Thursday, March 24, 2005

InnoVenture aims at global competitiveness

The following appeared as an editorial in the Greenville News

In the 15th century, the Medici banking family of Florence brought a diversity of original thinkers into contact with each other, triggering the Renaissance explosion in the arts, sciences, philosophy and commerce. In "The Medici Effect," Frans Johansson describes how similar bursts of creativity and innovations are found today at the intersections of organizations, disciplines and cultures.

Mr. Johansson will be the keynote dinner speaker at InnoVenture 2005, to be held April 6 at the Palmetto Expo Center. InnoVenture is an opportunity for executives, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to build relationships with major organizations seeking technologies and resources to be more globally competitive and with emerging, high-impact companies attracting capital to grow.

The Upstate is blessed with major sources of innovation, from Clemson, Furman and Wofford to the Michelin Americas R&D Corporation, the Kemet Innovation Center and the Milliken Research Corporation. As significant as this is, with 4 million people, South Carolina is about the size of a large borough in New York City.

Why would global investors, who have their choice of the best opportunities anywhere in the world, choose to invest here? Clearly, we have to work together across the region in order to have a critical mass of best-in-the-world clusters to be noticed. Within driving distance of the Upstate are significant resources from USC, Georgia Tech and the national labs at Oak Ridge and Savannah River to venture capital in Atlanta, Columbia and Charlotte.

Our region is already experiencing a blooming of innovation at intersections like those Mr. Johansson describes. Michelin is embedding electronic sensors in tires to monitor air pressure, and Ahold is using the system to improve the performance of its truck fleet. Innovations like this are so significant that Michelin has endowed a chair in automotive electronics at the Clemson International Center of Automotive Research.

The core of ICAR itself is a great example of the potential at the intersection of the BMW IT Research Center and the Carroll A. Campbell Graduate Engineering Center. Tired of South Carolina apparel manufacturers being ignored by Wal-Mart and other large discount chains, Jack Stone has launched an exciting apparel cluster initiative to leverage the Internet to build a direct-to-the-consumer business model, selling clothes the way Dell sells computers and Amazon sells books.

In the InnoVenture Innovation Hall, major companies, research universities and government labs will describe what they do and identify the innovative technologies, specialized talent and financial resources that would enhance their level of innovation. Organizations that have agreed to participate include Michelin, ICAR, the Savannah River National Lab, USC, Clemson, UNC Charlotte, Western Carolina and the S.C. Research Authority. Others are agreeing to participate daily.

In the InnoVenture Presentation Hall, emerging, high-impact companies will present their business plans to venture capitalists and other investors seeking resources to grow. We have recently completed a process of soliciting business plans and will announce who the presenting companies will be shortly.

InnoVenture has four focus areas: advanced materials and nanotechnologies, automotive and transportation, fuel cells and next energy, and communications and information technologies. These are areas where there are people in South Carolina today who are among the best in the world at what they do, so they are areas of focus on which we can build globally competitive clusters.

Finally, we have invited firms to participate from the "Southeastern Innovation Corridor." From Research Triangle Park to Atlanta and Oak Ridge to Charleston, this region has 23 million people, 16 research universities, two national laboratories and a deep industrial base. It is larger in population than any state except California, smaller in geography than Texas and all within driving distance of South Carolina. Over time we hope to develop the reputation of the Southeastern Innovation Corridor as one of the most innovative and productive places in the world, with South Carolina located strategically at its center.

This is an audacious goal, but there is no reason we cannot realize it. Achieving it starts with having great attendance from diverse organizations seeking others they can work with in their mutual self-interest to be more innovative and productive. You can find additional information at

In the past few years, there has been a blooming of innovation all across South Carolina as a consensus has developed that we have to enhance our economy. What an exciting time to be alive.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

More on Innovation in Education

An African-American leader recently objected to a current school choice proposal because, "I'm bothered that the present initiative sounds chillingly like something from the sixties when South Carolina made it's last ditch effort to block school desegregation"

Clearly the concern about returning to an era of segregation in education is valid, and we must all work to prevent that. Diversity, in all its many dimensions, is a major strength we have on which we can build the states' future. High quality, universal education is an essential foundation for South Carolina to be globally competitive.

