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Moving the needle in a positive direction in the innovation economy

December 13, 2018
By: Ellen Marrison

Bringing the innovation community together and examining how it has advanced — or how it hasn’t — is one of the driving goals of SSTI’s annual conferences. This year we brought together thought-provoking leaders to help reflect on whether stakeholders in the innovation economy are moving the needle in the right direction. From considering the workforce of the future and whether we are “robot ready,” to challenging our current practices of capital development and investment, while also challenging the entire ecosystem to be more genuinely and authentically inclusive in building the economy, this year’s thought leaders explored the current and future disruption of the economy.

Michelle R. Weise, senior vice president of workforce strategies and chief innovation officer of the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, focused on the human skills needed for the future and the current disconnect between education and the workforce. In what she refers to as “human+” skills, Weise noted that future jobs will utilize both artificial and emotional intelligence skills. A recent report from Strada and Emsi analyzed more than 100 million job postings, resumes and social profiles and found that while there has been rapid automation of technical skills, employers are hungry for employees with uniquely “human” skills like communication, critical thinking, ethics and problem solving. As life spans increase and job requirements evolve, Weise provoked thought on the possibility of a 100-year work life and the need for individuals to return to learning throughout their careers.

Jerry Bird, president of MassVentures, a state-backed venture capital organization that finances entrepreneurs who face challenges raising capital from traditional venture capital and angel sources, echoed the need to stay fresh. Throughout his 40 years in the industry, Bird said one lesson he has learned is the constant need to re-invent yourself. Knowing that there is more venture capital money available, more players/funds, and more IP filings, may sound good for the capital industry, but Bird cautioned that the number of deals are decreasing and less innovation is being funded. With the time and money equations changing, Bird urged stakeholders in the innovation field to remember to differentiate their investment strategies to remain competitive in the tightening funding environment.

It was the natural environment that David Kenney, president and executive director of VertueLab, addressed. Focusing on the urgent need presented by a changing climate, Kenney reminded conference goers that they should examine their own portfolios and actions and determine what kinds of innovations they are funding and how they can help make a positive impact. VertueLab partners with for-profit, non-profit and public funders and innovators in clean technologies to make a global impact. Kenney challenged the audience to measure success by impact first, and profit second.

Rodney Sampson, chairman and chief executive officer of Opportunity Hub, is passionate about having a positive impact, and challenged everyone in the room to work on solving the problem of a lack of authentic diversity, inclusion and equity in the entrepreneurship and investment economy. That lack of diversity translates in a loss of economic value and GDP, he said. Sampson challenged the audience to build an authentically diverse, inclusive and equitable interconnected innovation, entrepreneurship and investment ecosystem platform for all. To achieve that, Sampson advocates for a four-part, experience-based methodology: early exposure, skills development, ecosystem building and capital formation. Sampson reminded all, “we do more together than apart.”

ssti conference, innovation, workforce, capital, cleantech, inclusion