The United States, a nation known for its rich history of entrepreneurial successes and the globally coveted, ever-evolving "American Dream," has long been primed to reclaim its position as a world leader in innovation. Yet, despite its impressive list of iconic brands across industries, competitive universities, and key international hubs along its respective coasts, the U.S. continues to struggle in harnessing the true prowess of domestic industry innovation.
As we imagine the post-pandemic world, one with equal and fair access to opportunity for all Americans, it is more critical than ever to ensure we rebuild our nation’s economy with inclusive and robust innovation at the forefront of our strategy.
Enter: the United States as a tech-based economy.
What makes the U.S. primed for exceptional innovation?
Global industry influencers
America is home to thousands of the globe's leading corporations in manufacturing, defense, automotive, finance, retail, agriculture, energy, healthcare, infrastructure and real estate. These domestic industry titans are hungry for the latest technology, yet, often find themselves unable to move the dial with internal innovation programs or external scouting initiatives.
Intricate internal processes often stall what could be a 6-12 month path to commercializing a disruptive market solution, which is why working with mature and agile startups to swiftly address business challenges is an attractive option for corporations. Imagine even 30 of the nation's top corporations from each domestic sector bringing actionable technologies to the market each year: talk about an unprecedented economic rebound and ironclad competitive advantage on the global stage!
Existing - and rising - innovation hubs
For years, American innovation has been heavily concentrated in a few first-tier metropolitan hubs: namely, New York City and Silicon Valley. The tech boom of the early 21st century bred novel communication channels, sustainability initiatives, and methods of investment, many of which launched from U.S. soil. Today, these companies and funds remain active in their commitment to innovation, but are largely siloed in their respective metropolitan networks - neglecting rich pools of talent and legacy industry opportunities that lie between them.
Perhaps not-so-surprisingly, the lion's share of corporations in America are not headquartered in these original startup centers, but rather, in second and third tier cities across the nation: think Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Louisville, Denver (plus nearly 30 more). While these cities have been equally devastated by the storm of the pandemic and social unrest in the face of racial inequality, their respective corporate and university presences are more motivated than ever to rebuild through the lens of innovation.
The opportunities of a tech-based economy
A "fully-baked" tech-based economy is one in which innovation is the central focus across private and public sectors. It's one in which students are exposed to STEM learning from the beginning of their education and are motivated to pursue careers in these fields - as entrepreneurs or otherwise. It's one that values the concept of its innovation ecosystem as a defining element on the world stage. While it seems utopian to Americans (outside of San Francisco and Silicon Valley), there are flourishing tech-based economies that exist around the world - think: Tel Aviv.
Of course, transitioning to a tech-based economy is no simple feat. This framework is one that eventually becomes embedded into society upon the mainstream successes of key influencers. Once headlines report multi-million or billion-dollar startup exits from specific communities, the concept of innovation becomes sexy. As more and more local success stories make the news, suddenly, innovation becomes attainable. Students, mid-career professionals, and retirees are motivated by the prospect of entrepreneurship propelling their own lives and communities forward.
The allure of an innovation ecosystem attracts actors across industries and backgrounds to a point where everyone wants to understand their role in this forward-thinking environment. Can they launch a startup of their own? Can they invest in the rising stars of their communities? Can their companies work with these innovators to establish a competitive edge? Can their students learn from the journey of startup founders? How can they participate in paving the way for their community's future?
Building the foundation
One way to trigger tech-based economies within America's legacy cities is by attracting outside startups to live and work in these industry-rich environments, thereby setting a promising new energy. Startups are motivated to enter new areas that are ripe with direct business opportunity (or have otherwise been incentivized by business funding initiatives). Legacy cities - versus New York, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley - provide a much lower barrier to entry when seeking meetings with enterprise partners, venture funds, or other local influencers. Not to mention, they afford a lower cost of living and working, which is undoubtedly attractive to a budding company.
You may wonder how implanting tech companies spurs new energy and the subsequent tidal wave of economic action. Though the innovation ecosystems that power tech-based economies are not built in a day, the growth and success of promising localized solutions begins to create noise throughout a community: at events, at job fairs, at corporate hackathons, etc.. In response, ecosystem drivers emerge in the form of co-working spaces, accelerators, and incubators, which exist to further the momentum of tech innovation throughout the community. The organic matter that follows is what elevates the foundation of a tech-based ecosystem.
Who leads the charge?
The responsibility should not solely rest on government, a single industry, or a network of educational institutions powered by the brightest minds. To create a sustainable, tech-enabled, and inclusive economy, we need the active participation of a diverse coalition of public and private leaders who are truly motivated by the success of domestic innovation - from the inset, to the outset. More on this coalition in articles to come.
Timing is everything
There has never been a more opportune moment for the United States to emerge as an innovation leader. As COVID-19 continues to impact the health, safety, and economic outcomes of our communities, Americans are at a pivotal moment in our nation's history. We must act quickly to find solutions that not only alleviate the public health crisis disrupting our daily lives and future opportunities, but those that perpetuate industry innovations of the future.
We possess all of the foundational elements of a tech-based economy: domestic industry challenges, qualified tech talent, and unique urban cores on the verge of social change. The clock was ticking well before the pandemic - now, time has run out. Strength in numbers and a sense of urgency is key to our nation's success. American cities must join together in building a unified coalition of innovation to mobilize this critical national effort.
Upward is determined to reinvigorate our nation's second and third tier cities by transforming them into thriving hubs of innovation, community, and co-creation. America's most critical industries are in need of mature innovation and our multi-city network connects unique and viable resources with local industry titans and progressive educational institutions in vibrant downtown areas. Our goal is to stimulate regional development, strengthen native talent, foster opportunities, and create economic prosperity and Upward movement for all. Join us at www.moveupward.city.