Per capita income in South Carolina is approximately 80 percent of the national average. At the Moore Business School Economic Summit in December 2003, Michael Porter emphatically made the point that this is not because South Carolina is more black or more rural than the national average, but it is true primarily because major industries in the most affluent metropolitan areas in this state are not as productive as their peers in other parts of the country. We can not hide behind demographics to explain why we are falling behind the rest of the country. In fact, the per capita income gap between South Carolina versus North Carolina and Georgia, which have similar demographics and histories, has actually grown over the last twenty years.

In a recent study, Andrew Coulsen makes an observation about education in South Carolina, which is similar to Michael Porter's observation about the rest of our economy.

While South Carolina blacks score 15 points below blacks nationwide on the SAT, South Carolina whites score 27 points behind whites nationally. South Carolina students from lower-middle-income families score 20 points behind their national counterparts. Students from the wealthiest families score 39 points behind their economic peers in other states. The better educated a South Carolina student's parents happen to be, the further that student scores behind students in other states whose parents are similarly educated.

These results are not due to a higher percentage of young people taking the SAT in South Carolina. After adjusting for South Carolina's unusually high dropout rate, it becomes apparent that SAT-takers in this state make up about the same share of their age cohort as they do in other states. (A higher percentage of South Carolina high school seniors do take the test, but a smaller percentage of South Carolina children make it to the end of high school. Averaged together, these two factors cancel each other out).

Though the black/white achievement gap is somewhat smaller in South Carolina than in other states, it is still large in absolute terms. What's more, the gap is generally smaller because whites in South Carolina perform worse, not because African Americans in South Carolina perform better.

The current way we are delivering public education in South Carolina is not producing acceptable results. Accountability alone is not the answer. Measuring a broken process only highlights that the system is broken and produces frustration and anger in those charged with delivering results who have little or no flexibility to change the process. Ask any principal or teacher, who are as much victims of our current system of delivering education in South Carolina as students and parents.

If we are going to substantially improve the quality of education delivered to all children in South Carolina, we have to fundamentally change the way education is delivered. The problems we face in the state are overwhelming for any one of us to address. We have to have a system where passionate principals and teachers can create innovative educational alternatives for focused groups of students, especially those not well served by the status quo, and parents have the ability and the capacity to choose among the best educational opportunities for their children.

There are many underprivileged children whose parents are unwilling or unable to help them succeed. I went to the Aspen Institute last week as a part of the Liberty Fellowship. There I met Jack Markel, who is Treasurer of the State of Delaware and a Democrat. He was telling me of schools in Delaware where underprivileged children go to school at 7:30 am, begin class at 8:00, get out at 3:00 pm, participate in organized athletics until 5:00, go home for dinner, return to school at 6:30 to do their home work until 8:00. Basically these kids are immersed in a culture of excellence with a high work ethic and high expectations. It reminded me of the immersion in a culture of excellence that you hear the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities and the Governor's School for Math and Science talk about here.

Many children in successful families already live with drill sergeants like these - they're called Moms and Dads. The Delaware model will not be appropriate for all children and families in South Carolina. But it may be a great solution for many children not well served by the current system. It is one of many creative alternatives to the current way of delivering education that we must allow to be tested, and if successful to thrive, if we are going to deliver universal, high-quality education to all children in the state.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Notes from Aspen: The Fault Line of Freedom.

In a wonderful week of thought and reflection at the Aspen Institute, we explored community and culture. An observation was made, which I agree with, that we are in a post-modern period where we are searching for meaning. Below is the third of three specific fault lines that I personally feel as a part of my search.

