Innovation

The measure of all things

Shutterstock image: creativity drawing board.

How do you measure innovation?

Over in the Commerce Department, 27 entrepreneurs, innovators and technologists are trying to find out.

At an initial meeting Dec. 12, members of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, housed in Commerce's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, identified the task of defining and measuring innovation as one of the first things on their list to accomplish.

According to NACIE member Barbara Bry, an entrepreneur and angel investor who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of California at San Diego, measuring innovation has not been done before, especially in the federal government space.

Stephen Tang, president, CEO and director of the University City Science Center, said that's largely because innovation is more intuitive than quantitative, which makes it difficult to measure.

"We don't really have a measure for innovation, [but] that's an important concept to understand," Tang said. "What really moves the needle that makes us more innovative as a society?"

Bry said council members also want to look into how government can measure the effectiveness of the grants it provides.

Bry and Tang are both a part of the innovation subcommittee, one of three panels formed within the council (the others are entrepreneurship and workforce talent.)

Another bullet on the innovation subcommittee's to-do list is thinking about the next generation of incubators. Bry said San Diego has about 20, yet no one has ever measured how effective they are. And with outfits like 18F springing up around the federal government, this line of inquiry could prove particularly valuable.

"It's all about having start-up companies exist in a broader ecosystem," Tang said. "That ecosystem is giving them a chance to fail or succeed faster and cheaper."

The group will be coming to Washington, D.C. for quarterly meetings and having monthly conference calls.

Tang's hopes for the council reach beyond the beltway.

"My hope is that we have high-impact, compelling ideas that can be implemented in two years and put in a broader agenda for innovation," Tang said. Regardless of who is in the White House or Congress, such an agenda "can transcend current politics and change the narrative and dialogue about economic development across the country."

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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