The more dire the climate change predictions, the louder the calls for new and disruptive technologies. While it’s a great aspiration, as a theory disruptive innovation provides dangerous guidance on how disruption really happens. Continue reading
The business world has embraced the notion of disruptive technologies and, in large part, so has the public sector, and yet so many of the most significant innovations have been tipped by disruptive policies, not technologies. Continue reading
Innovation is about making the possible desirable and the desirable possible. But which direction innovation takes depends in large part on what choices we have when it comes to expressing those desires and who wants to control those choices. Continue reading
A recent Kauffman report offers new and valuable insights into where venture-driven growth comes from. Literally. Not from what attributes of social media founders or which San Francisco coffee shops, but rather which sectors of the economy and which regions of the country. The findings are surprising and important for entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business, and policymakers thinking of helping them.
Steve Jobs died. The outpouring of sorrow and admiration is nothing short of stunning, and more than most heads of state would engender. Jobs deserves credit for so much that Apple (and Pixar) have wrought, and a tribute to his purely technological contributions would be plenty. But there is something intensely personal—something that speaks to us more than the phones, or laptops, or iPads—that in passing shakes us to the core and asks what we want of our leaders and of ourselves.
The Solyndra debacle raises significant questions about how to best pursue a clean tech revolution. As I argued before, most of these questions will go ignored in the scramble for political advantage but several others are raising the same questions (E.G., Real Solyndra Scandal). A good post by Bruce Krasting actually brings testimony from an engineer with Solyndra that makes the company look very much like any other venture-capital backed business—consuming cash as fast as possible to grow as quickly as possible to meet a rapidly closing window of opportunity.
In particular, the Department of Energy’s recent loan guarantee program, through which Solyndra received its loan guarantees. has backstopped roughly $2 billion to venture-capital backed clean tech startups with the honorable motive of fostering a clean tech revolution. In a search for means to foster a clean tech revolution, the Obama Administration made venture capital a cornerstone of its energy policy. Yet, despite venture capital’s leading role in clean technology this past decade, we don’t really know when it works well and, as importantly, when it doesn’t.
Last spring, my colleague Martin Kenney and I completed a research paper that looked at the boundary conditions underlying venture capital’s success and its appropriateness in pursuing a clean tech revolution: “Misguided Policy: Following Venture Capital into Clean Technology.” The paper looked directly at the funding of Solyndra, Tesla, and other new ventures. It is forthcoming in California Management Review but, given the circumstance, wanted to introduce it here.
Last week, Bob Sutton asked me to add my two bits to the dog-pile surrounding the “Steve-Jobs-is-the-modern-Thomas-Edison” analogy. I initially balked. There were plenty of folks who’d already made this connection. Then I balked because Bob’s own brilliant post on Apple took the discussion in a much more productive direction. Over the weekend, however, I bit. Not because of how the analogy fit, but because of how it didn’t.
What if innovation was not about solving problems? This thought nags me whenever I'm forced to read about the grave responsibility of "innovation" to solve such persistent problems as climate change, healthcare, poverty, and education. Or listening to how innovation might solve all of Acme, Incorporated's problems but especially that gaping hole in Q3 revenues for 2012, their obsolete technology platform, or declining share values.
Some recent (bad) news from VC investments in greentech raise more questions about whether this is the best model for pursuing innovation. Despite its glory days in the halls of the Obama administration in general and the DOE in particular, venture capital is not the cure for all ills. In particular, the factors that make venture capital successful are not always those that make new ventures successful. Understanding the difference is critical for national policy makers, venture capitalists, and scientist-entrepreneurs alike.