Tag Archives: Start-up

When was the word “start-up” first used?

It’s a question I was asked yesterday (May 21) and thought it would have between the 60’s and 80s, but had honestly no clue. So I did a little search, first through old books I had read and found this on Google books:

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Silicon Valley Fever: Growth of High-Technology Culture, by Everett M. Rogers, Judith K. Larsen Basic Books, 1984.

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but apparently I was quite far. It seems to be 1976 as I found the question answered on Quora: What is the origin of the term “startup”, and when did this word start to appear?

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As cited in the OED (1989 edn) start-up, in the business sense, is first recorded in 1976:
1976 Forbes 15 Aug. 6/2 The?unfashionable business of investing in startups in the electronic data processing field.
Start-up company arrived a year later:
1977 Business Week (Industr. edn) 5 Sept. : An incubator for startup companies, especially in the fast-growth, high-technology fields.[…]
The term “start-up” meaning upstart dates back to 1550. Now, in the sense of “budding company”, it was first used by Forbes magazine in 1976:“The OED traces the origins of the term, used in its modern sense, back to a 1976 Forbes article, which uses the word as follows: “The … unfashionable business of investing in startups in the electronic data processing field.” A 1977 Business Week article includes the line, “An incubator for startup companies, especially in the fast-growth, high-technology fields.”

Should universities get rich with their spin-offs?

The issue is discussed in the June 2015 issue of Horizons, the research magazine of the Swiss National Science Foundation, to which I was asked to participate.

Dozens of startups are launched every year in Switzerland to commercialize the results scientific research funded in large part by the State. Should universities that have supported them become rich in case of commercial success?

Yes, says the politician Jean-François Steiert.
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Over the last twenty years, about a thousand companies, mostly small, contributed to the success of Switzerland. The majority of them are successful, although investors, inclined to take risks, are rare in Switzerland as compared for example to the United States. Most of the time the spin-offs are supported by taxpayer money, in terms of infrastructure, social networks, scholarships or coaching services. The objective of this kind of public investment is primarily to encourage employment and research.

With the support from public funds, these innovations generate through sales or patents significant benefits in the order of tens or hundreds of millions of francs. The public, as an investor, must be able to require a portion of those profits. Not to allow the State or the universities to get rich, but to reinvest these funds in fostering the next generation of researchers.

At a time when the Confederation and the cantons implement programs of savings due to exaggerated tax cuts, additional funds must be generated in this way and support young researchers in the economic development of their innovations.

“The public, as an investor, must be able to require a portion of the profit.” Jean-François Steiert

When the sale of patents is concerned, it is not a question of aiming for the maximum return, nor of making profits with a unique key. Universities need flexibility to optimize the return. On the one hand, we need the creation and management of start-ups to remain attractive. On the other, one must reinvest adequately in the next generation of researchers.

What is lacking today is transparency. If universities want to maintain the confidence of the taxpayer, they must declare how much money is generated by their successful startups. This information, they owe it to the taxpayer who, rightly, wants to know if her money is well invested in research, a key area for Switzerland.

Jean-François Steiert (PS) is a member of the National Council since 2007 and member of the Commission for Science, Education and Culture.

No replies Hervé Lebret, manager of an EPFL investment fund.
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When Marc Andreessen launched Netscape in 1993, one of the first Web browsers, the 22-year old American chose to start from scratch rather than sign a license with the University of Illinois, the conditions of which he considered abusive. Instead, Stanford University had less tensed relations with the founders of Google, taking a modest 2% stake (which become $336 million six years later at the company IPO). The same university asked nothing to Yahoo! as it considered that the founders had developed the web ite on their spare time. A few years later, one of the founders of Yahoo! made a gift of $ 70 million to Stanford – whereas Andreessen does not want to hear anything about his alma mater.

These examples show how the relationships between universities and corporations can worsen when they do not share the same perception of the value of a knowledge transfer. The latter is often free when it comes to education; but when it comes to entrepreneurship, the overwhelming majority of people think it should not be. Nevertheless, an indirect return already exists: first in the form of taxes and, more importantly, through the hundreds of thousands of jobs created by start-ups. Their value is ultimately much higher than the tens of millions of dollars reported each year by the best American universities from their licenses.

“Abusive conditions can discourage the entrepreneur even before she starts.” Hervé Lebret

How then to define a fair retribution for universities? The subject is sensitive, but poorly understood, partly because of a lack of transparency from the different actors. In 2013, I published an analysis of the terms of public licenses from thirty startups [1]. It shows that universities hold on average a 10% equity stake at the creation of the start-up, which is diluted to 1-2% after the first financing rounds.

It is impossible to know in advance the commercial potential of a technology. We must first ensure that it is not penalized by excessive license terms. Abusive conditions can discourage the entrepreneur even before she starts and discourage investors. And thus kill the goose in the bud.

[1] http://bit.ly/lebrstart

Hervé Lebret is a member of the Vice President for Innovation and Technology Transfer at EPFL and manager of the Innogrants, an innovation fund from EPFL in Lausanne.

Peter Thiel – Zero to One

I am reading Thiel‘s Zero to One. And after a compilation of his class notes last year, here are a few more comments. His book is as good as his notes but some readers may be puzzled. It’s not a book about how to build start-ups. (For this read Horowitz or Blank) “This book offers no formula for success. The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative. Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.” [Page 2]

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Thiel is a strong believer in exceptional achievements, in innovation just like in art or science. “The entrepreneurs who stuck with Silicon Valley learned four big lessons from the dot-com crash that still guide business thinking today:
1. Make incremental advances
2. Stay lean and flexible
3. Improve on the competition
4. Focus on products, not sales.
These lessons have become dogma in the startup world. (…) And yet the opposite principles are probably more correct:
1. It is better to risk boldness than trivaility
2. A bad plan is better than no plan
3. Competitive markets destroy profits
4. Sales matters just as much as product.

[Pages 20-21]

There is one point where I disagree with Thiel. Though I tend to be convinced by his argument that monopoly is good and competition is bad – read Thiel with care for the subtlety of his arguments – I do not think he is right when he writes [page 33]: “Monopolies drive progress because the promise of years or even decades of monopoly profits provides a powerful incentive to innovate”. I prefer Levine and Boldrin. Now I do believe that established players are displaced by new players – not competitors – who innovate when the champions who have become dinosaurs stop being creative.

Thiel does not believe in luck. “You are not a lottery ticket” and I agree that you can minimize uncertainty by carefully planning and probably by adapting too. He still quotes [page 59] Buffett who considers himself “a member of the lucky sperm club and a winner of the ovarian lottery”. He also quotes Bezos with his “incredible planetary alignment” (which has not much to do with luck either). According to Thiel. success is never accidental.

