For the last few months, I’ve been in Milwaukee diving deeper into the economic potential of the Midwest. I left with a renewed sense of optimism and excitement, specifically with regards to the amount of invention and innovation coming from the region already. Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio all came in higher than anticipated in patent and research and development spending. Steve Case recently bragged that about 20% of all new patents in America are currently coming from the Midwestern states. While we are seeing an impressive amount of innovation and invention already, the missing link to accelerate their economic growth is going to be a doubling down on the commercialization of these inventions.
Often I’ve found that in discussing startup culture, innovation, invention, etc., there is confusion between the varying elements required to fuel a healthy system. While we can be proud and excited that the Midwest fares well in the creation of new solutions and products, we’ll need to do a stronger job of distinguishing between the creative IP process and the culture and expertise required to commercialize inventions in the marketplace. I’ve met with numerous industry leaders this past week in Milwaukee who are ready to capitalize on the tech boom that is happening in other parts of the country. The good news is that the innovation and invention is already booming in the Midwest. As I see it, in order for successful commercialization to occur, the next big step is for industry and government leaders to shift culturally towards fostering robust startup activity. The punch line to this story is that while patent and research and development activity are high in the Midwest, most cities in the five states I mentioned rank in the bottom quartile of the Kauffman Index. Cities in these promising states will not only have to shift culture, but very seriously consider importing the entrepreneurial talent they need to shift into innovation economy gear.