Core Team To Connect NE Wisconsin Disruptive Innovators

Build Core Team

step 1On Friday I detailed my plan for connecting disruptive innovators in NE Wisconsin. Today’s post will elaborate on the first step of that plan:

Recruit a couple more people for the core team connecting NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators.

One of the things I’ve learned working on major, participant-driven, grassroots projects over the past ten years is that there needs to be a well-aligned core team of six to eight people (minimum) if the project is going to have long term success. One person can get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. But if one or a couple people try to provide all the skills and energy needed to launch, grow and maintain momentum for the project, the odds will not be ever in their favor.

colleges and universitiesI’ve recruited one person who tentatively agreed to work on a part of this project which focuses on area colleges and universities. My primary challenge in making the overall project a viable long term effort is finding three or four more NE Wisconsin people who want to put a decent amount of time and effort into the early stages of the project. Those three or four core team members can then help me recruit a couple more, and voilà ⇒ critical mass for the core team! 🙂

Ideal Core Team Members To Recruit

Below are descriptions of people I’m working to recruit for this project’s core team.

  1. Lead person on a recent disruptive innovation.  To bring credibility and legitimacy to this project, the top priority for additional core team members is someone living in NE Wisconsin who was the lead person on a recent disruptive innovation (regardless of where the innovative work was done). If we can’t get a lead person, we should at least recruit someone who worked on a recent major innovation that happened in this region. Recent is a relative term, but the goal is to have someone who was involved in an innovation project during the past five years.
  2. Emerging technology company innovator.  Another NE Wisconsin person who would bring tremendous credibility to the project is someone who works at a company focused on an emerging technology. This could be someone who lives in NE Wisconsin but works remotely, but it would be best if the emerging tech company is located in this region.
  3. Emerging technology specialist.  Some people’s primary job is working with an emerging technology at a company which is not focused on an emerging technology and has not had a recent disruptive innovation. Another person we could use on this project is an emerging technology specialist, someone highly knowledgeable about a tech like 3D printing, robotics, microelectronics, photonics, etc.
  4. College faculty, student or administrator.  Because a high probability source of innovators is colleges / universities, it would be great to have a college innovation rep on the core team. That rep could be a faculty member, student or administrator, but an instructor who deals with innovation topics would be best for several reasons. Whoever the core team college rep is, they should be involved with some aspect of innovation.
  5. Regional investors representative.  Investors can be very helpful to kickstarting entrepreneurial swarming if they’re willing to provide pre-seed stage incentive money to encourage launch of new startups or to invest moderate amounts of money in tech startups and other seed stage companies for minimal amounts of equity. Having an investor representative on the project core team will be helpful not only because of support funding from that investor, but also because the rep can likely build strong relationships between the core team and other investors.
  6. Liaison for major supporters of innovation community.  Another person to recruit for the core team is someone to be the liaison for major supporters in NE Wisconsin. Ideally the liaison will be a supporter or member of a supporter organization. But the core team member could also be someone who has strong relationships with potential supporters in the region. Supporters include both partners and sponsors. Partners are NE Wisconsin organizations which officially endorse the innovation community and encourages or enables members of the organization to participate in that community. Sponsors are organizations or people who make the innovation community activities financially possible with donations of money or in-kind products or services.
  7. Regional mainstream media representative.  Regional media isn’t required for connecting and building the innovation community, but their involvement could be helpful. Positive media coverage will help this project by educating the general public, by making more disruptive innovators aware of the growing community of innovators, by bringing more credibility to the community, and in other ways.
  8. Social media and communications.  A core team lead person for social media is another not-required-but-very-helpful position. Not all disruptive innovators will spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, but some will. And many bridge connectors who know disruptive innovators will be on social media. Having an effective social media campaign for this project will help general public awareness and will also build awareness in potential supporter organizations.
  9. Website developer.  At some point it will become very important for the innovation community to have a high quality website. In the early days of organizing this project and getting things moving ahead, I will do a free blog website (already on my to-do list). But after we’ve built a reasonable amount of momentum and the project has become a viable long term project, a much better website to facilitate innovator interaction and collaboration will become crucial.
  10. Videographer.  In the world of the internet, digital communications and 21st century marketing and promotion, video production capability is increasingly important. Having a videographer on the core team will be a tremendous asset. If we can’t recruit a videographer, then next best choice would be having a rep from a NE Wisconsin videography company.
  11. Grant writer.  I don’t know of any grants designated specifically for building a region’s community of disruptive innovators. But if a grant writer joins the team, they may know of that type of grant or they may be able to work effectively with grant organizations to get related grants awarded to NE Wisconsin for improving the region’s disruptive innovation and entrepreneurial swarming.
  12. General proponent of disruptive innovation.  If you are not one of the above core member types but are passionate about disruptive innovation, consider getting involved in this project to connect the region’s innovation community.