I also like his piece about founders: “Bad decisions made early on – if you choose the wrong partners or hire the wrong people, for example – are very hard to correct after they are made. It may take a crisis on the order of bankruptcy before anybody will even try to correct them. As a founder your first job is to get the first things right, because you cannot build a great company on a flawed foundation. When you start something, the first and most crucial decision you make is whom to start it with. Choosing a co-founder is like getting married, and founder conflict is just as ugly as divorce. Optimism abounds at the start of every relationship. It’s unromantic to think soberly about what could go wrong, so people don’t. But if the founders develop irreconcilable differences, the company becomes the victim.” [page 108]

I will finish for now with sales: “In engineering a solution either works or fails. [Sales is different]. This strikes engineers as trivial if not fundamentally dishonest. They know they own jobs are hard so when they look at salespeople laughing on the phone with a customer or going to two-hour lunches, they suspect that no real work is being done. If anything, people overestimate the relative difficulty of science and engineering, because the challenges of those fields are obvious. What nerds miss is that it takes hard work to makes sales look easy. Sales is hidden. All salesmen are actors: their priority is persuasion, not sincerity. That’s why the word “salesman” can be a slur and the used car dealer is our archetype of shadiness. But we react negatively to awkward, obvious salesmen – that is, the bad ones. There’s a wide range of sales ability: there are many gradations between novices, experts and masters. […] Like acting, sales works best when hidden. This explains why almost everyone whose job involves distribution – whether they’re in sales, marketing, or advertising – has a job title that has nothing to do with those things: account executive, bus. dev, but also investment banker, politician. There’s a reason for these re-descriptions: none of us wants to be reminded when we’re being sold. […] The engineer’s grail is a product great enough that “it sells itself”. But anyone who would actually say this about a real product must be lying: either he’s delusional (lying to himself) or he’s selling something (and thereby contradicting himself). […] It’s better to think of distribution as something essential to the design of your product. If you’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business – no matter how good the product.” [Pages 128-130] And if you do not like it said this way, watch HBO’s Silicon Valley episode 15… I may come with more comments when I am finished with this great book.

How to Start a Startup by Sam Altman

There are tons and tons of courses and videos about high-tech entrepreneurship. In 2013, the star was probably Peter Thiel. In 2014, it seems to be Sam Altman, President of Ycombintor with his How to Start a Startup The first 2 lectures have been very good with a focus on the ingredients a start-up requires:
1- an idea,
2- a product,
3- a team,
4- an execution.
Altman added in a typical American manner that hopefully you do not execute the team in step 4. You can find the videos on the web site How to Start a Startup, and also the full text of the lectures here:
HSS-01
Lecture 1: How to Start a Startup by Sam Altman – Ft: Dustin Moskovitz. The slides anc content can be found on another nice web site: howtostartastartup.co
Altman’s slides: here.
Dustin Moskovitz ‘s slides: here.

HSS-02
Lecture 2: Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution Part II by Sam Altman
Slides: here.

More also here: howtostartastartup.co
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Enjoy!

Horowitz’ The Hard Thing About Hard Things: there is no recipe but courage

I began my previous blog about Horowitz’ The Hard Thing About Hard Things by quoting the first page. I will begin here with his final page:

“Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness. When I first became a CEO, I genuinely thought that I was the only one struggling. Whenever I spoke to other CEOs, they all seemed like they had everything under control. Their businesses were always going “fantastic” and their experience was inevitably “amazing”. But as I watched my peers’ fantastic, amazing businesses go bankrupt and sell for cheap, I realized I was probably not the only one struggling.” […] “Embrace your weirdness, your background, your instinct. If the keys are not there, they do not exist.”[Page 275]

thehardthing

Again the book is not an easy read. It is more advice about processes than anything else, so you may not enjoy the book if you do not need to apply it now. If you are not an ambitious entrepreneur who needs to scale his venture, reading the book may not be useful. Still it is a great book. Let me give you a couple of examples.

“Figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage. Sometimes only the founder has the courage to ignore the data.” [Page 50]

Funnily enough, Horowitz quotes Thiel. (By the way, quotes on the back page supporting Horowitz’s book are from Page, Zuckerberg, Costolo and Thiel…) “I don’t believe in statistics, I believe in calculus”. And his advice “when things fall apart” are
– Don’t put it all on your shoulders.
– This is not checkers, this is motherfuckin’ chess.
– Play long enough and you might get lucky.
– Don’t take it personally.
– Remember that this is what separates the women from the girls.
I summarize his advice from pages 64 to 93 as when things fall apart, face the truth and tell the truth. Tell the truth to your employees, tell the truth to your future ex-colleagues, tell the truth to your friends and more importantly, tell the truth to yourself.

I understand now why Andreessen-Horowitz is seen as a firm which has put in place tons of processes. Horowitz describes many tasks founders should be utmost careful about. Taking care of people, first. He also describes how you can do mistakes by trying to do good. Just one example: “our hockey stick [the shape of the revenue graph over the quarter] was so bad that one quarter we booked 90% of our new bookings on the last day of the quarter. […] I designed an incentive to closed deals in the first two months. […] As a result, the next quarter was more linear and slightly smaller… deals just moved from the third month to the first two months of the following quarter.”

Other interesting examples are about smart people and bad employees. “Sometimes, you will have a player that’s so good that you hold the bus for him, but only him.” And senior (old) people: “When the head of engineering gets promoted from within, she often succeeds. When the head of sales gets promoted from within, she almost always fails”. [Page 172] Horowitz explains also there is not one rule, it is company-dependent. Andreessen favors giving titles easily, Zuckerberg has opposite views.

“Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt as an entrepreneur was to focus on what I needed to get right and stop worrying about all the things that I did wrong or might go wrong.” [Page 200] Again focus on the strengths, not the weaknesses.

Ones and Twos

Horowitz quotes Collins’ “Good to Great”. “Internal candidates dramatically outperform external candidates.” And then adds that “Collins does not explain why internal candidates sometimes fail as well”. There are “two core skills for running an organization: First, knowing what to do. Second, getting the company to do what you know. While being a great CEO requires both skills, most CEOs tend to be more comfortable with one or the other. I call managers who are happier setting the direction of the company Ones and those who more enjoy making the company perform at the highest level Twos.” When they are not competent at both, “Ones end up in chaos and Twos fail to pivot when necessary.” [Pages 214, 216]

jobs-campbell-grove

Horowitz shows that great CEOs need vision like Steve Jobs had, competence in implementing like Andy Grove had, and ambition like Bill Campbell. One of Horowitz favorites references is indeed Andy Grove and his “High output Management.” Horowitz shows how much respect is has for Jobs and Campbell, but the systematic processes remain his favorite, therefore Grove.

Wartime/peacetime

Horowitz also strongly believes that “life is struggle” (quoting Karl Marx) and that CEOs have to be ready to be both peacetime CEOs (when a company has a large advantage over competition in a growing market – Eric Schmid at Google until Page took over) and wartime CEOs (companies facing existential threats – Grove at Intel when they switched from memories to microprocessors or Jobs at Apple when he came back).

