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

“Expositions are the timekeepers of progress,” President William McKinley, 1901

“Expositions are the timekeepers of progress,” President William McKinley, 1901

It may sound like a boring topic, but the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904, was really a global technology Fair. One of the original public-private partnerships, the Fair was funded by the city of St. Louis, private funders from throughout the state of Missouri and the federal government—to the tune of $15 million ($433 million in today’s funds).

Supported by then-President William McKinley, the Fair’s purpose was two-fold—to mark the centennial anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and to bring foreign nations, the U.S. government and the states together in the name of science, civic pride and entertainment. Exhibits included the Civic Pride Monument, The Tyrolean Alps, and the Palaces of Electricity and Transportation. The Fair encompassed 1,270 acres and also featured the 1904 Summer Olympics.

Imagine your city, in the span of eight months, hosting 62 countries and 19.7 million visitors—with infrastructure from more than a century ago. Imagine your city (or our country) rallying around a cause where the latest inventions and creations were the center of the event. Imagine being able to witness the first wireless telephone (“radiophone”), the first fax machine (the telautograph), the first x-ray machine, the first infant incubator; or experiencing the electric streetcar, the automobile or airplane (“airship”) for the first time.

The legacy of this amazing event seems to be fading, unfortunately—but it did, on a recent trip to St. Louis, inspire the question: if we had the chance to replicate this mission and Fair in today’s world, what would it look like—for your city or for our country?

It’s Happening

It’s Happening

It’s taken a while to get here. Admittedly, I was isolated, extremely, while living and working in Austin’s tech bubble. But the last three years has allowed me to not only dive deep into a number of different industries but to understand from CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs about the challenges technology adoption and integration will be bringing to the middle part of the U.S. in the coming years.

The pace of disruption seems to be picking up…I’ve fielded an increased number of calls from founders and executives who have either been jilted by acquisitions or management changes affiliated with innovation; been invited to help companies manage change, speak on the topic of innovation and, most recently, to help CEOs define innovative pathways for their organizations. All calls begin with, “we know you help communities manage and lead change but…surely the techniques are the same?”

I chalk the inquiries up not to Waymaker’s exposure but to an increased need in the market. Industries that have been more protected from implementing new technologies are facing increased pressure from boards, consumers and Wall Street. Parts of the country that have been isolated (with the exception of job losses in manufacturing) globally are also starting to feel the pinch.

Is leading transformation for a community the same as for a company? Yes and no. Change management for both starts at the top. Vision, leadership engagement and communication are key factors in the success of efforts both arenas. Breaking down silos is also a common thread. Ensuring departments—or institutions—are all communicating with one another and partnering for shared success is also key. Communication and defining a narrative for an organization are also key within a community effort. Engaging employees—or in the case of a community, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and future entrepreneurs—is a critical step within the process. Perhaps, however, the most challenging aspect of any change effort, regardless of whether it’s within an organization or community is culture (you knew I was going to say that right?). The topic of culture is how almost every successful leader I know spends the majority of her or his time…defining it, refining it, managing for it, removing barriers, celebrating successes.

In the coming weeks, Waymaker will be taking the question of culture, innovation, and change through technology to our network. In the interest of finding common ground, defining a shared vision across geography and industry and, quite simply, to let others know they are not alone. We hope you join us on this adventure and participate when and however you’re able. You’ll be helping us define the product and hopefully in the long run, join an ever-increasing network of humans faced with the same challenges and opportunities around some of the most fascinating topics of our time.

The Impact of Technology: Massive Hurdles or Massive Opportunity

The Impact of Technology: Massive Hurdles or Massive Opportunity

In case you haven’t heard, our country faces some massive hurdles in the coming decade. Outside of the trade tariff and Congressional infighting headlines gripping our day today, there are some pretty serious issues coming down the pike that our country will have to face one way or another— issues that will make or break us in the decades to come.

While we have much to look forward to as it relates to the technological revolution, we have some pretty ugly realities— including some of the topics covered at this past week’s TEDC conference. CEO @Carlton Schwab has a stellar reputation for a reason. The conference featured many of his followers and some driven and passionate leaders that shared knowledge on workforce and demographic trends, tax incentives and abatement direction in the State of Texas and advice on how EDOs should be thinking about talent.

It was refreshing to be in a group of big thinkers and visionary planners— all driven by a passion for serving others and by the challenge of making economic prosperity accessible to all. It was also a delight to be stimulated by so many data-driven conversations, a new shift within the industry in recent years.

While this was my first conference, I’m already looking forward to the next fall gathering. What we didn’t have time to cover included some of the most critical topics referenced above: how EDOs can and should be positioning for increased automation in manufacturing (an industry responsible for 8% of U.S. employment), how to engage industry in helping us address pipeline and STEM training gaps, how to get business leaders involved in policy issues that affect their company’s bottom line (i.e., immigration), how to address and foster our country’s declining rate of entrepreneurialism.

What is happening in technology will most certainly directly impact EDO leaders. Our aging population is well, aging, and not adequately skilled for 21st century occupations; our incoming workforce lacks fundamental skills business leaders say are required to be successful in today’s global economy; our K12 education systems are all systemically broken, not to mention culturally not ready to shift; current immigration policy severely limits those from outside the U.S. who seek educational and entrepreneurial opportunity; regardless of trade tariffs, our country lacks a cohesive vision articulating our future technological competitive focus areas and investment.

While I’m by nature an optimist, I’m eager for our trade associations and policy groups to amp up the dialogue and work required to get us to where we need to be. I regret while in Austin, I wasn’t a more aggressive leader in tackling some of these tough topics.

I look forward to continuing to learn from my Texas eco-dev compadres but also look forward to holding our own economic leadership feet to the fire.

Engineers: The Next Power Leaders

Engineers: The Next Power Leaders

It used to be that the engineering crowd was often left out of critical strategic or vision-setting conversations. Ask any CEO about the future of business, what it takes to build a company, successfully grow a company, etc., and they’ll have answers and lots of very strong opinions. Technical leaders, trained for years in pattern recognition, problem solving, applied sciences and math, have had answers about the future but not necessarily a seat at the table. Thankfully, smart(er) CEOs today are changing that. More and more you’ll hear about specific strategic advisory functions CTOs take within the C-suite. The speed of digital and innovation disruption have necessitated it.

This particular trend was front and center this week while attending Voltage Control’s hashtag#ATXCTOSummit19 Tuesday. More than 150 CTOs discussed topics you might predict: machine learning, the challenges of scaling, and some new dialogue regarding an Austin diversity and inclusion initiative (https://lnkd.in/es_sN3a). It gave me great hope to watch this group of humble leaders lead discussions with a genuine intention to make the world a better place. It also gave me great hope knowing that our dependence on this category of competent leaders will only continue to grow.