As the project moves forward and different priorities become apparent for the core team, I’ll update this post to reflect those changes.

If one or more of the above descriptions fits you or someone you know, and you want to help connect and build the NE Wisconsin innovation community, please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

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Social Capital, Disruptive Innovation, Entrepreneurial Swarming

Short post tonight. I had hoped to write a longer introduction to social capital and its interaction with entrepreneurs and disruptive innovation.

However, after several hours of reading and trying to connect the dots so they create a clear picture, it seems the Polaroid photo is still developing. I don’t yet have the words all lined up to explain how identifying and effectively connecting and developing social capital in NE Wisconsin will enable the region to facilitate entrepreneurial swarming and disruptive innovation.bowling alone

Social capital is defined as “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” Robert Putnam popularized the term in his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000. One of the issues discussed in the book was the difference between bonding social capital and bridging social capital. The Wikipedia entry for social capital also discusses bonding and bridging types of social capital.

I had a long and interesting discussion today about disruptive innovation, entrepreneurs, and social capital. During our conversation, we developed the vague outlines of an approach to improving disruptive innovation in this region by focusing on the appropriate type of social capital. Over the next couple weeks I will develop, in collusion with a fellow proponent of creative destruction, a proposed action plan to identify NE Wisconsin individuals and organizations social capital 2with high amounts of bridging social capital (as opposed to primarily bonding social capital).

The plan we’re developing will clarify the why and how of connecting with people who have the ability to be disruptive innovators, or who may already be innovating below the radar. After we’re satisfied that the plan clearly presents the basic elements of our vision, we’ll work with the appropriate group of NE Wisconsin people and organizations to refine the plan and identify how to connect with the right resources to successfully kickstart a new level of disruptive innovation in NE Wisconsin. If you’re interested in facilitating this type of activity in our region, keep an eye on this blog.

Now it’s time for me to get back to researching and working on our first draft of the proposal…

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The Need For A NE Wisconsin Reboot (Take 2)

Reboot (Take 1) was presented in “Reboot, Part 1: NE Wisconsin 3.0.” Today’s post takes a slightly different approach in explaining why I think a Reboot is needed.

Technology Is Relevant

As technology becomes more relevant to disruptive innovation, the national economy, and the global economy, NE Wisconsin becomes less relevant to disruptive innovation, the national economy, and the global economy. That trend is shown in the chart below.

Reboot, NE Wisc chart

Factors For Thriving Regional Disruptive Innovation

Nobody has yet figured out a repeatable formula for building a region with fast adoption of emerging technologies, a high level of disruptive innovation, and ongoing creation of new high-paying jobs. But some of the factors which appear to help a region’s disruptive innovation emerge and continue to grow in impact are:

  • Tech industry clusters and ecosystems.entrepreneurship factors
  • Research universities and exemplary education systems.
  • Risk-tolerant regional culture.
  • Unique regional resources and competitive advantages.
  • Strong network of highly successful entrepreneurs.
  • Favorable government policies and regulations.
  • High population density and many creatives.
  • Diverse population, including motivated and educated 1st-gen American immigrants.
  • Uniquely attractive weather, geography and terrain.

