New York state could rival California as a technology hot spot -- and boost its economy at the same time. But first it must focus on commercializing research from its world-class universities and colleges.
So said Cornell President David Skorton and N.Y. Gov. David Paterson Dec. 14 in unveiling a plan to create a more robust "innovation ecosystem" at a press conference at the New York Stock Exchange. The plan calls for encouraging greater collaboration among universities, industry, venture investors and government to diversify and strengthen the state's economy.
The plan is based on recommendations from a task force led by Skorton.
"The good news is that New York has all the right ingredients to help get our state moving in the right direction in terms of a revenue-based innovation economy," Skorton said. "The less than good news is that we don't always combine the right stuff in the right proportions."
The 15-member Task Force on Diversifying the New York State Economy through Industry-Higher Education Partnerships, which included leaders from business, academia, government and the investment community, was charged by Paterson in May to find ways to diversify the state's economy through partnerships between higher education and industry.
"[Skorton] has been emblematic of this whole idea of uniting our best and brightest with those who have the creativity and the innovation techniques to turn those ideas into real development and benefit our economy," Paterson said.
Members of the task force, Skorton said, traveled to public hearings, read voluminous and complex materials, and interacted with numerous residents and organizations. Each member, he said, is "personally committed ... to executing the recommendations found in this report."
New York is home to more than 300 colleges and universities, including more than 20 major research universities and several world-class research institutions. Its universities and research institutions earn and spend a whopping $4 billion in research and development every year, second only to California.
Despite the state's huge research and education infrastructure, the report says New York has failed to take advantage of its myriad opportunities. In 2007, the state attracted only 4 percent of the nation's venture capital investment, compared with 47 percent in California. As a result, New York has no equivalent of California's Silicon Valley or Boston's Route 128 technology corridor.
"In our report we suggest how our climate can be changed into what we called an 'innovation ecosystem,' using the governor's words, to bring about sustainable economic growth," said Skorton. "We focus on actions that can be taken by the major sectors that must contribute and collaborate for a more robust innovation-based economy."
The report, he added, suggests how the state's colleges and universities and independent research laboratories can be more proactive in making themselves effective partners for business and incubators of new businesses. Among other actions, it calls on universities to empower high-level administrators to champion entrepreneurship and commercialization; universities should also focus more on interacting with industry partners and less on maximizing licensing revenues. The report urges companies to actively communicate market opportunities to academic researchers who can then target research accordingly.
The state also could do more, the report said. "[It] can improve its practices and target its investments more effectively to foster economic growth," Skorton said, "changes we believe would have a big impact for a small price tag."
The report also recommends that New York create a seed fund and establish tax credits for research and development and early investors and provide companies with startup funding. The state should also focus economic development investments in fields where New York can be a world leader, such as health care and life sciences, energy, nanotechnology, and agriculture and the food industry. The report calls on the state to shift its economic development policies toward the creation of new businesses and support of entrepreneurs and to develop regular, public reporting that measures and promotes the state's research and development successes, the way other states do.
If key players -- such as university presidents, CEOs, venture capital investors and political leaders -- work together to make the state a leading hub for innovation, everyone wins, the report said.
"This is not ultimately about money," said Skorton, "but about attitudes, prioritization, partnership and execution."
The report can be downloaded at http://www.state.ny.us/governor/.