Innovation Economy: Making the invisible visible
Over the course of our history, America has experienced three major economic eras — agrarian, industrial and innovation.
Prosperity and opportunity in the first two eras was highly visible and plain to any observer. The third and current era, however, can be invisible to those who are not connected to it. And that invisibility is crippling the economic prospects for Black America.
Here’s what I mean:
Agrarian Economy: From the early days of the colonies, in what is now the U.S., to the first part of the 19th century, we were an Agrarian Economy, which relied on farming.
Industrial Economy: Beginning in the early 19th century, the Agrarian Economy gave way to the Industrial Economy, which is described as the widespread creation of new industries in the country, and more generally to the radical transformation of the economy from farming to manufacturing.
Innovation Economy: Our current economic era, which began in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, is marked by radical socioeconomic changes brought about by the globalization of commerce, democratization of information, exponential growth of entrepreneurship and acceleration of new knowledge creation.
Visible Economy (to everyone)
In the Agrarian Economy, prosperity in the form of successful crop-raising, production and sales were easy to see and visible to everyone.
Prosperity in the Industrial Economy was also easy to grasp, as the country watched men and later women (and unfortunately, children) march daily into the manufacturing facilities of America. Moreover, further visible evidence of economic prosperity were the enormous smokestacks that dotted the skylines of the nation’s heavy manufacturing cities, especially those in the Midwest to points east.
Invisible Economy (to those disconnected)
“What’s going on in that large shiny building across the street from me?”
Today, the Innovation Economy is not plainly visible. Regional innovation ecosystems comprised of critical elements such as research, commercialization and technology transfer activities and private equity investments — in the forms of angel networks, seed funds and venture capital — are not visible to anyone disconnected from it.
There are no crops to see; there are Petri dishes, beakers and volumetric flasks.
There are no hard hats, cranes and construction boots to see; there are scrubs, lab coats (or T-shirts and jeans for Internet innovators) and very comfortable shoes.
There are no smokestacks and acid rain to see; there are seemingly quiet buildings that are generally (sometimes even artistically and architecturally) pleasing to the eyes; and the disconnected have no idea what goes on inside.
Making the Innovation Economy visible
The BICI’s goal is to connect Black America to the Innovation Economy. However, before we can connect, it must be brought to light and made visible for us to see.
Our nation’s innovation assets are disproportionately located in urban areas – where the disproportionate part of Black America lives.
Every day Black Americans awaken literally and figuratively next door to the very economic assets that will lead America’s quest to – as President Obama says – win the future. We walk by these assets daily, never quite noticing enough to even ask, “What’s going on in that large shiny building across the street from me?”
It’s time we start asking the right questions, getting right answers and talking about the right things. That’s how we will make the invisible, visible — our first step toward connecting to the Innovation Economy.
Johnathan Holifield, Trim Tabber