Disruptive Innovation Rating For NE Wisconsin

The above list of factors favorable for thriving tech entrepreneurism and disruptive innovation is not definitive or complete, but these are relevant and important issues. Therefore, it seems useful and instructive to look at NE Wisconsin and do an informal rating for the region on each factor.

  1. Tech industry clusters and ecosystems. NE Wisconsin does not have any tech industry clusters or significant ecosystems. Historically strong industries are paper and forest products, dairy, agriculture, and traditional heavy manufacturing. Technology in NE Wisconsin primarily means IT and MIS, rather than CS, coders, developers, founders and emerging technologies such as nanotech, photonics, microelectronics, robotics, 3D printing or wearable computing.
  2. Research universities and exemplary education systems. NE Wisconsin does not have any major tech research universities. The overall performance of the region’s education system is good, but there are few if any exemplary schools or school districts that attract families with high potential youth to relocate to their area because of educational opportunities. Nor do the school systems have extensive collaboration with the NE Wisconsin TIE community (Tech, Innovators, Entrepreneurs). Contrast that with Joseph Schumpeter’s education* and the opinion of GE’s CIO, Jim Fowler**.
  3. Risk-tolerant regional culture. NE Wisconsin has a risk-averse culture. Launching a startup here that does not give you an income equal to or greater than a good-paying “normal” job or having to shut down your startup means you failed, rather than meaning you may have learned how to do better on the next startup. Most potential investors for startups in the region want a guaranteed return that is higher than investing in the stock market or other traditional investment options. They are not interested in investing in startups if only two or three out of ten will be successful. And they’re highly unlikely to invest in pre-seed stage startups as part of a serious effort to improve the entrepreneurial culture of the region or to kickstart entrepreneurial swarming.
  4. Unique regional resources and competitive advantages. NE Wisconsin has only two truly unique regional resources which are known nationally and globally — the Green Bay Packers and the Experimental Aircraft Association. Neither of these are a compelling source of regional disruptive innovation or tech entrepreneurism, although they do present intriguing opportunities that I’ll discuss in a future post.
  5. Strong network of highly successful tech entrepreneurs. NE Wisconsin does not have a strong network of highly successful tech entrepreneurs (as far as I know) who are actively working to expand the tech entrepreneur community and improve the startup communities brad feldregion’s culture. I’m not even aware of very many highly successful tech entrepreneurs in NE Wisconsin. It’s possible such a network exists, and my lack of knowledge about it is due to me not being a highly successful tech entrepreneur and not being seen as useful to the people in that network. And there may be many highly successful tech entrepreneurs in the region, but they just prefer to stay under the radar. Brad Feld of Foundry Group views a strong network of entrepreneurs who lead programs to be the key to building a highly entrepreneurial region.
  6. Favorable government policies and regulations. Wisconsin and NE Wisconsin government policies and regulations are generally not strongly supportive of disruptive innovation and tech entrepreneurship.
  7. High population density, many creatives. NE Wisconsin does not have a high population density, even in its larger cities. The region is not an immigration destination for creatives and does not have a widely connected community of creatives or wide-based regional support for creatives.
  8. Diverse population. NE Wisconsin’s population is not highly diverse. And the population of the region’s TIE community is even less diverse, being mostly white and male.
  9. Uniquely attractive weather, geography and terrain. NE Wisconsin does not have any uniquely attractive weather, geography or terrain. It gets very cold in the winter, but there is not enough snow to build a strong snowsports industry. The region does not have mountains or ocean beaches, and it doesn’t have any other spectacular geography that might draw entrepreneurs, creatives or other potential disruptive innovators.

