Some Great Ideas to Revitalize the Innovation Engine, Part I

A recent article over on Chief Executive that reviewed Henry Nothhaft’s recent book Great Again summarized some great advice on How to Revitalize our Innovation Engine. Tackling the link between innovation and prosperity that is diffused throughout society, Henry is worried that there are numerous forces that are severing this link. These forces include:

  • the divorce of innovation from production
    that has allowed other countries to advance, and become leaders in, technologies that were first developed (and patented) in the US, such as solar power (AT&T Bell Labs, 1957)
  • the lack of jobs in today’s web-based (social media) firms
    While Facebook has 500 M users and a market cap of up to 100B, it employs a mere 1,400 people while Sony (27 employs 170,000, Disney (75 employs 144,000, and Boeing (55 employs 157,000 people. Even Google had only 11,000 people at a comparable stage.
  • a lack of sustainable business(es) models
    since companies that are here today and gone tomorrow don’t have long to innovate

The first three suggestions he offers are the following.

  • Liberate Entrepreneurs from Start-up Killing Tax and Regulations
    Not only did a 2008 World Bank study find that a 10 percent increase in the effective tax rate reduces the investment-to-GDP ratio by 2.2 percent and foreign direct investment by 2.3 percent, indicating that lowering the effective tax rates for start-ups would likely have very positive results, but start-ups are expensive and taxes on necessary hardware and headcount are stifling. If a manufacturing start-up needs 10M of equipment, and the taxes on that equipment are 10%, that’s an extra 1M out of its pocket. While nothing to an established multi-million manufacturer, an extra 1M can sometimes break a start-up.
  • Fix the VC Engine
    In the 1990s, when most VC firms were staffed with executives with operational experience, firms were trying to build companies for the long-term. Today, most VC firms are led by financial types who want to “flip” companies for a quick return like PE firms do. They don’t want to invest unless you already have a product, beta customers, and the headcount to get the job done. At that point, a company could almost self-fund growth with customer partnerships and debt. It’s getting to that point that companies need money.
  • End the indifference to domestic manufacturing
    Most countries understand that manufacturing strengthens an economy and sustains a middle class like no other form of commercial activity. As Henry notes, decades of outsourcing have left the U.S. without the means to invent the next generation of high-tech products. Plus, R&D depends upon close contact with manufacturing for success. A design must be able to be manufactured efficiently and cost-effectively to be a success. R&D cannot be completely disconnected from manufacturing.

And they are all great. Tomorrow we will discuss his fourth suggestion and what your Supply Management operation should do to help revitalize the innovation engine.