Regional Economic Reboot
This post is the first of a series about Reboot, an initiative to improve the regional economy of NE Wisconsin.
I love technology, especially emerging technologies. I’m intrigued by the way emerging technologies cause disruptive innovation (Clayton Christensen), or vice versa. And I’m a true believer in the capability of emerging technology and its innovations to cause entrepreneurial swarming and creative destruction (Joseph Schumpeter).
Small problem, though. I currently live in NE Wisconsin. A region far removed from the centers of emerging technologies, disruptive innovation, creative destruction, and entrepreneurial swarming.
However, I believe in the organizing power of the internet (Clay Shirky). Although the mostly-non-tech regional economy, low population density, and conservative culture of NE Wisconsin do not combine to create a real-world critical mass of disruptive innovators, I do know those disrupters are out there. So what we need to do is connect those disruptive innovators, build a team of future-focused supporter organizations, and create a virtual critical mass of like-minded and complementary-minded people.
Then, voilà! Let the fun, and a regional economic reboot, begin…
Where NE Wisconsin Reboot Came From
NE Wisconsin’s “New North” regional economic initiative was launched a couple years after the 21st century became a reality. I’m considering the New North launch to be NE Wisconsin 2.0.
What I’m proposing is to take a brand new look at disruptive innovation and creative destruction as applied to this region. The existing programs for innovations, entrepreneurs and technology can continue, but let’s incorporate a new approach that focuses on disruptive innovation and startups with goals of delivering 10 – 20X improvement rather than 10 – 20% improvement.
Incorporating that new approach will be NE Wisconsin 3.0.
The “Reboot” title for this initiative to improve the region’s economy, innovation and entrepreneurism comes from the procedure of rebooting a personal computer when you make major changes on it, or when the computer isn’t working exactly the way it should.
From my perspective, NE Wisconsin would benefit from making major changes, sort of a reboot. Those benefits were spelled out in my earlier post “TIME Community Events: Benefits Of A Regional TIME Community.” Read that post for more details, but the benefit bullet points are:
- Source of potential employees.
- Increased job creation in your region.
- Increased retention and immigration of TIME people (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs).
- Building the culture for a resilient and sustainable regional economy.
- Opportunities to invest in disruptive innovation and startups.
The Reboot concept started out as a personal project to connect with a few people in NE Wisconsin who are highly interested in working on disruptive innovation. Before I spent most of 2014 working on a startup in northern California, we had several years of biweekly coffee shop meetups in NE Wisconsin called the Friday Disrupters. I decided to work on connecting another group of disrupters, but a slightly larger one with more focus on driving change in the region. As I worked on connecting that disruptive innovation network, there was a need to answer three questions.
- Who would be good people to have in a network of NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators?
- What would be the goals of a small network of NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators?
- What would be the benefits of a network of disruptive innovators (to the innovators and to their region)?
Those three questions sequentially led me to think about the following increasingly larger regional networks.
- 12 – 20 people. I began working on connecting a network of 12 – 20 disruptive innovators who live in NE Wisconsin.
- 500 – 5000 people. Discussions about a small network of disruptive innovators highlighted the value of connecting 500 – 5000 NE Wisconsin TIE people (Tech, Innovators, Entrepreneurs).
- 8000 people. Thinking about the TIE network led me consider the value connecting a larger network (~ 8000 people) who are committed to actively improving the NE Wisconsin entrepreneurial and innovation culture; not just TIE people.
- 12,000 people. One of the benefits of improving a region’s entrepreneurial and innovation culture is improvement of the regional economy. That larger goal of regional economic improvement would add more people to the group working on entrepreneurial culture — with a resulting objective of connecting 1% of the region’s 1.2 million residents.
The Reboot initiative will start out with a small group of committed people but is intended to lead to much bigger things. Sound like a challenge? As Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Long Term Commitment: 50 Years
After a small group of committed people is connected, the first step on the Journey of 10,000 miles to an improved regional economy is reaching a consensus that the Reboot initiative will establish realistic expectations rather than over-promising when recruiting program partners and sponsors.
It’s essential for supporters of Reboot to agree that achievable short and medium term goals are worth the budgeted resources. If there are questions about that, a conversation is needed about why improvement will only happen if there is long term commitment. If that long term vision and commitment are missing, there is no point in launching Reboot. Without that supporter commitment, the smaller group of disruptive innovators should just focus on a more limited vision of enabling 10 – 20X improvements in projects in which they are direct participants.
When I say long term vision, I’m referring to 50 years, not 5 years. Stretch objectives are helpful. Optimism and a desire to change the world, or at least the region, are good attributes. But Silicon Valley didn’t spring up in the 70s, 80s or 90s, much less in the past five or ten years. MIT and Stanford didn’t become world-leading engines of innovation in ten or twenty years.
No matter what potential supporters for the Reboot initiative want to hear or want to have happen, it will take many years to achieve the goal of a big improvement in the region’s innovation, entrepreneurism and economy. The “Start-Up New York” entrepreneurism program was just launched in 2013, but political opponents are already campaigning to end the program because they say it hasn’t created enough new jobs in its first three years. Other entrepreneur and economic accelerator programs have suffered similar fates because they created unrealistic expectations or did not have long term commitment from supporters.
Realistic expectations. Long term vision and commitment. Table stakes.
Seven Step Reboot Plan
In the expectation that three key objectives will be achieved, a seven step Reboot plan has been developed. The three key objectives are:
- A small group of thoughtful, committed NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators is connected.
- The disruptive innovators group reaches consensus on realistic expectations for the Reboot initiative.
- Reboot partners and sponsors with long term vision and commitment are recruited.
The seven steps for the Reboot program are listed below. This is a draft blueprint, v.0.1, intended to be talking points for discussion after the disruptive innovators are connected. The Reboot v.1.0 proposal that is used for recruiting partners and sponsors will be developed by the disruptive innovators group. The Reboot v.2.0 that is funded and launched will be based on customer feedback using the Lean Startup methodology. Reboot’s seven steps are:
- Connect the TIE community (Tech, Innovators, Entrepreneurs).
- Build effective communications and events system for TIE community.
- TIE community facilitate disruptive innovation; develop program for launching disruptive innovation startups.
- Improve NE Wisconsin 3.0 main roads to 4 lane minimum (see map).
- Develop and implement plan for Top 5% schools.
- Expand TIE community into a 21st century regional economy network.
- Develop and expand culture-building regional events.
I’ve seen and heard NE Wisconsin people talking about technology, innovation, entrepreneurism, and change for more than twenty years. People in NE Wisconsin are working on technology, innovation, and entrepreneurism. And change is happening. But…
While NE Wisconsin is moving ahead and improving its regional technology and innovation, other regions are moving ahead faster. And they were ahead to begin with. I don’t think NE Wisconsin isn’t catching up to them. I think it’s falling further behind.
“Reboot, Part 2” will take a look at Next Steps and a recommendation for Reboot discussion events in cities around NE Wisconsin…