If you add up all of NE Wisconsin’s factors favorable for disruptive innovation, you won’t get a large number. We don’t have critical mass and aren’t at a tipping point for a significant increase in disruptive innovation. That doesn’t mean we can’t have disruptive innovation–it just means we have to approach the topic differently than other regions.Prophet of Innovation

*   “…[Schumpeter’s mother] wanted an even larger stage for her talents and her son’s…she arranged for the new family to move to Vienna…a far cry from Graz, or even Triesch. In Vienna she entered [Schumpeter] in a renowned preparatory school…The Theresianum was one of the best and most demanding schools of its kind…His family had leased an entire floor of one of the luxurious apartments situated near the famous Ringstrasse…Schumpeter’s daily walks took him past places steeped in history, and where history was still being made…He did this from the ages of ten to twenty-three…The Theresianum required far more rigorous work than most high schools do today…As at high schools everywhere, then and now, many students tried to idle their way through, doing as little work as possible. But Schumpeter–playful and outgoing as he was–had the true intellectual’s curiosity about the world…For a diligent student like Schumpeter, an education at the Theresianum followed by a degree at the University of Vienna conferred priceless intellectual assets…Both the Theresianum and the University of Vienna emphasized what today would be called “networking.”…In the early stages of his career, Schumpeter was to discover that he too needed noble patronage…”

**   “…Kids are the ultimate beta testers…There is a lot of talk about the lack Jim Fowlerof STEM education in America, and we absolutely have to make a formal, concerted effort to get more hard science into our classrooms. But we also shouldn’t overlook the many things outside the classroom that might kick off an active, lifelong interest in technology…that engage young people with technology in ways that draw on their natural independence and creativity…”

Realistic Expectations For Next 20 Years

With the programs and activities currently in place and likely to develop in NE Wisconsin, realistic expectations for technology, disruptive innovation, and entrepreneurism in this region over the next 20 years are:

  1. Technology, innovation and entrepreneurism will continue to improve in NE Wisconsin, but at a slower pace than on the West Coast, the East Coast, and in many other regions not on either coast. Examples of non-coast regions where innovation is ne wiscimproving faster than NE Wisconsin are Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, Kansas City, Chattanooga, Ann Arbor, Champaign, Fort Collins, and Provo.
  2. Very few scalable tech startups will launch in this region and very few successful ones will stay in NE Wisconsin as they grow.
  3. Minimal and non-coordinated support for technology, disruptive innovation and tech entrepreneurism will be provided by NE Wisconsin corporations, influential individuals, investors, regional governments, or state government.
  4. There will be minimal NE Wisconsin participation or notable achievements in emerging technologies. There will be few NE Wisconsin ventures leveraging emerging technologies for competitive advantage.
  5. There will be minimal disruptive innovations developed in NE Wisconsin. Few NE Wisconsin companies will effectively leverage disruptive innovations for competitive advantage.
  6. The NE Wisconsin TIE community will continue to not be widely and deeply connected, resulting in infrequent opportunities for like-minded people to interact, discuss, collaborate, or cofound startups. The lack of wide and deep connections also results in much less disruptive innovation and hinders the entrepreneurial swarming necessary for creative destruction.
  7. Most people, especially young people, who passionately want to participate in disruptive innovation will move from NE Wisconsin to another region more supportive of disruptive innovation.

Bottom Line ⇒ NE Wisconsin gradually improves but continues to fall behind other regions.

These expectations might seem overly harsh. Most people in NE Wisconsin do not care about disruptive innovation. Nearly all people in the region who do care about innovation will disagree with this post and point to what they see as examples of improvement and disruptive innovation. Or they will say that this region doesn’t need disruptive innovation to have the best possible regional economy, one that is sustainable and resilient and leads to a bright future for our children and for their children. I respectfully disagree and say significant changes are needed to achieve the regional economy and brighter future we want.next steps

The Next Step for Reboot is to connect people interested in disruptive innovation and a thriving, resilient, sustainable regional economy and have the conversations needed to develop a plan for change.

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If you know of examples of disruptive innovation in NE Wisconsin, please send information and links to Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

If you are interested in discussing and working on disruptive innovation, contact me.

If you know of NE Wisconsin people potentially interested discussing and working on disruptive innovation, please connect them with me, or send me info about them.

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