How We Catalyze Innovation Ecosystems

How We Catalyze Innovation Ecosystems

The Academy offers a unique platform of expertise, services, and initiatives.

Nations, regions, mega-cities: all are trying to create "innovation ecosystems." Their leaders know that their homelands won't achieve social goals (in education, health, sustainability, etc.), nor will they thrive economically, if they remain predominantly manufacturing or financial hubs. The alternative path is to harness the talents of scientists and engineers to build a "knowledge-based economy." And this can only be achieved by stimulating innovation on an unprecedented scale.

The New York Academy of Sciences offers a unique platform of expertise, services, and initiatives in this regard. Our special capacities have been employed not only in our home city and state but in Mexico City, London, Barcelona, Moscow, and Shanghai. In my last column I mentioned that we had been invited by the Prime Minister of Malaysia to help him create an innovation ecosystem. We are in discussions with other national leaders to do the same elsewhere.

Because Members and supporters of the Academy will want to know what this is all about, Editor Adrienne Burke has assembled this special issue to provide a lively glimpse of innovation ecosystems and the many programs and program directors at the Academy who are driving these exciting projects. At the core of everything we are doing is a set of very useful NYAS programmatic assets:

    • In a world of nationalism and regional competitiveness, we are neutral—born in New York but global from the beginning.
    • While local universities traditionally operate as if society is a zero-sum game, we are adept at building alliances where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
    • Because few cities—much less nations—can connect their financial and scientific sectors, we are specializing in building unprecedented partnerships.
    • Because young scientists are rarely mentored in entrepreneurism, we have developed programs to provide them with role models and guidance in innovating.

The powerful drivers for these efforts are two extraordinary assets: our stellar staff with federal and regional innovation policy experience and our extraordinary network of non-staff experts. When the Russian Federation requested that the New York Academy of Sciences develop an insightful report on what works and what doesn't in top-down national innovation strategies, our VP for Innovation & Sustainability, Dr. Karin Ezbiansky Pavese, put together a unique advisory panel of noted macroeconomists and people who had participated in national innovation efforts elsewhere (for a list, see p. ii of our Yaroslavl Roadmap).

"The New York Academy of Sciences offers a unique platform of expertise, services, and initiatives ... employed not only in our home city and state but in Mexico City, London, Barcelona, Moscow, and Shanghai."

When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib requested that we create a Global Science & Innovation Advisory Council, we pulled together an extraordinarily knowledgeable group of 25 people who bring diverse and crucial experiences to the Minister's table—not yet published, this group includes such notable leaders of innovation and entrepreneurship as Mikael Dolsten, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Jeffrey Sachs, Annalee Saxenian, Vivek Wadhwa, and Nancy Zimpher.

Those are just two examples of our peerless network of experts who are driving national innovation policymaking. Another of our networks brought the experiences of the world's foremost Knowledge Capitals to help Mayor Marcelo Ebrard develop innovation efforts in Mexico City. (A multimedia package of reports from the 2008 Science & Innovation Week assembled by the Academy for the Mayor is still highly relevant). And yet a fourth network of leaders—one that we assembled from across New York to help the Governor develop regional innovation efforts—has led to our work developing an energy policy for the state.

In "How to Build an Innovation Ecosystem", you'll see how each of the Academy's programs contributes to a comprehensive package of assets that drives innovation—from our unique region-wide mentoring program, to the cutting-edge events that build relationships among diverse groups of scientists, to the investment network that is supporting entrepreneurs in our region. As the provocative innovation guru and friend of the Academy Vivek Wadhwa says, "The most important ingredient is the network."

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Ellis Rubinstein
President & CEO