“Be aware that management books tend to be written by management consultants who study successful companies during their times of peace. As a result, the books describe the methods of peacetime CEOs. In fact, other than the books written by Andy Grove, I don’t know of any management books that teach you how to manage in wartime like Steve Jobs or Andy Grove.” [Page 228]

Horowitz hates the idea that founders should be replaced, that companies need professional CEOs who know how to scale companies or who “should be the number-one salesperson.” CEOs define the Strategy (“The story and the strategy are the same thing.”) and do Decision making (“with speed and quality”).

You may like the “Freaky Friday Management Technique” [Page 252] and “Should You Sell Your Company?” [Page 257] but let me finish with some of his final thoughts: “First technical founders are the best people to run technology companies”. […] “Second, it is incredibly difficult for technical founders to learn to become CEOs while building companies.” [Page 268] Which is why VCs should help these founders becoming CEOs, by helping them acquire the skill set as well as building a network.

Finally if you wonder why Andreessen-Horowitz web-site is www.a16z.com, you just have to count the number of letters in the name between the a and the z…

The Entrepreneurial State (part5): conclusion on a great book.

Again I have been very much impressed by the Entrepreneurial State but I also have some major doubts and even some disagreements. Maybe I have been brain-washed in the last 20 years of my life but my experience in Silicon Valley and venture capital and also my less than satisfying experience with planned innovation by the State convince me that entrepreneurship is crucial and maybe more important than the State role in the innovation part (not the research or even the R&D).

Now I fully agree that seed funding by the State of innovation through research and the taxes to be paid by companies are essential. I also agree that VC is less and less risk taking and that corporate R&D is just a D and the R has disappeared both in IT and pharma.

But let me finish with my notes on this excellent book. As a reminder, part 1 was about the innovation crisis, part 2 was about the respective role of the public and private sector in R&D and innovation, part 3 about the Apple iPhone, part 4 about the green revolution and risks and rewards.

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Chapter 9 – Socialization of risks and privatization of rewards.

“Innovation has a tendency of allowing those with high skills to prosper and those with low skills to get left behind.” [See also her comment on the New and Old economy in part 4] “Are these the same type of economic actors who are able to appropriate returns form the innovation process if and when they appear? That is, who takes the risks and who gets the rewards? We argue that it is the collective, cumulative and uncertain characteristics of the innovation process that make this disconnect between risks and rewards possible.” […] “When certain actors are able to position themselves at the point – along the cumulative innovation curve – where the innovative enterprise generates financial returns, that is close to the final product or, in some cases, close to a financial market such as the stock market. These favoured actors then propound ideological arguments, typically with intellectual roots in the efficiency propositions of neoclassical economics (and the related theory of “shareholder value”) that justify the disproportionate shares of the gains from innovation that they have been able to appropriate. [Page 186]

This was long but very true.

Finding a way to realign risk taking with rewards is thus crucial not only for decreasing inequality but also for fostering more innovation. […] Put provocatively, had the State earned back just one percent from the investments it made in the Internet, there would be much more today to invest in green tech. Many argue that it is inappropriate to consider direct returns because the State already earns a return via the tax system. The reality is, however, that the tax system was not conceived to support innovation and the argument ignores the fact that tax avoidance and evasion are common. [Page 187]

Mazzucato suggests 3 concrete proposals:
– A Golden share of IPR and a national “Innovation fund” by extracting a royalty. The government should retain a share of the patents; making sure the owner of patents behaves cooperatively, licensing broadly and fairly after an initial period of protection.
– Income contingent loans and equity. “After Google made billions in profits, shouldn’t a small percentage have gone back to fund the public agency that funded the algorithm?”
– Development banks. IF/when the State institution is run by people who not only believe in the power of the State but also have expertise understanding the innovation process, then the results produce a high reward.
[Well isn’t this at least partially what the US do through the Bayh-Dole Act?]

Conclusion

“Rather than relying on the false dream that “markets” will run the world optimally for us “if we just let them alone” policymakers must better learn how to efficiently use the tools and means to shape and create markets – making things happen that otherwise would not. State can do this by leveraging massive national social network of knowledge and business acumen. The State should “stay foolish” as Jobs said, in its pursuit of technological development. It can do so on a scale and with tools not available to businesses. Apple’s success did not hinge on its ability to create novel technologies, it hinge on its organizational capabilities in integrating marketing and selling those low-hanging technologies.

What is needed today is a “systems” perspective, but one that is more realistic on the actual – rather than mythological – role of the individual actors, and the linkages between actors, within and along the risk landscape. It is, for example, unrealistic to think that the highly capital-intensive and high-risk areas in clean technology will be “led” by venture capital. The history of new sectors teaches us that private investment tend to wait for the early high-risk investments to be made first by the State. Yet the returns from these “revolutionary” state investments have been almost totally privatized. While this is especially obvious in the pharmaceutical industry, it is also true in other high-tech areas, with Apple, which have received major benefits from public funds, both direct and indirect, managing to avoid paying their taxes.

First, it is not enough to talk about the “entrepreneurial” State, one must build it, with long-term strategies. There is nothing in the DNA of the public sector that makes it less innovative than the private sector. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that it is more exciting and fun to work at Goldman Sachs or Google, rather than a State investment bank or a ministry of innovation. The only way to rebalance this problem is to upgrade, not downgrade that status of government. Second a need for a return to cover the losses, beyond the taxes and supply of skilled staff. A direct return. Third, this will have the potential to better inform policies that are directed towards other actors in the “ecosystem” of innovation. (Except the world is global and this may make efforts at the national level not sufficient)

Recommendations
– Reduce State direct transfers such as tax relief,
– Spend money on new technologies and concentrate on firms that can spend on innovation
– Abandon patent box
– Review tax credits so that firms are accountable on innovation, not just R&D
– Reduce enterprise zones
– Return of successful investment in part to government
– Use saved money for massive spending à la Darpa
– Adopt a proactive approach to green technologies
– (Not sure I understood the argument on time investment held before tax exemptions)
– Short-termism is problematic.

The Entrepreneurial State (part 4) – the Green Revolution – Unbalanced Risks and Rewards.

Part 1 covers the Innovation dilemmas and crises.
Part 2 deals with the (forgotten or untold) role of the state in stimulating innovation through research.
Part 3 is about the role of the State in the iPhone technologies.
Now chapters 6 to 8:

Chapter 6 – Pushing vs. Nudging the Green Industrial Revolution.

