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Creating opportunity through innovation

March 30, 2017

A better future depends on science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, but it also depends on harnessing these tools as a way to solve society’s shared problems. Growing jobs and wealth in a community is the goal of nearly all economic development programs, but more can be done to ensure that the public good is given an equal priority when developing regional prosperity strategies. The following highlights examples of technology-based economic development organizations increasingly focusing their efforts on creating opportunity through innovation.

The Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA) recently launched Erie Hack, an innovation competition and accelerator program that seeks to generate creative solutions to Lake Erie’s biggest challenges. CWA worked with the Creativity and Innovation Team at NASA Glenn Research Center to identify the most pressing challenges facing the watershed. In response to these challenges, regional teams in six cities and two countries, featuring SSTI members like TechTown in Detroit and the Innovation Collaborative in Erie, will compete for $100,000 in prizes that reward both creativity and effectiveness. Erie Hack represents a collaborative way in which science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship can be applied to address shared environmental challenges.

NexusLA, a subsidiary of Baton Rouge’s Research Park Corporation, conducts the Bayou BizTech Challenge, an annual event where technology teams representing each of the six historically black colleges and universities in Louisiana compete for $20,000 worth of prize money. This year, the competition focused on creating technologies that assist in the economic recovery of small businesses affected by natural disaster. In addition to engaging young entrepreneurs, the program is intentional about its impacts and pursuit for a stronger region.

In healthcare, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership’s BioCrossroads initiative helped start the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) in 2013 as a public-private partnership to help deliver research that has a meaningful impact on the lives of people. Founded on the principle of “discovery with purpose,” IBRI focuses on pressing interrelated global and local human health issues (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and nutrition). While these disorders are a major economic burden and a leading cause of death worldwide, they also disproportionally affect Indiana residents, according to an IBRI press release. IBRI’s goal is to be more than a basic research institute seeking to attract top talent and private and federal funding, but also a purpose-driven problem solver.

Rev1 Ventures leads START, an entrepreneur-led charitable fund aimed at supporting initiatives that are addressing social and community needs.  Along with local entrepreneurs and support from the Columbus Foundation, START makes investments in social entrepreneurs that have innovative ideas, with a goal of helping put these ideas into action.  In this way, entrepreneurship is not an end in and of itself, but an intentional way to improve the Columbus community.

Across the United States, many initiatives involved in science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are being intentional about their impacts, working to develop innovation-based products and services that help improve quality of life in communities around the country. As the technology-based economic development community competes for resources and relevance, the above programs provide concrete examples of science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship being leveraged for the public good, helping to solve society’s problems.