Why Centers of Innovation Matter
Masdar City Development Full length [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gapNu7D7xU]
I'm watching the development of Masdar City with great interest. This booming scientific community, just outside of the U.A.E. capital of Abu Dhabi, is on its way to becoming another global innovation hub.
What's different about Masdar's innovation story is that it has occurred pretty much overnight. I exaggerate, of course, but not too long ago this hub was a vast stretch of desert. Now it's an ecologically friendly community where alternative energy is at the top of the innovation list. That's quite remarkable given the Gulf's history of providing the world with oil and natural gas. It goes to show you that being successful in one sector doesn't limit you from creating market-moving changes in another.
There's been a cordial debate for the better part of a decade as to what are the ingredients of a successful technology and innovation hub. One side says it's about "nature": These hubs evolve organically over time. Others say it's more about "nurture." With the right planning, vision, location, and funding, anyone can create a world-class hub.
Masdar City definitely falls into the second category. Its success makes a compelling case that innovation hubs can be the creations of joint government and business efforts. But where Masdar differentiates itself from other government initiatives is that it's dedicated to commercially viable enterprises. If these renewable, clean energy innovations and their start-up companies can't make a market for themselves, they're not coddled by a government agency. It's sink or swim.
It helps that Masdar is focused primarily on one industry. You hear a lot about focus in the realm of operations management these days, especially as it pertains to achieving a track record of innovation. Focus on the two or three pursuits that are likely to bring you results. That's important when you consider how private equity firms are more careful with the kinds of companies they're investing in, post-global economic crisis. They're aware of the heightened degree of accountability they must have with their investors.
As such, the innovation journey is more data-driven than ever. Granted, some of the process must be (as a general rule) messy and unpredictable - the sorts of things that a team learns over time. But there's nothing preventing smart entrepreneurs from using all the data at their disposal to make their moves more efficient and more effective. Conserving capital means there will be more of it to go around should your innovation succeeds its initial test phases.
Whether it's an oil-rich nation's laboratories that develop alternative energies for the next century or a graduate student who comes up with new methods of digital communication, entrepreneurs no longer make their innovations in a bubble. They know that beyond seed funding comes the most important test of all: impressing the ever-growing numbers of digitally savvy consumers around the world.
No innovation journey succeeds without accommodating the fact that mobile computing is now the largest platform for technology. There are 10 billion units on the planet and growing every day. And we're not just talking smartphones. Any portable way people can access the Internet - through wearables and connected automobiles, for instance - is up for grabs.
There are several opportunities for enterprises to tap into the growing desire for mobility - and the resulting need to power that phenomenon. The Internet of Things will ensure that everywhere we go and whatever we're doing will involve even partly being connected to the rest of humanity. Innovation journeys that leverage the mobile vision, no matter where their entrepreneurs begin, will be the most formidable forces of change in the society of tomorrow.
That's why, for example, we're already seeing entrepreneurs and scientists who once only thought about fossil fuels now developing renewable energies on the Arabian Peninsula.