to fail.

They’re bright, unashamedly loud in their design and inherently created to do the one thing that landed Google Glass in so much hot water when they first came out.

Yet here we are, two months on from their UK release and there haven’t been riots in the street, or people complaining about having their privacy invaded.

That’s because Snapchat (now known as Snap Inc) has achieved something actually quite impressive, they’ve created a product that does one very niche thing, very well.

These aren’t for inadvertently invading people’s privacy, nor are they for giving you directions to somewhere through the lenses. There isn’t some ‘Snap AI’ piping useless calendar events into your ear every 10 minutes.

No, these are for recording 30 second clips of video and sharing them to social media. That’s it.

This simplicity and transparency runs throughout every aspect of the Spectacles

The design is unashamedly loud while also managing to still be considered stylish. They boast large glossy plastic frames and two large circles directly eating into the lenses.

The camera on the left is clearly visible, while on the right a flashing ring of LEDs serve to not only let those around you know that you’re recording but also to keep you updated on battery life.

The battery and the brains of the Spectacles are neatly concealed into both sides of the frame, keeping them well rooted on your nose without every feeling heavy.

Finally there’s a button on top, just a single one, that serves to turn the Spectacles on, starts the recording and then stops it, that’s it.

The case is equally simple. It’s a large foam triangle that contains a battery that can recharge your Spectacles up to four times before itself needing to be recharged.

While it’s bigger than most glasses cases it feels really sturdy and definitely gave us the impression that it’s designed for surviving the great outdoors.

Speaking of which you get a sturdy fabric charging cable that’s sadly unique to the Spectacles so if you lose them there’s no hunting round for a space micro-USB cable.

So how do they work? Well once they’re paired to your Snapchat app, there’s actually not much else you need to do.

Press the button once on the side to record a single 10-second clip, press it a further two times and you can extend it up to the maximum 30-seconds. Press and hold and the recording stops. That’s literally all there is to it.

When you’re all done you simply open up Snapchat and the Spectacles will start syncing the videos over to your phone. What sets these videos apart form the ones recorded on your phone is the format they’re shot in.

Spectacles shoot video using a special wide-angle lens which means you get a 115-degree circular field of view. The Snapchat app then shows only a portion of that on your phone screen, instead letting you rotate your phone to see the rest. It’s a really simple, but highly effective feature that makes you want to interact with the videos you’re seeing.

It is the combination of this format, with the short clips that makes them so compelling and it’s a natural next step for an app that’s based around sharing those fleeting moments that we want others to see.

Video quality is OK but nowhere near the recording quality of your smartphone’s own camera. In fact even Snapchat’s official advice for recording suggests you do it in a bright, well-lit environment.

As a piece of hardware, Snapchat’s Spectacles are impressive. They’re stylish, life-proof and have the perfect balance of specifications and affordability.

Who should buy the Snapchat Spectacles?

Snap’s Spectacles are designed for capturing random moments that would otherwise have been missed if you had to spend ages rummaging around for a smartphone.

For the die-hard Snapchat users out there, this will be a revelation. Combined with the fact that they’re actually pretty well-priced they’re a compelling prospect.

Who shouldn’t buy the Snapchat Spectacles?

If Snapchat isn’t the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before bed then don’t even think about it.

We simply can’t see a compelling reason to use these on a day-to-day basis if Snapchat is just one part of a collection of social media networks that you’re a part of.

Snapchat Spectacles are available now for £129.99.

Shaping Smarter Cities

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Mouser and Grant Imahara team up with the creative minds at WIRED Brand Lab to take a look at the modern city

Mouser and Grant Imahara team up with the creative minds at WIRED Brand Lab to take a look at the modern city. We’re traveling the world to see and learn from the innovators and progressive companies creating a more livable future for our cities. Get ready to explore new ideas and discover what a “smart” future may hold.

What role does technology play in making cities of the future smarter and more efficient? In this 5-part video series, Grant Imahara travels the globe to explore where humanity is heading and what companies are driving us there.

In the next video, Grant Imahara will visit Porto Portugal to meet with Veniam, a local company that is transforming the city into a Wi-Fi mesh network comprised of mobile hotspots.

Then in Tokyo, Japan, get ready to explore a new concept in indoor farming. Grant Imahara visits Mirai inside a repurposed former semiconductor fabrication factory. You won’t believe what ideas are growing inside the world’s largest indoor farm.

The last stop on the tour will be Los Angeles, California. Here we will discover new realities in Augmented Reality (AR). Grant Imahara will visit DAQRI, a company in the City of Dreams developing AR products and technologies that enhance human capabilities in manufacturing applications.

Be sure to also take a look at Wired’s article Shaping Smarter Cities: Assessing Global Challenges for a look at how technology will address the challenges across the globe.