Report on the Innovation Works She-bang

I snagged an invitation to the Innovation Works celebration last evening (be careful, someone said; people will think you're part of The Establishment!), and I went and had a good time. I met some new people and reconnected with some people I already knew. I know that the Post-Gazette was there, and maybe other media, and I don't want to scoop anyone, but I do have a few observations. In no particular order:

1. Man, is this a small town or what? I've been networking pretty aggressively over the last nine months, and I've met a lot of people, but I kind of figured that what and who I know counts as the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There were undoubtedly a lot of movers and shakers missing from last night's crowd, but I knew a lot more people than I expected to. That iceberg isn't so big.

2. Lawrenceville is a happening neighborhood for high tech.

3. Innovation Works put on a very nice show. Both the organization and the staff made a persuasive case (through some companies that IW has worked with or is working with now) that IW is adding value to the region.

4. The local high tech economic development vibe is a positive one, partly because some interesting outsiders are eyeing what's happening here on the R&D side and thinking "Pittsburgh is a helluva business opportunity." Pittsburgh doesn't have the size or the resources to develop a Silicon Valley economy, but some of the economic forces that whip the Valley economy into high gear are blowing closer to Southwest PA. You could hear that in the cocktail party chatter, and you could hear it in the presentations. On balance, that's going to be a good thing for the local economy, but local service firms -- lawyers, investors, accountants, bankers, and so on, not to mention those who work for and with them -- need to take a leadership role or partner with others who will. If they don't, they risk getting pushed aside as leadership comes in from elsewhere.

5. Technology-based economic development is collaborative. We love to celebrate entrepreneurs, and the IW presentations last night were all about the one or two individuals who made this or that company happen. But the celebration of the individual is a bit of a mythology. Useful mythology, sometimes, but also sometimes harmful. None of these companies made a go of it without a lot of help, from a lot of people and a lot of institutions.

6. I didn't hear much last night about peer-to-peer counseling by startups. There was lots of talk about what great things IW has been doing; much less talk (really, no talk) about mechanisms for networking and support between groups of people who run new companies -- who are, let's assume, not competitors -- where the intermediary helps to establish the connection, then steps aside.


2 Responses to "Report on the Innovation Works She-bang"

HELP said... 5/08/2006 1:57 PM

Referring to your last point, that's where organizations like HELP (Helping Entrepreneurs Learn from Peers) and eLifelines come in. HELP provides a venue for entrepreneurial executives to meet and discuss common problems we all face, while eLifelines links entrepreneurs with seasoned mentors.

Mark said... 5/09/2006 12:06 PM

I still think we need one central entity to facilitate all these different organizations.

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