Tuesday, April 30, 2013

People, not Ideas

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out. John Wooden

I attended a social gathering of the Innovation Working Group of the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. Such happenings are reason in themselves for working at a university research park, always being invited to something out of the ordinary.

I had no idea what was going on and grabbed the first person I could find to explain it to me. Fortunately, the first person I stumbled upon was with the State Department and was able to give me the 50,000 foot view. The larger Commission was looking to rebuild relationships between US and Russia by addressing dozens of different topics through Working Groups.

Then I tried to get a little deeper into understanding just what an Innovation Working Group might be up to. I probably missed a few things, but the one item that was often repeated made me scratch my head. In fairness, I'm representing their idea based on a few five minute conversations, but the jest of the idea is so commonly wrong in policy circles that it merits discussion here.

The idea was to help pave the way for intellectual property discovered in Russian laboratories to land in the US where it could attract financing and IP protection. In other words, do the science in Russia, start the business in the US. Or, more generically, do the science at a university and create a physical space for a company to locate somewhere else (like those research parks I actually love).

Simple, well intentioned, and missing the only important element...people

People who know how to take an idea, analyze it in a business context, modify the idea, perform some proof of concept and marketing, modify the idea and target market some more, raise some money, design a prototype, modify the idea and target market again, raise more money and eventually launch a product.

People who know it could BE different are in short supply, not ideas.

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