The Fault Line of Freedom

The third fault line is freedom. Many of the battles of American history, from the Revolution, to the War Between the States, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement, have been fought under the banner of “freedom.” Today, many that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed would be “free at last” are no longer certain that freedom is always progress, or even always possible.

George W. Bush is pursuing a foreign policy that bases our security on others living in freedom. It is not essential that they share the dominate religion that we do, but it is essential that they share a common democratic, capitalist culture. This is the process by which we tamed Japan and Germany after World War II, but its application today has deeply divided our nation.

Even in the United States itself, proposals to increase the freedom to choose, from public education to health care to social security, are challenged as unworkable solutions. The most frequent objection is that the poor and disenfranchised at the bottom of society who are not a part of the middle class culture do not have the capacity to participate in choices available to others. I was struck last week by a comment that, “the free market preys on the vulnerable.”

While the War on Poverty in the 1960s was defined by giving people fish to eat, my passion has been to create a community where more people are empowered to fish. I have found the cultural barriers for some underserved people in our community to be significant hurdles for them. This is why the idea that people are “carriers of culture” impacted me so significantly. Rather than me directly reaching communities with limited access, perhaps my efforts would be better served focusing on a few individual “carriers of culture,” who can learn the fishing trade and then return and teach their communities to fish.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Notes from Aspen: The Fault Line of Identity

In a wonderful week of thought and reflection at the Aspen Institute, we explored community and culture. An observation was made, which I agree with, that we are in a post-modern period where we are searching for meaning. Below is the second of three specific fault lines that I personally feel as a part of my search.

The Fault Line of Identity

The second fault line is identity. A sense of community is only possible where we have a common sense of identity. David Hume, Adam Smith and others in the Scottish Enlightenment described the emergence of a capitalistic middle class culture on the periphery of the empire, Scotland. One precipitating cause of the Revolution of 1776 was the growing consciousness of another people on the periphery of the empire as a new breed of "Americans" distinct from their British cousins. Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the first self-conscious "American," described the emergence of the "middling people," or what we today call the middle class. A common, albeit nascent, culture is why the sages of the Scottish Enlightenment resonated with the Founding Fathers.

But four score and seven years later, a top graduate of West Point, Robert E. Lee, decided that his loyalty as a citizen of the State of Virginia created a higher obligation than his loyalty as a citizen of the United States of America. Looking through our modern paradigm as American citizens, we can not conceive of making this choice today.

When I was in college, we studied "multinational corporations," which did business as distinct business units in different countries and cultures around the world. Today I work for KEMET Corporation, which consciously promotes itself as a "global company," with one corporate culture seamlessly doing business wherever facilities of global customers are located in the world.

Recently I founded InnoVenture, to develop a culture of innovation in a region we define as the "Southeastern Innovation Corridor," which is within roughly a four hour drive of Greenville but touches parts of five states. I have found this definition of our region enthusiastically supported by business people and academics who will benefit from its critical mass of talent and resources, but disorienting to politicians who feel confined by voting constituencies in political jurisdictions.

France, Germany, the United Kingdom and others are attempting to create a common identity as "Europeans." I often wonder if eighty-seven years from now, Tony Blair's perception of himself as "British" or George Bush's as an "American" will seem as quaint as Robert E. Lee’s perception of himself as a "Virginian." That was until September 11th brought home the brutal reality that "providing for the common defense’ was an essential mission of the government of the United States of America. Who we are and where our loyalties lay are as confusing today as they were to some in 1860.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Notes from Aspen: The Fault Line of Faith

In a wonderful week of thought and reflection at the Aspen Institute, we explored community and culture. An observation was made, which I agree with, that we are in a post-modern period where we are searching for meaning. Below is the first of three specific fault lines that I personally feel as a part of my search.

The Fault Line of Faith

The first fault line is faith. During the enlightenment, people began to abandon superstition as an explanation of the world around them, replacing it with reason. They gained confidence that the scientific method would ultimately reveal truth and the path to progress. We have entered an age when we are no longer comfortable that the scientific method will lead to the ultimate truth or that it will always lead to progress.

