Territorial indicators on innovation performance are periodically made available by different organizations (http://antonioviader.com/innovation-policies/metrics-monitoring). In European regions that score poorly there is a typical reaction to each report. Scarce public investment in innovation is the recurring argument put forward by many to account for bad results.
I think this is an oversimplified and incomplete view. To foster innovation at regional level there needs to be an adequate ecosystem allowing for it. Low public investment (not to be confused with expenditure) is frequently part of the problem but not the only nor the most contributing factor. Investment (both public and private) is a necessary condition, in the same way water is a requisite for life as we know it. But just watering desert sand will unlikely grow anything.
In following posts I will write about some of such lagging ecosystems’ attributes and how I think they could be more successful. The first element I want to tackle here is what I call the “Lost in Translation” effect. It has not much to do with Sofia Coppola’s awesome movie, but the name just fits in nicely. Too many innovation regional policies I have seen are designed by merely transplanting lines of action that have proven successful elsewhere. But they fail when deployed at home because a thorough analysis of territorial capacities and characterization was not seriously taken into account.
An illustrative example of this is, I think, the myriad of Silicon Valley clone candidates that have been planned and embeded in regions all over Europe trying to replicate its success. The problem is that SV constitutes a unique natural ecosystem resulting from dozens of interrelated factors that simply cannot be forced to occur again in the same combination. Among them there is, yes, a huge public investment (mainly emanating from the impact of science on the military industry after WWII). But equally important, if not more, in the making of SV was the academic profile of Stanford compared to the traditional European and Ivy League universities or the affordable housing for high-tech workforce and available business space. These and many more ingredients combined created an environment where a genuine “no fear” culture could thrive and resulted in the entrepreneurial success everyone else tries to translate. Understanding this helped me realize why it’s so hard to get the next Apples and Googles in Europe.
I think we need to forget about translating and quickly come up with a genuine European approach to innovation. Unlike many, I’m optimistic about it. A competitive advantage could precisely come from our regional diversity properly managed. This opens up questions regarding specialization, governance structures and critical mass that I intend to address in following posts.
I will be more than happy to hear your experiences and opinions, specially if they are different to mine. As I said, I think diversity is a great innovation driver.