Dr. Charles Wessner currently teaches Global Innovation Policy at Georgetown University and is a powerful advocate of effective innovation policies. Previously, he served for two decades as a National Academies Scholar where he founded and directed the National Academy of Sciences Program on Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. He is recognized nationally and internationally for his expertise on innovation policy, including public-private partnerships, entrepreneurship, early-stage financing, 21st Century manufacturing, and the special needs and benefits of high-technology industry. As an outgrowth of his work with the U.S. government, he advises technology agencies, universities, and government ministries, including the Prime Ministers of countries in Europe and Asia. In addition, he cooperates closely with international organizations and lectures at major universities in the United States and abroad. The overarching goal of his work is to develop a better understanding of how we can bring new technologies forward to address global challenges in health, climate, energy, water, infrastructure, and security. Reflecting his commitment to international cooperation, he was recently named an Officer of the Order of Merit by the President of France.
Discussions of American innovation often focus on Silicon Valley and its sustained creation of start ups, some of which rise to become “unicorns”that is major corporations using new business models based on new technologies. The American experience of course is much broader than Silicon Valley, which has its own unique dynamic. For example, the state of New York, long considered as something of a “rust belt” state, conceived and implemented a long term strategy to re-industrialize by developing a nano-cluster focussed on research and manufacturing infrastructure around the state capital of Albany. The result has exceeded all expectations with substantial regional growth, increased employment and enhanced revenue for the state.
This remarkable achievement has numerous best practice lessons relevant to other parts of the United States as well as other countries. It is a story of long-term political commitment, major investments in research infrastructure, substantial public private partnerships, leading to the creation of new academic institutions focused on applied research and cooperation with industry, and then focused efforts at multiple government levels to attract a major semiconductor fabrication facility and its global supply chain. The story involves challenges as well, challenges often faced by other regions around the globe, such as the need for on-going innovative efforts to bring new products and processes to market.
These efforts need to include university based prizes, small amounts of competitive seed funding, state or regionally based programs to provide early stage funds, information and support to attract angel investors, policy support at the fiscal and regulatory level to encourage venture and other equity funding and the training for nascent entrepreneurs to learn their target markets needs. Fundamentally, the story in New York and elsewhere in the United States highlights the need for incentives and regulatory support at every level of the innovation process. Above all, it underscores the need for flexibility and change to address the challenges of a rapidly evolving global economy.