Nobel laureate Charles Townes (who we are proud is from Greenville, SC) recently won the Templeton Prize. Below is a Wall Street Journal editorial he wrote last week, discussing the contrast between science, which explores "what [our world] is and how it works," and faith, which seeks "the purpose of our universe and human life." Dr. Townes is one of a growing population, including me, that does not find belief in science and faith in God to be intellectually inconsistent.

John Paul II believes he shares Christ’s sufferings, first, by bearing the cross of communism as a young man, and now, by bearing the cross of Parkinson’s disease. The Pope’s acceptance of his burdens as gifts from God to enhance his spiritual growth, and the inspiration his witness provides billions of people worldwide, challenges the notions of "happiness" that we discussed last week.

While faith can be inspiring, we are threatened by various sects of religious fundamentalism around the world, each claiming to have a unique and exclusive revelation of truth. This certainty about things transcendent creates anxiety in the rest of us, and seems to create hostility in at least some of those who hold these views and feel threatened by a secular culture. The tension between perceptions of faith as a light for the world or an opiate of the masses underpins much of the cultural war occurring in the United States as well as around the world.

* * *

Our Special Universe

By CHARLES H. TOWNES March 11, 2005; Page A10, Wall Street Journal

What is the purpose or meaning of life? Or of our universe? These are questions which should concern us all.

As a scientist, I have been primarily trying to understand our world -- the universe, including humans -- what it is and how it works. As a religiously oriented person, I also try to understand the purpose of our universe and human life, a primary concern of religion. Of course, if the universe has a purpose, then its structure, and how it works, must reflect this purpose. This obvious relation brings science and religion together, and I believe the two are much closer and more similar in nature than is usually recognized.

My study of the connection between science and religion began when, back in the 1960s, the Men's Class of Riverside Church in New York asked me to talk as a scientist about my view of religion -- perhaps because I was the only scientist they knew who regularly attended church. The editor of IBM's THINK magazine happened to be in the audience and shortly afterwards telephoned to ask if, of all things, he could publish the talk in THINK. He did. I was again surprised when the editor of MIT's alumni journal asked if he could also publish it. The latter resulted in a serious objection on the part of an MIT alumnus, who would have nothing more to do with MIT if such were ever done again.

I certainly agree that university journals should not be used to sell religious views. On the other hand, I believe that serious intellectual discussion of the possible meaning of our universe, or the nature of religion and philosophical views of religion and science, need to be openly and carefully discussed. In the intellectual world, we shouldn't try to sell ideas, but we should be able to examine them freely.

A well-established scientist and philosopher was once asked to define the "scientific method." Oh, he said, it is "to work like the devil to find the answer, with no holds barred." I believe the same can be said of religion. We use all of our human resources to understand either one -- instincts, intuition, logic, evidence (experiences or observation), postulates or faith, and even revelations.

We all recognize that science has produced remarkable results. It allows us to do so many things and to think we already understand so much. Science is indeed wonderful, and yet there are still mysteries, puzzles and inconsistencies.

We are now convinced that the matter we can identify in our universe is only about 5% of all that is there. What is the rest of it? Scientists are trying hard to detect this strange unknown matter. Will they, and when? Relativity and quantum mechanics have been remarkably successful, and we believe they explain and teach us many things. And yet, in certain ways they seem logically inconsistent. At present, we simply accept such inconsistencies and use these two fields of science with pride and pleasure.

The mathematician Gödel noted that to prove something we must start with a set of postulates, but then demonstrated that we can never prove the set of postulates are even self-consistent unless we make a new overarching set of postulates which themselves cannot be proven self-consistent. So, in science, too, we need faith -- or what we normally call postulates. An extreme and somewhat amusing statement of our lack of firm proof was that of Bishop Berkeley, for whom my town of Berkeley, Calif., was named. He noted that we cannot absolutely prove that the people and things we think we see are really there -- we may not be seeing them at all but only have such things in our imagination. The bishop was perhaps correct, but nevertheless we all believe those people and things we see are real.