The Green technology is another very interesting situation. “Until wind turbines and solar PV panels can produce energy at a cost equal to or lower than those of fossil fuels, they will likely continue to be marginal technologies that cannot accelerate the transition so badly needed to mitigate climate change.” [Page 114] “Demand-side policies (regulations) are critical but they too often become pleas for change. Supply side policies (energy generation) are important for putting the money were the mouth is.” [Page 155]

Again I have been a cautious observer of green technologies with Germany subsidizing many companies which went bankrupt when China arrived with much cheaper products, with France or Japan claiming nuclear energy as the cleanest… Mazzucato rightly describes “the US with a fund-everything approach, hoping that a breakthrough disruptive energy innovation will sooner or later emerge. This has not been the case because many clean technologies require long-term financial commitment of a kind VCs are not willing or able to undertake”. In my ongoing analysis of recent IPO filings, I noticed 11 companies in green technologies out of the 165 filings I have built since 2002. The oldest one was filed in 2009. These companies had raised more than $2B or about $180M per company. They had more than 5’000 employees in total. It looked to me like a speculative bubble so Mazzucato is right when saying investors are impatient. I am not sure they are shy with their money though.

The US has been busy building on their understanding of what has worked in previous technological revolutions. (…) But while it has been good at connecting and leveraging academia, industry and entrepreneurship in its own push into clean technology, its performance has been uneven. (…) A key reason for uneven US performance has been its heavy reliance on venture capital to “nudge” the development of green technologies. (…) Since some clean technologies are still in early stages, when “Knightian uncertainty” is highest, VC funding is focused on some of the safer bets rather than on the radical innovation that is required to allow the sector to transform society. (Pages 126-127) The conclusion that might follow is that the government should focus exclusively on commissioning the development of the riskiest technologies.

Impatient capital can destroy firms promising to deliver government-financed technology. If VCs aren’t interested in capital-intensive industries, or in building factories, what exactly are they offering in terms of economic development? Their role should be seen for what it is: limited. (Page 131)

The expectation is that the opportunity to conduct high-risk and path-breaking research “will attract many of the US’s best and brightest minds – those of experienced scientists and engineers and especially those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world.” (Page 134)

The history of US government investment in innovation, from the Internet to nanotech, shows that it has been critical for the government to have a hand in both basic and applied research. NIH is responsible for 75 percent of the most radical new drugs. So the assumption one can leave applied research to the business sector and that this will spur innovation is one with little evidence to support it (and may even deprive some countries of important breakthroughs.) (Page 136)

In reality government and business activities frequently overlap. Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs respond to government support in choosing technologies to invest in, but are rarely focused on the long term. In the absence of an appropriate investment model, VC will struggle to provide the “patient capital” required for the full development of radical innovations. It is crucial that finance be patient. (Page 138)

Public finance (such as provided by State development banks) is therefore superior to VC or commercial banking in fostering innovation, because it is committed and patient.

The financial and technological risks of developing modern renewable energy have been too high for VC to support. A key problem is that VCs are looking for returns that are not realistic with capital-intensive technologies. The speculative returns possible in ICT revolutions are not a “norm” to be replicated in all other high-tech industries. (Page 140)

My comments: I agree with the criticism on venture capital. Now the solution introduced of committed and patient development banks is new to me. I understand “patient”, I am less sure about “committed”. Does this mean hands-on, and competent?

But my main concern is again about the difference between inventing and innovating. I need to go back to Apple. According to Wikipedia, a classical definition of Entrepreneurship is “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled”. The term puts emphasis on the risk and effort taken by individuals who both own and manage a business, and on the innovations resulting from their pursuit of economic success.

When Mazzucato describes the Entrepreneurial State, she describes as much an Inventing State as an Innovating State. There is nothing wrong with it. What Apple has been strong at is using inventions and mostly innovations to integrate them in new products. It is why Apple is doing so little R&D. Can the same company do research and explore new green fields and develop new technologies into new products. I am not sure this has been shown by clear evidence. But we should probably ask historians of technology.

There is one invention that shows how difficult the transfer from invention to innovation might be: the transistor was invented at Bell Labs in 1947. Some of the elements of the invention only were patented (as they had been prior art back in 1925.) By 1951 Bell Labs had licensed (under the government pressure) the technology to more than 40 companies and (then small firms) Texas Instruments and Sony are known for producing early commercial transistors. The inventors received the Nobel Prize in 1957 and one of them moved to Palo Alto and is probably at the origin of Silicon Valley because of his decision. Because of the threat of USSR as an emerging technology power, the US poured a lot of military and space money on the potential of the electronics of the transistor.

The difficulty with nanotechnologies and green technologies is that in the chicken and egg of pull and push, the market needs may be clear, but the technology push looks to me much less so. I am not sure to see where the equivalent of the transistor is for these “promising” fields.

Chapter 7 – Wind and Solar power

This chapter is about the history and current status of these two energies. Wind power players are GE and Vestra from Denmark. There is a long and interesting history. There is a similar long and painful history for solar power. First Solar, Solyndra, SunPower, Evergreen are described in details. Mazzacutto focuses on China’s long-term strategy vs. the more US short term one, as well as Germany’s innovative approach to the market. “Solyndra’s failure highlights the “parasitic” innovation system that the US has created for itself – where financial interests are always and everywhere the judge, jury and executioner of all innovations investment dilemmas.” “Clean technology is already teaching us that changing the world requires coordination and the investment of multiple States, otherwise R&D, support for manufacturing, and support for market creation and function will remain dead ends.” (Page 155)

A framework would include demand-side policies to promote increased consumption as well as supply-side policies that promote manufacture of the technologies with patient capital. (Page 159)

But McKay’s arguments on Sustainable energy – without the hot air makes me cautious…

Mazzacuto still reminds of us of some fundamental elements: coming back on Myth 2 (small is beautiful) “We should not underestimate the role of small firms nor assume that only big firms have the right resources at their disposal. (…) The willingness to disrupt existing market models is needed in order to manifest a real green industrial revolution. (…) It should be a subject of debate whether public support should be handed-off to large firms that could have made their own investments and it is also unclear how they would be willing to shift from the technologies which provide their major sources of revenues.“ As my friend Dominique (:- rightly mentioned as a reaction to a previous post on the topic: “Research funding and how early the research is funded by a company of course depends on its expectations but also on its margins. Back in the seventies large corporations could afford to fund early research because 1) they foresaw stable or growing markets and 2) because their margins were constantly high I believe. Today the speed @ which markets evolve is certainly a deterrent to early stage research by companies…”

Chapter 8 – Risks and rewards: from Rotten Apples to Symbiotic Ecosystems.

