Forging Innovation

Catalyzing economic development in Pittsburgh through collaborative discussion and emergent thought.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Champions of Innovation

Pittsburgh is a great place. It is going to take some bold execution and great deal of vision, however, to transform the area into a hotbed for innovation. As I have explored the economic development scene, I have had the opportunity to meet with some folks that might just be able to pull it off. Some key players to keep your eyes on our listed below. If you know any other folks that are making waves--let me know!

Jared Cohon
The visionary president of Carnegie Mellon University is hard at work rallying Pittsburgh super-powers to join forces to improve the region. As a highly influential Pittsburgher, Jerry is leveraging Carnegie Mellon's vast resources to pump-prime innovation in the region. Under his leadership, Carnegie Mellon attracted technology tech titans Apple and Intel to Pittsburgh to conduct cutting-edge research in the brand new Collaborative Innovation Center.

Frank Demmler
As part of a new leadership team at Innovation Works, Frank is working hard to spur radical innovation in the area by embracing high potential start-ups at the earliest stage and helping them take root in Western PA. Frank has been around the block and back, so look for some great things out of IW in the near future.

Bill Peduto
This city council member has been shaking things up in the local Pittsburgh political scene, pushing some bold ideas including consolidating city and county services and creating a unified economic development front for our region. This no-nonsense politician has already turned some heads with his fresh perspective. I am excited to see what he can pull off.

Gary Rosensteel
The outspoken CEO of local IT startup DigiBrix has taken economic development into his own hands with a grass-roots effort called HELP (Helping Entrepreneurs Learn from Peers). This group's mission is to provide a safe-haven for leaders of entrepreneurial companies to discuss challenges they face. This tremendously successful effort has garnered the attention of some of the established economic development forces such as the Allegheny Conference and Pittsburgh Technology Council.

Cori Shropshire
Local reporter Cori Shropshire knows the state of innovation in the region and has made it her mission to make sure Pittsburgh does too. Cori makes it her business to stay in tune with the local technology scene using her vast network of connections to start-ups and local business leaders. Her "tell it like is" like it is attitude is helping the community actively understand our strengths and weaknesses as a region. I expect that we will only see more of her work gracing the Post Gazette in the future.

Don Smith
As VP of Economic Development for the twin towers of education in the city, Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh, Don has the unique ability to forge the economic development policies of these two academic powerhouses and improve the region. One of the key initiatives that Don has championed is the KIZ (Keystone Innovation Zone) program. The goal of the KIZ program is to create "knowledge neighborhoods" around local universities, transforming these communities into technology incubators.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Editorial: Brain Drain

Today I had the pleasure of participating in a Career Cluster Event hosted by Chartiers Valley Highschool. One of the primary goals of this event was to help young people in the south hills area to "chart their course" and promote Western PA. During the event, I had the opportunity to chat with Bill Peduto and some other folks about the state of our local economy. One issue that seemed to resonate with all of the folks was the "brain-drain" issue.

For those of you that are not familiar with this issue, it is pretty simple. Lots of smart young people are fleeing Pittsburgh. Why are all of our best and brightest leaving? Simple--lack of opportunity. What opportunities are young people most concerned about? I thought you would never ask.

1. We want to have ample opportunity to establish relationships with other young people
2. We want a chance to make it big--high-powered jobs, rapid advancement, $$$
3. We want to have fun--it has to be easy to get around to a variety of places that provide (1)

That's it. How does Pittsburgh rate on this list?

1. Well, I wouldn't be writing this if that was working out ok.

2. I doubt anyone would say Pittsburgh is the place to go to strike it big. How many investment banks, management consulting firms, venture capital firms, and start-ups, do you see here? Better yet, how many young executives (under 30) do you see in Pittsburgh?

3. I always hear about our bus line. When was the last time you hopped on a bus to go out Friday night?

For those of you that do not seem to think this is a big deal, I challenge you to find a single person under the age of 28 that: (a) has not seen the majority of their friends leave the city, (b) does not have friends that plan to leave in the near future, or (c) or are not planning to leave the city themselves. If you are older and think, "this does not affect me," think again. This is a simple situation. Young people leave. Old people stay. City go bye.

There is nothing wrong with saying there is a problem. No place is perfect. What is wrong is to acknowledge the problem and then refuse to do anything about it. Pittsburgh is an amazing city. It is absolutely beautiful. We have strong universities and a strong community. But we can do better. We are a city forged by innovators--let's act like it. Our leaders need to work together, get out of the boardrooms, and start talking to people. When was the last time you saw a 20-something in a meeting involving the formation of economic development policy? Probably never. If you want to know why young people are leaving--ask. If you want us to stay, give us a reason to.

