Cultivating Innovation

by Rob White

There are many good articles and books regarding innovation and how it works, some of these even detail actions that might be taken to foster an environment of creativity, which can be very location dependent.

But rarely have a read an article that so clearly outlines the important “ingredients” to cultivate innovation. David C. Chavern wrote just such an article which was published on December 3, 2014 for Ideas Lab and titled “Ideas may strike like lightning, but innovation must be cultivated.”

Chavern writes that “the idea for an invention or a new technology may strike unexpectedly, but innovation — putting those ideas to work in our society and our economy — is no accident. It doesn’t just happen. It must be cultivated. It requires the right elements, working in concert.”

He goes on to point out that “At the national level, we can and must do more to foster innovation. It will keep our economy humming, our businesses competitive and hiring, our manufacturers producing, our standard of living rising and our wages high.”

The “five essential ingredients” that Chavern identifies for successful cultivation of innovation include: 1) Talent; 2) Capital; 3) Competitive Business Environment; 4) Strong Intellectual Property; 5) Fiscally Responsible Government.

Under Talent, Chavern points out that “human capital is the primary driver of innovation. We need the brightest minds to generate ideas and inventions. We need entrepreneurs to help bring life to these ideas and ultimately bring products and services to market. And we need skilled workers to do the knowledge work necessary to support the innovation industries, such as software, advanced manufacturing and health technology.”

Not surprisingly, he also states that “a competitive workforce is essential to staying ahead in a global economy. The United States must continue efforts to overhaul public K-12 schools, emphasize fundamental disciplines like reading and math as well as the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and promoting lifelong learning and continuous job-training. Reforming our immigration system would also help us attract and retain more of the world’s best talent and hard workers and allow them to contribute to our economy, and not those of our competitors.”

In Davis, we embraced this concept early on and I see evidence of our educators working very hard to encourage STEM (and its equally important counterbalance of arts) into the daily lives of our students.

The second ingredient that Chavern outlines is Capital and he points out that “Inventors and entrepreneurs need access to capital to help breathe life into their ideas and bring them to the market. Many startups rely on seed capital from family members, wealthy individuals, local banks, credit unions and even credit cards to help get off the ground. Large established firms also routinely turn to America’s vast pools of capital so they can invest in new products or services to satisfy market demand. This capital investment creates a virtuous cycle — ideas that are transformed into products or services generate revenue that is often poured back into research, development and discovery, leading to even more innovation, jobs and growth. This is the process that yields cutting-edge industrial techniques and more efficient business operations.”

Though we have much to do in this area, business leaders are taking note of this need. Just yesterday, a large group from the Davis Chamber, UC Davis, City of Davis and local and regional tech leaders met with the Life Science Angels. The LSA (as they refer to themselves) is the largest group of life science-based investors in the US. The primary discussion point focused on how Davis can attract more investment and the meeting generated several action items, including regular meetings in Davis and the Bay Area to highlight Davis startups and early stage companies that are in search investment.

Chavern’s third point is the need for a Competitive Business Environment. He writes that “A tax, regulatory and legal climate that allows companies to continuously innovate — unshackled by needless delays and burdensome costs — is essential. But when the federal government’s tax and regulatory policies are excessive, it breeds uncertainty, slows investment, depresses new technologies, drives manufacturing overseas and puts businesses at a competitive disadvantage.”

Though much of the regulatory and legal issues that can negatively impact innovation are not within the control of the Davis community, we have been actively working to highlight the issues through the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s annual Capital to Capital advocacy trip to Washington DC. Last year’s advocacy program as it relates directly to innovation can be found here:

As his fourth point, Strong Intellectual Property, Chavern points out that “In a global knowledge-based economy, strong intellectual property (IP) protections are essential to ongoing innovation and competitiveness. The entrepreneurs and inventors who drive innovation must have assurances that their ideas and their investments will be rewarded with rights and protections. Without that assurance, the incentive to innovate will decline.”

Again, this is primarily a state and federal issue, but we are supporting our local and regional delegation on these points.

Lastly, Chavern writes that Fiscally Responsible Government is a key ingredient to having an effective innovation system. He points out that “a government that can responsibly manage its finances is important to a society poised for continued advancement. And America’s looming entitlement crisis poses a great threat to innovation and competitiveness.”

Though much of what he discusses on this last point is again actions targeted at the state and federal, it is clear from his view that “to keep the United States at the head of the global competition, we need to cultivate an innovation ecosystem that will allow ideas to percolate, enable inventions to be commercialized, help industries to advance and businesses to grow and create a steady stream of good jobs.”

Locally, we have made this same rationale the basis for growing our local economy. By embracing our research and development at UC Davis and fostering our innovation and technology businesses, we can diversify and grow our economy in ways that are uniquely Davis.

We have made good strides in developing some of these ingredients. It is exciting to see how much the Davis community has increased its level of dialogue on concepts like innovation and entrepreneurialism.

Early actions by groups like the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Davis Roots helped to get the most recent efforts under way. And more recently, the Davis Chamber, Davis Downtown Association, tech business community and the City have added to the activities.

It seems clear that as we develop our ingredients to cultivate innovation we are setting ourselves on a pathway for success. I encourage you to find your action in this effort, whether its attending a mixer like JumpStart Davis or GreenDrinks, participating in a forum or roundtable hosted by the Chamber, the City or the Vanguard, or investing your time or money in a local startup. Being informed and actively engaged is your best avenue to help us improve our “ingredients” in the Davis community.

I look forward to seeing your thoughts. My email is if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Anon

    “We have made good strides in developing some of these ingredients. It is exciting to see how much the Davis community has increased its level of dialogue on concepts like innovation and entrepreneurialism.”

    I agree that Davis citizens have finally embraced the idea of the need for economic development in the form of innovation parks.  This probably would not have been possible even 10 years ago.  We need to thank all the grass roots effort that has been behind the push for innovation – it has been a long, difficult slog.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i very much worry about where this process is headed.  just as davis citizens have embraced the idea that we need economic development, we get a slew of news leading in the opposite direction.

    1. Anon

      You have to expect a constant drumbeat of no economic growth by those who are opposed to economic development.  However, so far these same folks have not come up with much of a plan in the way of how the city is to pay for infrastructure repair, other than to say make more cuts to city services.  Somehow I don’t think more cuts will go over very well with citizens.  As the roads/bike paths/pools/parks/city buildings fall into more disrepair, the impetus for innovation parks will get stronger and stronger would be my prediction.  There will always be naysayers.

  3. Frankly

    “a government that can responsibly manage its finances is important to a society poised for continued advancement. And America’s looming entitlement crisis poses a great threat to innovation and competitiveness.”

    This needs to be discussed, debated, expanded and it the conclusions need to be injected into the sleepy heads of voters.

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