Risk taking has been a collective endeavor while the returns have been much less collectively distributed. [Page 165]

The story US taxpayers are told is that economic growth and innovation are outcomes of individual “genius”, Silicon Valley “entrepreneurs”, venture capitalists or “small businesses”, provided regulations are lax (or nonexistent) and taxes low – especially compared to the “Big State” behind much of Europe. [Page 166]

The real Knightian uncertainty that innovation entails, as well as the inevitable sunk costs and capital intensity that it requires, is in fact the reason that the private sector, including venture capital, often shies away from it. It is also the reason why the State is the stakeholder that so often takes the lead, not only to fix markets, but to create them. [Page 167]

Keeping that story untold has allowed Apple to avoid “paying back” share of its profits to the same State. Apple incrementally incorporated in each new generation of products technologies that the state sowed, cultivated and ripened. [Page 168]

Mazzucato has then a very interesting analysis of Old and New Economy Business Model with Old being about stability, generosity, equity and New about volatility, mobility, and low commitments. Jobs are not equal even at Apple, from R&D where products are designed, to China where they are produced, or back to the USA where they are sold by Apple-owned stores; but worse the mobility and globalization has enabled tax evasion and optimization. Apple has a subsidiary in Nevada, Braeburn Capital to avoid income or capital gain taxes. Then is has subsidiaries in Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands and British Virgin Islands for low-tax advantages. Apple IP is owned by Irish subsidiaries, which receive royalties on Apple sales (!) and which ownership is co-owned by another Virgin Islands subsidiary, Baldwin Holdings… GE, Google, Oracle, Amazon and Intel are also famous for tax optimization and tax loss could be $60-80B for the US over a decade. [pages 168-175]

The ultimate purpose of putting tax dollars to use for the development of new technologies is to take on the risk that normally accompanies the pursuit of innovative complex products and systems required to achieve collective goals. [Page 176]

Mazzucato terminates this new chapter with “Where are Today’s Bell Labs?” “One of the reasons unveiled in a [recent MIT] study is the fact that large R&D centers – like bell Labs, Xerox PARC and Alcoa Research Lab – have become a thing of the past in big corporations. Long-term basic and applied research is not part of the strategy of Big Business anymore. What is not clear however is why and how this has changed over time. The wedge between private and social returns (arising from the spillovers of R&D) was just as true in the era of bell Labs as they are today. And what is missing most today is the private component of R&D working in real partnership with the public component, creating what I call later a less symbiotic ecosystem. It is crucial to understand not only how to build an effective innovation “ecosystem”, but also and perhaps especially, how to transform that ecosystem so that it is symbiotic rather than parasitic. [Page 179]

On one side, I see the success of former emerging countries such as Taiwan and Korea, but I was also in the country of the Concorde, TGV, Rafale and Nuclear Power Plants that France has been struggling in selling abroad.

And why is Tesla and Elon Musk such an (early) success if not money is available for disruptive green technologies…

Similarly why was (military and civil) nuclear fission such a success whereas civil nuclear fusion has not given any commercial output 50 years after the military use? I remember reading Richard Feynman about the Manhattan Project and the crazy (entrepreneurial) intensity of the project. Would entrepreneurship be missing at ITER? Innovation and entrepreneurship are very much related and still somehow a mystery.

Planned innovation is a very difficult challenge that Mazzucato is not pushing for and uncertainty remains. Just remember how artificial intelligence has been a disappointment for many decades not to say until now. I’d like to finish here with an interesting article form Newspaper Le Monde:

Innovation is not about planning.
LE MONDE | 30.09.2013 | By Armand Hatchuel.

On September 12, the French, Francois Hollande, and the Minister of productive recovery, Arnaud Montebourg, presented thirty-four “plans for reconquest” from “thermal renovation of buildings” to “the factory of the future” through the “airships for heavy loads”. This announcement was seen as the return of industrial policy planning, and aroused the usual criticism of public voluntarism.
The criticism is questionable because, in this case, it is not really about planning. The themes are primarily intended to stimulate innovation and new industries. However, numerous studies have shown that innovation policy – whether public or private – can only succeed if its design, control and evaluation is clearly away from a logic of planning (Philippe Lefebvre, researcher at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Paris : ” Organizing deliberate innovation in knowledge clusters : from accidental to purposeful brokering brokering processes” [Organiser l’innovation dans les écosystèmes : au-delà de l’émergence accidentelle, un pilotage des interactions créatrices], International Journal of Technology Management , Vol. 63 , No. 3/4, 2013).

A LARGE PART OF UNCERTAINTY
For what is a “plan”? In order to guide future action, one builds representations. We “plan” our vacation, which route to take and the loss of a few pounds. Still, while conceding uncertainties, a plan assumes that the goal, the means and the partners are sufficiently known. We may, at the limit, think that the means and partners will be selected “along the way”. But we must at least specify the goal. Agricultural policy, telecommunications policy and housing policy are built as plans which aim is clearly displayed: for example, a quantified production or equipment amount at a national level.
This is not the case anymore for a genuine innovation agenda. One must admit that the purpose is necessarily largely unknown. It is not possible anymore to specify in advance the paths and the most interesting results of the project.
Paradoxically, this does not prevent an innovative concept from mobilizing resources. Who would want a car “consuming less than two liters per 100 km”? But we must recognize that we do not know how this value will be transformed to in effecient technologies and products: will these be small city cars? Intelligent control systems? New types of vehicles and fuels? And we ignore if new businesses or new markets will emerge in the adventure.
History confirms thoroughly the surprising rationality of major innovation programs . In 1854, Austria launched the Semmering Pass competition for the design of the first locomotive for mountains. Many solutions were proposed, but none could succeed. However, the major beneficiaries of the innovations were Semmering … new locomotives in the plains!

OPENING NEW PATHS
Closer to us, neither Toyota nor Apple have ever launched projects to produce the Prius or iPhone. Their success came from their ability to pilot open innovation programs (” green car”, man-machine “magic” interfaces) and take advantage, before their competitors, of the disappointments or discoveries encountered. It is important to open very contrasting paths and pay attention to the crossings and learning that each causes.
For uncertainty does not paralyze action: it prevents its management according to the rigid codes of planning. In recent years, research has clarified the cognitive and collective mechanisms that restrict or enhance the exploration of the unknown. One better understands the control rules adapted to innovation, whether innovative design approaches (expansion of alternatives, conceptual hybridizations, exploration prototyping…) or the management of the various values that emerge (new skills, new markets, new usages…). In this respect, classical rationality is often misleading.
In the logic of the plan, there is the project distinct from its “benefits”. The success of the project is the goal, the benefits being recorded afterwards. This distinction does no longer exist in an innovation program. A “benefit” may be more important than the project itself. Driving innovation is to be prepared for the changing identity of the project and actively cause unexpected “impact”. The indeterminacy between “project” and “benefits” multiplies the sources of value and minimizes financial risks.
Beyond the economic rationality that is optimized in the known world, the rationality of innovation is reflected in the ability of project managers to regenerate solutions, markets and partnerships.
Faced with the challenge of industrial revival, the question is not whether the State should use planning. It is especially important to ensure that major projects launched will be conducted by the State and its industrial partners in the most rigorous approaches and more consistent with the expected intensity of innovation .

Harmand Hatchuel is a professor at Mines ParisTech

The Entrepreneurial State (part 3) – the State behind the iPhone

Mazzucato’s book is so important and interesting that it will take me many articles to cover it in a satisfying manner (to me at least).