That's all folks. Go Steelers.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Call to Action

Economic development advocates have long debated the appropriate mechanisms through which they can effectively stimulate the growth of the regional economy. Although economic development organizations and community leaders have undoubtedly made progress positively impacting the growth of the region, their fragmented efforts have clearly not gained the critical mass necessary to establish a pattern of self-sustaining growth. This is evident from the mass exodus of our youth population and low start-up retention rates.

We must recognize the reality of the situation. These issues need to be addressed with an increased sense of urgency. If we do not act as a community, the long-term path dependent effects may become irreversible. It is incumbent upon local leadership to take immediate action together. No single group, policy, or investment plan can affect the magnitude, or trajectory, of our economic growth. Our leaders must work in concert to institute a coordinated set of policies to revitalize the region. These policies must be derived from a fundamental set of guiding principles. Guiding principles must be simple and involve the entire community.

Policies derived from guiding principles must leverage our strengths as a region and harness the core competencies of organizations already in existence. The goal is not to reinvent the wheel, but to instead to promote a unified economic development while minimizing the amount of change with respect to current infrastructure over time. More importantly, these policies must address the systemic nature of the problems afflicting the region and contribute to the singular goal of promoting a forward-thinking culture conducive to self-sustaining, recombinative innovation. Recombinative innovation is the reorganization of capital into value-generating structures that attract further capital and contribute to positive feedback mechanisms and agglomeration effects. This force is responsible for the patterns of self-sustaining growth associated with high-impact, economic clusters such as Silicon Valley and Route 128.

This is not going to be an easy. A few brave leaders must step forward. These leaders must abandon individual politics and act selflessly for the greater good. They must make choices in the face of uncertainty. They must be willing to persevere as the very people they are fighting for provide the greatest opposition to the changes they seek to institute. That is the price of leadership.

Who is willing to pay the price?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quotes for Friends

You ever have one of those weeks? Well, this week was most certainly one for your friendly neighborhood Hoo. Well, to all my friends out there who are daring to be bold in the face of adversity, be strong. Here are some fun quotes for you. In the coming posts, I will dive into some fun economic development issues. Good night fan-boys. Back to work for this cat. Enjoy!

"A big wave carries a lot of surfboards"
Californian venture capital adage

"Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats."
--Howard Aiken

"There's no idea that an MBA cannot analyse to the point where it's not worth pursuing."
General Doriot, America's first VC

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"An inventor is simply a person who doesn't take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates form college he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks once, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. It he succeeds once then he's in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work."
-- Charles F. Kettering

"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself."
-- Prefontaine

"We will either find a way, or make one. "
-- Hannibal

"God is with those who persevere"
--The Holy Koran

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

HELP Pittsburgh Blog Goes Live!

I have started to update the "links" section of this blog. The first link on this site is to my good friend Gary Rosensteel's blog. Gary is the ring-leader behind HELP. HELP is a grass-roots organization that is basically a bunch of entrpreneurs helping other entrpreneurs out. It is a fantastic project and I hope that it continues to pick up steam. Please check out his blog for regular postings on HELP's efforts to improve the state of entrepreneurship in the region. That's all for this fanboy--back to weaving a better web!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Economic Development - A Social Approach

Welcome. My name is Hooman Radfar. I am a Pittburgh native and founder of Clearspring Technologies, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-out that is creating the fundamental technologies to power the next generation of the web.

While I am not working to improve the web, I am out trying to make our city a better place. One thing that I have discovered during my adventures in economic development is that there are a lot of good people working hard to improve the region. In fact, it was these good people that inspired me to launch this project with my friends Ed Engler and David Jaffe.

Many of the efforts to improve our city are extremely fragmented. There are a number of positive initiatives, but no initiative has the resources necessary to single-handedly jump-start a self-sustaining pattern of economic growth. The only way that we can move forward as a city is by moving forward together. Imagine the possibilities if all the people that care about Pittsburgh worked in concert, leveraging a shared set of principles to achieve
the singular goal of promoting a forward-thinking culture and environment conducive to recombinative innovation.

The goal of this project is simple--connect people with ideas. I will try to update this site as regularly as possible with news, editorials, and other information. I encourage each of you to create your own blogs, post comments, and get your respective ideas on the table. If you send me the link to your site, or another relevant site, I will try to link back in a timely fashion. Economic development should not be left to board room discussions and closed meetings. This is a public issue. Accordingly, the public should contibute to policy-formation efforts. By leveraging our collective intelligence using this social medium, perhaps we can move towards the vision of southwestern PA as a nationally-recognized corridor for innovation.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions. This is a living project. I am not sure exactly where it will go, but that is half the fun!