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.

No comments: