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EntrepreneurshipWeek USA Policy Summit

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Last week, I went to a roundtable discussion on how to enhance innovation which was organized by the Kauffman Foundation as part of its EntrepreneurshipWeek USA Policy Summit in Washington, DC. 

While a couple of very interesting and valid points were made during the discussion, which attracted about 20 people from the government and non-profits, some of the attendees seemed to be oddly removed from what goes on in the real world and completely unaware of the concerns of entrepreneurs.   

The discussion featured two presentations, one by Charles Wessner of the National Academy of Sciences and one by Bill Bonvillian of MIT’s regional office

Wessner gave an excellent presentation, saying that America’s great innovation performance is due to positive incentives for innovators, entrepreneur-friendly policies, and a strong IP regime.  He also pointed out that the U.S. needs more H-1B visas and more early-stage funding if it wants to remain the world’s most successful innovator.  I would add better math & science education, sensible antitrust policies, lower taxes, and more free trade agreements to the list of recommendations.   

Bonvillian talked about the role of universities in innovation and emphasized that it is vital for university researchers to forge connections with industry.  This is a valid point.  In fact, some universities have done so already and are making lots of money by licensing out technologies to promising small businesses in exchange for stakes in the company—just think about Stanford University and how much cash it makes through its stakes in Silicon Valley companies that license its technologies.

Unfortunately, after the presentations were over, the roundtable discussion became a bit of an anti-IP forum, with some of the participants decrying small business’ tendency to say that “more IP is better”.  There was a lot of talk about “open / collaborative innovation” and about making firms share more of their intellectual property.  However, nobody really made any suggestions as to where, under such a system, the money for R&D would come from, how small firms would be protected from the big guys just grabbing and marketing their ideas and how they would ever find a bigger firm to partner with or sell to.