Part 1 covers the Innovation dilemmas and crises. The “6 myths” she introduces are great.
Part 2 deals with the (forgotten or untold) role of the state in stimulating innovation through research. I had more disagreements with her on how far the State should act in the innovation ecosystem.
– In this part 3, I will focus on Chapter 5, about the role of the State in the iPhone technologies.
– Part 4 will deal with the chapters on Green technologies
– and I will need a part 5 to conclude and share thoughts.

Chapter 5 – the State behind the iPhone

Mazzucato shows here how “Apple concentrates its ingenuity not on developing new technologies and components, but on integrating them into an innovative architecture. […] Apple’s capabilities are mainly (a) recognizing emerging technologies with great potential, (b) apply complex engineering skills that successfully integrate recognized emerging technologies, and (c) maintain a clear corporate vision prioritizing design-oriented product development.” [Page 93]

Therefore “Apple received enormous direct and/or indirect government support derived from three major areas: (1) direct equity investment, (2) access to technologies, and (3) creation of tax or technology policies.” I mentioned already the first area and expressed my doubts. No objection and no discussion about the third area. I agree only partly with the second area: I have the feeling the access was through corporations, which themselves may have had access to government or academic research. Xerox PARC is the most famous examples, but Apple also acquired little-known start-ups which had developed products from such research. Mazzucato built her own “Origins of popular Apple products.”

Iphone Technologies origin

It is a very interesting drawing but I would have liked to see which “entity” developed the mentioned products. In some cases, it is a government related body, such as for the Internet for example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet) and in other cases it is a private entity funded initially with public money.

SIRI is an interesting example as it has some roots here at EPFL. The CALO program was funded by DARPA, but a start-up was launched with venture capital money in 2008, which was then acquired by Apple.

When it comes to displays, Mazzucato quotes Florida and Browdy and “The invention that got away” (1991) about the inability of private actors to build manufacturing capabilities. “The loss of this [TFT-LCD] display technology reveals fundamental weaknesses of the US high-technology system. Not only did our large corporations lack the vision and the persistence to turn the invention into a marketable product, but the venture capital financiers who made possible such high-technology industries as semiconductors and computers failed too.” The paper shows the higher efforts of the Japanese industry pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in the technology development. In my analysis of Stanford-related high-tech companies, I remember being stricken by the amount of funding of Candescent. On the Internet archive dated 1998, I could find the following:
“Candescent Technologies Corporation is a seven-year old company developing a revolutionary new flat panel display [which is] a dramatic improvement over the liquid-crystal displays. In 1991 Candescent formed a strategic alliance with Hewlett-Packard Company. As of May 1, 1998 Candescent had received more than $337 million in funding from investing strategic partners, venture capital firms, institutional investors, US Government-sponsored organizations, and capital equipment leasing firms.” In 2001, it had raised more than $600M with Compaq, Citicorp, Hewlett-Packard, J.P. Morgan, New Enterprise Associates, Sevin-Rosen, Sierra Venture Affiliates, and others. In June 2004, Candescent filed a Voluntary Reorganization case under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the San Jose Bankruptcy Court. In August 2004, Candescent sold substantially all of its assets, including its flat panel display intellectual property to Canon, Inc.”

Again, I do not have major disagreements with Mazzacuto but my experience with innovation is that it is a very uncertain activity and I am not sure it is due only to the lack of private sector support. In the end, neither Japan nor the USA won, but Korea with Samsung and LG.

I knew less about multi-touch screens and the interesting story of FingerWorks, which assets Apple bought when the company went bankrupt.
“The company’s products remained a high-end niche, and something of a curiosity, despite good press and industry awards. In early 2005, FingerWorks went through a rocky period, and stopped shipping new products. Outside reports indicated that they had been acquired by a major technology company. This company turned out to be Apple. In June 2005, FingerWorks officially announced they were no longer in business. The founders continued to file and process patents for their work through late 2007. And as of August 2008 they still filed patents for Apple, Inc.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FingerWorks)
Again Apple also worked with Corning to develop ultra-robust screens called the Gorilla Glass (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorilla_Glass).

On the microprocessor, I have two similar comments:
– Though there are many sources claimed for the microprocessor, it is often mentioned that Intel really launched the technology as a product and this came as an order from a Japanese company, not from public procurement.
– Much later, Apple bought P.A. Semi. which developed specialized microprocessors. Well even P.A. Semi. had strong links with the DoD so Mazzucato still has a strong point!

As an interesting comparison, the MIT technology review had a hacking session of the Apple I, iPhone and iPad, which shows the brilliance of integration. There were many computers and smart phones, but at Apple, there was the genius of Wozniak and others when Jobs came back – http://www.technologyreview.com/view/425238/classic-hacks-the-apple-i-computer-the-iphone-and-the-ipad-3g/

Iphone Technologies sketch

My reaction is that yes, many not to say most technologies have their roots with public entities, at least at the research stage, but the development is often concretized in small companies, with or without venture capital. Apple buys fewer VC-funded companies than Cisco’s A&D (Acquisition & Development) and clearly most big companies do not do much research. The challenge lies in the ability of translating research results into development, which many start-ups achieve. This is the Silicon Valley model.

I finish my notes on chapter 5 with Mazzacuto: “It is indisputable that most of Apple’s best technologies exist because of the prior collective and cumulative efforts driven by the State.” [Page 112]

The Entrepreneurial State: the important role of government in innovation (part 2)

As I said in The Entrepreneurial State: the important role of government in innovation (part 1), Mariana Mazzucato has written an important book even if I do not agree with all her arguments.

We agree on the issue of funding of technologies, inventions and innovations. It has been generally understood that the commercialization of products and their prior development is the responsibility of the private sector in a capitalist economy. The funding of research (at least basic research) is generally the mission of the state, but applied research (though I never really understood what this is) might be done by the State as well as by the private sector.

Let me open a short parenthesis here: I am not of big supporter of the concepts of basic and applied research, but I understand better other concepts from an early to later stage. Here they are:
Public-and-private-sector

Research has no known output a priori, except knowledge, whereas at a later stage the objectives are a little clearer. This being said, I am not fully comfortable about the arguments Mazzucato brings on the table when she says the State is doing a lot in innovation. But she clearly shows there is a grey zone between the 3 stages I have above. I belong (at least for now) to the group of people who believe it is the mission of the State to be active in the first two ones, and the private sector being in the third. Nothing forbids the private sector to go earlier and the public sector to be more active later, but it is seldom the case. Here are my notes on Chapters 3 and followings:

Chapter 3 – Risk-taking state : from « de-risking » to « bring it on ! »

During a visit of President Mitterand to Silicon Valley, Thomas Perkins which fund started Genentech extolled the virtues of the risk-taking investors who finance the entrepreneurs. Perkins was cut off by Stanford Professor and Nobel Prize Paul berg. He asked, “Where were you guys in the 50’s and 60’s when all the funding that had to be done in the basic science?” [Page 57]

Entrepreneurship, like growth, is one of the least-well understood topics in economics. According to Schumpeter, an entrepreneur is a person willing and able to convert a new idea or invention into a successful innovation (i.e. product, service or process). Entrepreneurship employs the “gale of creative destruction” to replace, in whole or in part, inferior innovations, simultaneously creating new products including new business models. Each major new technology leads to creative destruction. [Page 58]

[Again I need to react: where I fully agree with the Entrepreneurship and Innovation definitions, I am skeptical about the comment on technology: some major new technologies never destroyed anything because they were not commercially successful (artificial intelligence, speech recognition for example and there are many others). I would say major new successful innovations lead to creative destruction. This is important because as Mazzucato rightly says, there is no linear process for innovation and a lot of uncertainty too.]

