Triple-helix touted for tech growth

Jyväskylä, Finland -- The 11th European Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship was held last week at this picturesque university town in the central Finnish “Lake District.”

Stanford University’s Henry Etzkovitz gave the opening keynote on “Triple Helix Innovation in a Crisis.”

Etzkovitz originated the concept of “Triple Helix,” for the combined efforts of government, industry, and academia in regional economic development. He declared that in the knowledge era, the academic strand of the helix is the critical component.

Cities and regions who deploy their academic resources wisely will prosper most in an era of global economic turmoil. “The entrepreneurial university” in particular can drive innovation because of its continuous waves of students, who can work on faculty-directed projects that do not have to meet direct economic goals, as corporations do.

Triple-helix partnerships actually were invented in New England in the 1920s, when the region’s 19th-century industrial culture began to fade. “Rooted firms” like utilities and the local universities emerged as economic anchors when factories disappeared, literally going south.

After World War II, Harvard’s Business School joined forces with MIT’s technology resources, and founded one of the first venture capital firms in the US.

Entrepreneurship began to be studied under the cover of a course simply titled “A Course in Manufacturing.” These efforts paid off with the foundation of the minicomputer industry centered on Digital Equipment Corporation.

Yet the location of the new tech firms on Boston’s Route 128 was ultimately a mistake, Etzkovitz declared, in that they were located too far from the universities and their creative talent pools. Today’s biotech firms, he said, are locating next to universities for a more integrated innovation ecosystem.

“Smart specialization” drives economic innovation in Malta

Among the conference papers, a case-study presented by Alex Borg, of the Republic of Malta, demonstrated the impact of “Smart Specialization,” a recent a European Union (EU) initiative to support targeted Research and Innovation (R&I).

Malta, with a population of about 450,000 people, joined the EU in 2004. It has a robust ICT industry, contributing 5% to the country’s GDP, one of the highest levels in Europe.

In addition, Malta hosts ICT-driven sectors in online gambling and financial services, which contribute a further 25% to GDP. There are over 500 online gambling firms developing revenue in Malta.

The strategy of smart specialization helps all these ICT firms develop capabilities vertically, as in the gambling space, or horizontally, providing services across several industries, as in payment-processing services.

Trust and resilience are foundations of entrepreneur success in the Digital Era

The Trust Research Group from Eastern Finland University business school, led by Professor Taina Savolainen, presented evidence that it is trust itself that enables entrepreneurs to develop resilience necessary to ride out the inevitable setbacks they encounter.

Since entrepreneurs are heavily dependent on professional networking for advice, information and financial backing, cultures that foster trust are fertile ground for the growth of entrepreneurial businesses and people. Low-trust cultures produce the opposite.

Trust is the foundation for positive collaboration, and builds resilience in the inevitably difficult start-up phases.

“Employee trust in management is key to innovative, supportive cultures,” they said.

Interestingly, discussion in the session focused on the nearly untranslatable Finnish quality of “sisu,” which means grit, persistence, self-control. This quality, which Finns celebrate, may be a prime reason for the success of Finnish goalies in the National Hockey League. The culture of trust builds this “sisu.”

The digital era, the researchers conclude, “alters the ways, frequencies, and skills of interacting, becoming more technologically-mediated and through multiple channels.”

In the digital era, trust-building instinct, and competence, may emerge as one of the most important foundations of entrepreneurial networks.

The next European Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship will be held in Paris in the fall of 2017.

Jay Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University, director of its Human Factors Institute, and a senior research fellow and officer at the Digital Policy Institute. He also served as Fulbright-Nokia Distinguished Chair in Information and Communications Technologies at the University of Oulu, Finland for 2014-2015.

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