Innovation in the Midwest: Entrepreneurship outside of Silicon Valley

Innovation in the Midwest: Entrepreneurship outside of Silicon Valley

Kara Swisher, the doyenne of technology, recently interviewed entrepreneurs in Indiana about what makes the Midwest so special (brainpower), why the rest of the country should pay attention (special knowledge of certain industries needed to solve some of the biggest problems of our time), and what Midwesterners can do better to grow prosperous economies (position for innovation).

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/recode-decode/id1011668648?i=1000457516162

It’s Your Creatives, Silly

It’s Your Creatives, Silly

Setting an intentional economic development strategy and promoting the hell out of your creative industries are best practices other mid-markets can learn from. While neither Austin nor Nashville are perfect, both cities took early leaps into investing in talent recruitment and retention— and as a result, got a good start on other cities just now getting serious about the future.

https://www-wsj-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/austin-nashville-rank-at-top-of-hottest-u-s-job-markets-11582545600

No Risk, No Economic Impact

No Risk, No Economic Impact

We’re in conversations right now with some cities struggling to determine whether or not investments in the innovation economy are too risky, or if the change in patterned behavior will be too disruptive. Some cities struggle with competing political interests. While these cities debate and postpone commitment, other cities are eating their lunch, investing big in innovation because they know the ROI will be exponential. Chicago is the latest city to get on the innovation bus. A new $500M public-private investment will (conservatively) create 48,000 “new economy” jobs over the next decade, 27,000 support jobs and help 23,000 people get better jobs. Kudos to Gov. Pritzker, DPI and others for taking the hard, risky leap into the future. Chicago will put itself on the map again because of investments like these while others languish and get left behind.

https://www.chicagobusiness.com/greg-hinz-politics/once-generation-south-loop-project-gets-boost-pritzker-500m-funding-move

The Super Heroes of Middle America

The Super Heroes of Middle America

As Waymaker closes up a three-day tour with generous Midwestern hospitality provided by the leaders of the Cortex Innovation Community, it sinks in deeply: innovation leaders in the middle part of the country are made from a special kind of mettle. Leaders of Cortex, a 200-acre model innovation ecosystem built in the heart of St. Louis, started with zero resources and lots of resistance. I’m certain every breakthrough innovation leader would say the same, but St. Louis offers some unique and inspiring lessons for the rest of the middle U.S. Our takeaways from the trip can be applied to any of us pursuing advancement through technology and innovation: Champions and champion-level investments are required. While on the ground, much credit is given to founding partners BJC HealthCare, the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) and Washington University in St. Louis; not enough external recognition is given to the visionaries who “sold” the project and its required initial investment of $29M. William Danforth and the administration of Washington University strike me as the superheroes in this narrative, with later leadership coming from Donn Rubin of BioSTL; Dennis Lower of Cortex, and others. I left with astonishment as the true level of sacrifice and tenacity came into view.

Reinvention is a long game. Rushes to find partners, make commitments, or set trajectories will be met with certain failure.
Cluster strategies don’t always apply. Leveraging a market’s natural strengths makes sense for some, but not all markets in the middle U.S. Strengths in declining industries don’t always translate into success in innovation ecosystems, so new strengths must be imported and built. Place matters. I know we’ve all heard this, but it can’t be repeated enough. Next-gen workers rate environment much higher than former generations. Catering to their needs is not optional.

No One Can Do It Alone is Cortex’s slogan and its rung in my ears for weeks. Single entities (municipalities, universities, corporates) who have invested independently of one another in innovation efforts are already finding the error of their ways. While it’s understandable—this is a new game after all—institutions becoming inter-dependent will become the new skill, art, and key to success.

While St. Louis folks will tell you they’re still fighting for more growth, more inclusive prosperity, declining populations, and unequal access to education, they’ll also tell you there’s never been a better time to be in St. Louis. I would have to agree. To be affiliated with a project that has, against all the odds, made such progress in such a short amount of time tells me the flywheel is spinning and the future super bright. Kudos to the unsung innovation superheroes of St. Louis, Missouri.