MIT Day 4
Walked out at 7am this morning into a blizzard, which is par for the course this time of year in this part of the world.
Fortunately, the Cambridge Innovation Centre, which we visited this morning was only a short walk away.
Whilst people may have an image of high technology incubators, they would have been surprised by this building which was essentially serviced offices, albeit in the heart of one of the most innovative parts of the World.
Appearances can be deceiving, because this nondescript building houses over 175 firms and, since inception, the resident firms have raised over $825M in venture capital since 2001. It is also a private sector business that gets no subsidy whatsoever.
The main lesson is that Boston has a highly developed and sophisticated support system for innovative firms which is largely non-existent in the majority of European regions such as Wales.
It also has, on its doorstep, one of the greatest universities in the world – MIT – where starting a business is second nature for the thousands of bright students attending.
What are the lessons for Wales from all of this?
First of all, there needs to be a better pipeline of ideas from the university sector than currently exists. The current system of enterprise education is, frankly, inefficient and ineffectual, and we need a Rolls Royce programme – like the EDP I am currently attending - to help get the best ideas out of Welsh higher education every year.
Secondly, we need better access to venture capital (and I don’t mean Finance Wales) to fund these new businesses properly. If this means creating a virtual showcase for getting the best of European and US venture capital to Wales, then let’s get on with it.
Thirdly, there needs to be a stronger infrastructure in supporting these businesses, from experienced mentors to intellectual property specialists. Of course, this is an integral part of the MIT environment after 30 years of starting successful businesses. Nevertheless, we do need to gain access to a range of different services and again, this could initially be done virtually.
Ironically, in the techniums we have a physical incubator space that is vastly superior to what is going on here in MIT.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the companies because the cash and support they need to succeed is missing.
That is the challenge currently faced by Wales if it is really serious about developing a knowledge-based economy.