I’ve been asked to visit the Bluegrass Region in Kentucky on February 7-8 to help catalyze a community conversation on turning the region into an entrepreneurial and innovation hotspot. Why is it you can stand on your head and scream from the rooftops in your own hometown, with few listening, while the same message resonates in the community right next door? I guess it’s true when they say the grass is always greener, or in this case bluer! I can’t wait to visit Lexington and Louisville to spark an important conversation among the many passionate entrepreneurs, innovators, and community leaders who are working hard to transform their local economy.
One of the essential ingredients to transforming any economy is an optimistic and passionate group of change agents and catalysts. The Bluegrass Region is fortunate to have many including Eric Patrick Marr the founder of LeXenomics, who I ‘m convinced will stop at nothing to help transform the region’s economy. I first connected with Eric on Twitter where I’ve been inspired by his energy and passion and then in person when he attended BIF-6, our Collaborative Innovation Summit last September. Eric has rallied the local troops for my upcoming visit including meetings with Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, leaders from the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, public and private sector leaders from across the community, and lots and lots of local entrepreneurs and innovators. I am grateful for Eric’s enthusiastic support (he would make a great personal agent!) and can already feel the innovation vibe from the community. With a welcome as warm as Kentucky’s I may have to consider traveling more.
To the entrepreneurs and innovators of Kentucky I offer the following question as fodder for our upcoming conversation:
What will it take to turn Lexington and Louisville Kentucky into entrepreneurial and innovation hotspots?
I submit we need a new national economic development conversation. It should bubble up from cities. Why not Lexington and Louisville? We need to get back to being great at starting things in our country. In talking with some of the most entrepreneurial people on the planet I am surprised by how many don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. When did that happen? Our economic history is all about starting stuff but we have gotten away from our entrepreneurial heritage.
We are playing defense based on old industrial economy rules and systems. We must play offense to create a 21st century innovation economy with entrepreneurship at its heart, an economy that all citizens can fully participate in. An economy built around innovation and entrepreneurship will provide citizens with a viable job ladder and good higher wage job opportunities. It will also enable solutions for the big system challenges we face including health care, education, workforce development, and energy sustainability. These are system challenges that won’t be fixed with incremental tweaks. We must design, demonstrate, and deploy new system approaches to these challenges. The solutions should be coming from our cities. Cities should be living labs. If cities become entrepreneurial and innovation hot spots new investment and jobs will be created. We need ongoing R&D for new transformative models and systems. Developing a 21st century innovation economy depends on it.
The good news is that given the scope of economic challenges our cities face there is more receptivity to entrepreneurship and innovation than ever. The bad news is that we have turned innovation and entrepreneurship in to buzzwords. We have to get below the buzzwords. Cities offer a perfect nexus and can catalyze economic transformation. Cities are comprised of emergent networks with the assets necessary to become entrepreneurial and innovation hotspots. Cities that become economic hotspots can serve as national and global models for economic transformation.
The U.S. was founded on a culture of innovation and starting stuff and we must get back to our entrepreneurial roots. Our economic future is an era of entrepreneurship and innovation. Our current support solutions are insufficient. We need a new national economic conversation and the voices of entrepreneurs and innovators must be at the center of it. It’s time to start playing offense. Let’s get below the buzzwords and turn our cities into entrepreneurial and innovation hotspots. There are lots of details to work out. Let’s work them out together. Citizens are waiting. I’m looking forward to seeing if the grass is indeed bluer in Kentucky.
Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.