Entrepreneurship is about risk and is highly uncertain. R&D investments that contribute to technological change not only take years to materialize into new products, but most products developed fail. Silicon Valley model tells a story of “freewheeling entrepreneurs and visionary venture capitalists and yet misses the crucial factor: the military’s role in creating and sustaining it. [Mazzucato shows the same issues in Pharma where the big players develop me-too drugs and let the State fund radical innovations in universities, as is shown in the anecdote above with Mitterand, Perkins and Berg.]

R&D-Funding

Again, I have some concerns with this decription. First in the image above, I would have liked to see the R vs. D and not only the fundamental R vs global R&D. Mazzucato is right in the funding of research, no doubt about it. I used such data for many years where the funding of research in universities by the industry is 4-7% whereas the federal funding is around 60%! You can look at Figures 1 and 2 below. But then, when it comes to innovation, I do not see where the State produced the biotech or IT industry. It made inventions available. You still needed the visionary entrepreneurs and investors as I told about in the Genentech case on my blog a few years ago [see Bob Swanson & Herbert Boyer: Genentech
and Robert Swanson, 1947-1999]

Federal-Private-Res-GEN
Figure 1: Federal and Industry funding of university research in the USA.

Federal-Private-Res-Stanford-MIT
Figure 2: Federal and Industry funding of research at Stanford University and MIT.

Chapter 4 – The US entrepreneurial state.

In this short chapter, Mazzucato shows through four examples how the US government fostered innovation. These are DARPA (the funding of American research by the military), SBIR (The Small Business Innovation Research), Orphan Drugs and Nanotechnologies.

On Darpa, “A series of small offices, staffed with leading scientists, are given considerable budget autonomy, … funding a mix of university-based researchers, start-ups, established firms and consortia… helping firms to get products to the stage of commercial viability”. [Page 78 ] Again the impact of DARPA in funding research is a no brainer. And Yes, I should be said. Mazzucato is right about too much silence on the role of the State. Check as a great reference Rebecca’s Lowen “Creating the Cold War University – the Transformation of Stanford”.

I am less convinced about the SBIR. “Government agencies designate a fraction of their research funding to support small, independent, for-profit firms.” Mazzucato claims Apple was funded with such a fund, Continental Illinois Venture Corp. but I checked Apple IPO document and CIVC was not at the origin of the company. Arthur Rock and Don Valentine convinced Markkula to help the two Steve and invested in January 1979. Even if CIVC invested that early, it was a minority and passive shareholder. Furthermore, CIVC was the VC arm of a bank, so not a purely State investment… She also quotes Lerner and Audretsch, leading professors as references. In a recent book (Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Pages 125-126), the same Lerner explains that the lack of flexibility of SBIR and ATP was detrimental (it had to be pre-commercial funding for ATP; start-ups had to be 51% owned by US citizens or residents, to the point that the presence of venture capital could exclude the firm from SBIR funding!) I have been struggling for years to find the real impact of SBIR and could never find convincing data of an important role. State direct role in VC funding has been a recurrent debate with unclear answers for years.

I do not know about orphan drugs, but I am skeptical about nanotechnologies. “Nanotechnology is very likely to be the next general purpose technology”. [Page 83] “It will be even more important than the computer revolution.” “Today it does not yet create a major economic impact because of the lack of commercialization of new technologies, due to the excessive investments made in research relative to the lack of investments in commercialization. […] This raises a question: if government has to do the research, fund major infrastructure investments and also undertake the commercialization effort, what exactly is the role of the private sector?” [Page 86]

Well again many things are unclear and somehow contradictory in the arguments. If nanotechnology was just another low hanging fruit thanks to the State investment, we should have already seen early results. The US initiative on Nanotech was launched in 2000. There has been a very visible start-ups such as Nanosys or A123 to a lesser extent. Next is Nanosys cap. table as of 2004. One can read the then and additional funding from private sources.

I am now reading chapter 5 and will come back on Mazzucato’s book in a part 3!

Nanosys

The Entrepreneurial State: the important role of government in innovation (part 1)

Mazzacuto’s Entrepreneurial State is I think an important book. The author claims we have been unfair with the role in innovation of government and the public sector in general, which has provided funds for most not to say all R&D (Pharma, IT, Space). I share the blame as I am a strong supporter of start-ups, venture capital, Silicon Valley being the ultimate model. And the idea that the State should just provide the basics (education, research, infrastructure) and let the private sector innovate may have been a big mistake (of mine included). I will not take the blame on the second argument as I always shared with the author the idea that tax breaks and tax evasion makes the judgment even more unfair. Finally, the private sector is very risk averse so that there is less innovation (not only venture capital but corporate R&D, compared to the past when corporate R&D labs at IBM, Bell or Xerox were big or when VCs really contributed to innovation in semiconductor, computers and biotech in the 60s and 70s)

9780857282521_hi-res_2

Let me now quote Mariana Mazzacuto following her book linearly. You can also listen to her when she gave a talk at TedX.

While innovation is not the State’s main role, illustrating its potential innovative and dynamic character – its historical ability, in some countries, to play an entrepreneurial role in society is perhaps the most effective way to defend its existence. (Page 1.)

Entrepreneurship is not (just) about start-ups, venture capital and “garage tinkerers”. It is about the willingness and ability of economic agents to take on risk and real Knightian* uncertainty, what is genuinely unknown. (Page 2.)
Note: *Knightian uncertainty relates to the “immeasurable“ risk, i.e. a risk that cannot be calculated.

Even during a boom most firms and banks (would) prefer to fund low-risk incremental innovations, waiting for the State to make its mark in more radical areas. (Page 7.) Examples are provided from the pharmaceutical industry – where the most revolutionary new drugs are produced mainly with public, not private funds. (Page 10.)