* * *
The most basic of sciences, which is physics, has been increasingly concentrating on problems which are pertinent to the interaction of our ideas in science and religion, such as the origins of the universe, cosmology, the nature of matter, and of the physical laws. This has recently focused attention on what a special universe is ours, and the strikingly special laws of science required for the existence of life. Why does such an improbable universe exist?
As we try hard to learn and understand more, where will that take us, and how much of our present sense of reality and meaning will be changed? I believe physics provides an illustration of the possible nature of future changes.

Classical, or Newtonian, physics has been remarkably successful, explaining and predicting many things very accurately and convincingly. But, as scientists began to look closely at very small things such as atoms and molecules, they were forced to modify their ideas basically, and "quantum mechanics" was discovered.

Quantum mechanics and classical mechanics are philosophically very different, and the behavior of atoms and molecules can only be understood by this radically different quantum mechanics. But quantum mechanics must and does also apply to larger objects such as planets, balls, or our own motions. Classical mechanics was in principle quite wrong. But, it was a good approximation, explaining very accurately the motions of everything much larger than atoms, such as planets, balls, or ourselves. We still teach and use classical mechanics. It's a very good approximation to reality and much simpler to understand than quantum mechanics, even though philosophically incorrect.

As we understand more, will our views in science and also in religion be revolutionized as science already has been by quantum mechanics? My guess is yes. We must be open-minded and without completely frozen ideas in either science or religion. But even with future changes, I also guess that, like classical mechanics, our present understanding may be a good and useful approximation even though new and deeper views may be revolutionary.

Overall, I believe we must try hard to understand both how our universe works and what is its meaning as well as we can, and for now, live by our best understanding. I hope very much that humans will in the future understand more and more deeply, which can change our views. And, just as classical mechanics still works well, I expect our present ideas and principles will still have a useful and functional validity.

Mr. Townes is a 1964 Nobel laureate in physics and inventor of the laser. On Wednesday, he was awarded the 2005 Templeton prize for his study of the relation between science and religion.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Notes from Aspen - The One who endowed us with Liberty

All week we have struggled with the fact that we live in an increasingly global, diverse and changing world. Creating synergy with others requires finding a common mission and set of values that allows us to collaborate.

The seminar I am attending has very bright, accomplished people around the table, many of whom have no place for faith in their lives. Throughout the week, I expressed the concern that it is not possible to find a universal set of human values solely from within ourselves, because that ultimately leads to narcissism. We love because we first were loved, and the value of individuals is derived from the reality that we are all children of God.

Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, provided an appropriate admonition to end the week:

"The Declaration of Independence, adopted 218 years ago ..., states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty. It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Notes from Aspen - Carriers of culture

We are all carriers of our culture - whether we want to be or not. We carry inside us the cumulative experiences of our ancestors and ourselves, the present reality in which we live, and the hopes for the future.

Each of us carrys a different culture. With those close to us in family, time, or place, we share many aspects of a common culture. With others, we have a widely different culture.

If we can manage this diversity effectively, taking the best that each individual brings, the result can be better than any of us can realize individually. But diversity can also lead to conflict, when our cultural differences are so varied that they seem in opposition to one another.

It is not realistic that we will not make judgments about others. That is a part of our human nature. Making prudent judgments of the world around us is essential to success. But by us having the privilege of judging others, they have the privilege of judging us as well.

At one point during the day, we were reading a play about the Nigerian Yorubian culture. The moderator asked if the Yorubian culture was Aristotelian (as in an aristocratic society described by Aristotle). Someone in the group responded that an equally valid question, and perhaps a more enlightening question, might be is Aristotelian culture Yorubian. Putting on the other person’s shoes is the first step to finding the common ground where we can benefit each other.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Notes from Aspen - Humans are social beings

I sit here on a beautiful day in Aspen, CO – bright sunshine, snow covered mountains, and brisk clean air – participating in a seminar at the Aspen Institute as a part of the Liberty Fellowship.