Apple must pay tax not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the epicenter of a company that requires the public purse to be large and risk-taking enough to continue making the investments that entrepreneurs like Jobs will later capitalize on. (Page 11) Precisely because State investments are uncertain, there is a high risk that they will fail. But when they are successful, it is naive and dangerous to allow all the rewards to be privatized. (Page 12)

Chapter 1 – (The Innovation Crisis)

The emphasis on the State as an entrepreneurial agent is not of course meant to deny the existence of private sector entrepreneurship activity, from the role of young new companies in providing the dynamism behind new sectors (e.g. Google) to the importance source of funding from private sources like venture capital. The key problem is that this is the only story that is usually told. (Page 20)

It is naive to expect venture capital to lead in the early and most risky stage of any new economic sector today** (such as clean technology). In biotechnology, nanotechnology and the Internet, venture capital arrived 15-20 years after the most important investments were made by public sector funds. (Page 23) The State has been behind most technological revolutions and periods of long-term growth. This is why an “entrepreneurial” state is needed to engage in risk taking and the creation of a new vision.
Note: ** Well maybe not in the 50s to the 70s, certainly in the last 10 years.

Big R&D labs have been closing and the R of the R&D spend has also been falling. A recent MIT study (1) claims that the current absence in the US of corporate labs like Xerox PARC (which produced the graphical user interface technology that led to both Apple’s and Windows’ operating systems) and Bell Labs – both highly co-financed by government agency budgets – is one of the reasons why the US innovation machine is under threat. (Page 24) Rodrik (2004) states that the problem is not in which types of tools (R&D, tax credits vs. subsidies) or which types of sectors to choose (steel vs. software), but how policy can foster self-discovery processes, which foster creativity and innovation – the need to foster exploration trial and error (and this is the core tenet of the “evolutionary theory of economic change” in chapter 2)
References
[1] MIT 2013. Innovation Economic Report, web.mit.edu/press/images/documents/pie-report.pdf‎
[2] Rodrik, 2004. Industrial Policy for the 21st century. CEPR Discussion Paper 4767

Chapter 2 – Technology, Innovation and Growth.

Progressive redistribution policies are fundamental, but they do not cause growth. Bringing together the lessons of Keynes and Schumpeter can make this happen. (Page 31) Solow discovered that 90 per cent of variation in economic output was not explained by capital and labor, he called the residual “technical change”. (Page 33)

An “evolutionary theory” explains this as a constant process of differentiation among firms, based on their ability to innovate. Selection does not always lead to “survival of the fittest” both due to the effects of increasing returns and also to the effects of policies. Selection dynamics in products markets and financial markets may be at odds.

Innovation is firm specific and highly uncertain. It is not the quantity of R&D, but how it is distributed throughout an economy. The old view that R&D can be modeled as a lottery where a certain amount will create a certain probability of successful innovation is criticized because in fact innovation would be an example of a true Knightian uncertainty, which cannot be modeled with a normal (or nay other) probability distribution. (Page 35 – the Black Swan again)

Systems of innovation are defined as the “network of institutions in the public and private sector whose activities and interactions initiate, import, modify and diffuse new technology”. (Equilibrium theory cannot work; rather than using incremental calculus from Newtonian physics, mathematics from biology are used, which can explicitly take into account heterogeneity, and the possibility of path dependency and multiple equilibria.) (Page 36) The perspective is neither micro nor macro, but meso. The causation between basic science, to large scale R&D, to applications to diffusing innovation is not linear, but full of feedback loops. One must be able to recognize serendipity and uncertainty that characterizes the innovation process. […] Using Japan as an example, “the contributions of the development state in Japan cannot be understood in abstraction from the growth of companies such as Toyota, Sony or Hitachi aside from the Japanese State’s public support for industry”. (Page 38)

Regional systems of innovation focus on the cultural geographical, and institutional proximity that creates and facilitate transactions between different socioeconomic actors, including local administrations, unions and family-owned companies… The State does this by rallying existing innovation networks or by facilitating the development of new ones that bring together a diverse group of stakeholders. But a rich system of innovation is not sufficient. The State must develop strategies for technological advance.

Mazzacuto finishes Chapter 2 with 6 myths about innovation I totally agree with!

Myth 1: Innovation is about R&D. “It is fundamental to identify the company-specific conditions that must be present to allow spending on R&D to positively affect growth.”

Myth 2: Small is Beautiful. “There is confusion between size and growth.” What is important is the “role of young high-growth firms. Many small firms are not high-growth. […] Most of the impact is from age.” “Targeting assistance to SMES through grants, soft loans and tax breaks will necessarily involve a high degree of waste. While this waste is a necessary gamble in the innovation process,” it should be targeted on high growth and not SMEs, i.e. support “young companies that have already demonstrated ambition”.

Myth 3: Venture Capital is Risk-Loving. “Risk capital is scarce in the seed stage; it is concentrated in areas of high-growth potential, low technological complexity and low capital intensity.” […] “The short-term bias is damaging to the scientific exploration process which requires longer-term horizon and tolerance to failure.” “Rewards to VC have been disproportional to risks taken”, but Mazzacuto also recognizes that “Venture capital has succeeded more in the US when it provided not only committed finance, but managerial expertise.” Finally “The progressive commercialization of science seems to be unproductive”.

Myth 4: Patents. “The rise in patents does not reflect a rise in innovation”. [I will not come back here on the topic, read again Against Intellectual Monopoly]

Myth 5: Europe’s problem is all about Commercialization. “If the US is better at innovation, it isn’t because university-industry links are better (they aren’t) or because US universities produce more spinouts (they don’t). It simply reflects more research being done in more institutions, which generate better technical skills in the workforce. US funding is split between research in universities and early stage technology development in firms. Europe has a weaker system of scientific research and weaker and less innovative companies.”

Myth 6: Business Requires Less Tax. “The R&D tax credit system does not hold firms accountable as whether they have conducted new innovation that would not otherwise have taken place, or simply pursued routine forms of product development.” “As Keynes emphasized, business investment is a function of the gut instinct of investors about future growth prospects.” This is impacted not by tax break, but by the quality of the science base, education, credit system and human capital. “It is important for innovation policy to resist the appeal of tax measures of different kinds”.

More will follow when I have read chapters 3 and followings. Now I need to share some of my concerns, first by quoting again:

“Entrepreneurship by the State can take on many forms. Four examples: DARPA, SBIR, the Orphan Drug Act, Nanotechnology. (…) Apple is far from the “market” example it is often used to depict. It is a company that not only received early stage finance from the government (through the SBIC program) but also “ingeniously” made use of publicly funded technology*** to create “smart” products.” (Pages 10-11)
Note: *** Internet, GPS, Touch screen, Siri.

“Many of the most innovative young companies in the US were funded not by private venture capital but by public venture capital, such as that provided by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.” (Page 20)

My concerns are that
– research is not innovation & the transfer is where entrepreneurship occurs so that investing in research is not innovating or even being entrepreneurial. This is at least my experience in the field.
– SBIR real impact unclear
– Green and nano-tech impact also unclear
But I have not finished reading yet…