For a couple of days the conversations have been how communities form and what benefits they provide to individuals. We have looked at ancient sages, from Plato to Confucius, to more modern writers, such as John Stuart Mill and Milton Freeman.

One idea they all have in common is humans are social beings. Communities help individuals realize their full potential, while restraining our worst instincts.

My overriding thoughts have been how all this applies back home to our efforts to form a more innovative and productive community that can be globally competitive. At the end of the day, people will protect their own self-interest, but people can be inspired to work together in their mutual self-interest to accomplish great things that are bigger than individuals.

I looking forward to getting home and putting into practice concepts that have proven the test of time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dr. Kozmetski's Impact On Me

For twenty years, one way or another I have been involved in building an entrepreneurial infrastructure, and I've talked with hundreds of people about how to create a more innovative and productive economy.

On Memorial Day 2001, at Governor Hodges' invitation seven or so people flew to Austin, Texas to visit with Dr. George Kozmetski, the architect of the Austin knowledge-based economic development model. In the late 1970s, Austin had branch manufacturers, a state capital, a research university, and an oil industry in recession. I told Dr. Kozmetski I understood how to keep an innovative economy going once you had a critical mass, my question was how to get one started, which was where we were.

Dr. Kozmetski said to find out from industry where they needed world class talent, and then build partnerships with the research university to recruit and develop that talent. Knowledge would flow from the university to industry primarily through people. Once there was a critical mass of smart people, we needed to create an entrepreneurial infrastructure so some of these smart people could begin and grow high-impact companies. No economic development plan can envision a Dell Computer. That is what great entrepreneurs do. But it is no accident that Michael Dell lived in Austin, because fertile soil had been prepared for his company.

This meeting with Dr. Kozmetski was an epiphany for me. The conversations I had been having with people for several years now made sense, and I had a clear mental model of how we could move the state forward. We were buzzing on the plane ride home from Austin.

When I got back home, created a new organization, the Carolina Crescent Coalition. I invited people I knew from Clemson and major companies, like BMW, Michelin, and Fuji, to discuss planning a conference on how we could collaborate in our mutual self-interest. Each organization provided input on areas in which they needed to excel to be successful. We held our first conference in February 2002, with break-out sessions in focus areas where people had common interests. Ultimately we held six conferences attended by over 500 people.

In 2004, we held the first InnoVenture venture capital conference. 300 people attended, and nine companies from across the state presented their business plans to investors. We had a VIP dinner with key venture capitalists and the presidents of USC, Clemson, and Furman - Sorenson, Barker, and Shi. We had a panel discussion with all three research universities participating, and Governor Sanford was our keynote speaker. The grade we got from the venture capitalists who attended was an A+ for energy, enthusiasm, and collaboration, but a D at best for the quality of the companies. We had not been planting seeds in South Carolina for many years, so we didn't have a bumper crop of high-impact companies. But if venture capitalists were going to return to InnoVenture each year, we had to create a pipeline of high quality companies for them to see.

This year, InnoVenture 2005 combines the major organizations that participated in the Carolina Crescent Coalition with last year's venture capital conference. InnoVenture 2005 will have the Innovation Hall, where major anchor tenants in the economy, like SPAWAR, USC and Michelin, will have a table describing the talent and innovations they needed to be successful. In the Presentation Hall, emerging companies will present their business plans to venture capitalists. InnoVenture 2005 builds networks among major companies, universities and government labs in our region to make them more globally competitive and helps emerging, high-impact companies attract capital to grow.

That is getting very close to the vision Dr. Kozmetski gave me in Austin. He visited with us a few hours one Memorial Day, because that was the only day he had some time available. He never had any idea how impactful that visit was on me.