Capital Ideas

Good news, bad news: While patents reflect the impact of scientific discovery on the marketplace, INVENTIOn alone won’t guarantee the growth of an innovation-based economy.

 As one of the state’s roaming innovation evangelists, I’m in the position of preaching about a Florida economy of the future supported by three pillars: people, ideas and capital.
Innovative economies thrive where high performance on these pillars occurs in equal measure. Here in Florida’s Super Region, there is no lack of companies and organizations that are realizing the value of this trilogy in advancing tomorrow’s innovation economy.
While a prime example of an idea (research) “realized” came back in 1965, when a University of Florida scientist helped improve the athletic performance of the football team (and thus invented Gatorade), there are other life-changing inventions emerging from research institutions every day. And the proof is in the patents.
In 2011 alone, 294 patents were awarded to 13 universities conducting research in Florida, with the universities in Florida’s High Tech Corridor specifically garnering further recognition for their patenting power. In 2012, IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) named the University of Central Florida one of the top 20 universities for powerful patents, and the Intellectual Property Owners Association ranked the University of South Florida 10th among all universities worldwide for the number of patents filed. In 2011, the University of Florida ranked 10th in the number of U.S. patents issued.
As just one measure of innovation, patents tell a story of how scientific discovery influences the marketplace and inspires further breakthroughs. But ideas alone won’t guarantee the growth of an innovation-based economy. That requires investment—in both talent and funding—to take those ideas from concepts to marketable products.
As it stands, Florida’s investment in talent doesn’t measure up to that of other states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina and Washington, all of which are aggressively competing with us for everything from biotech and energy to digital media, simulation and aerospace business. Those states have committed to investing heavily in advanced degree-holders who are driving research at highly ranked universities and educating the next generation of scientists and engineers. Not only is the average student-faculty ratio at Florida universities double that of other states, but we also only employ two people per  1,000  who are conducting research, which is near the bottom rung of U.S. states, where the standard is five. Florida is fourth in population and Gross State Product, yet 15th in research. As Florida Trend Editor Mark Howard wrote in his June editorial, “In terms of scientific and technical punching power, Florida is a Mike Tyson-sized contender who hits like Pee-wee Herman.”
Florida’s investment of capital isn’t at the level it needs to be, either. When comparing our share of the top five southern states’ venture funding today, we capture only half the amount generated from 1995-1999. We dropped from 20 percent to 9.4 percent of the total by 2010-2012. Likewise, the amount of Florida seed funding decreased from 14 percent to 7.5 percent. New seed funding will create more Florida companies attractive to investors, based on Florida research. In turn, they will hire Floridians, many with advanced degrees from our state universities. Seed funding becomes the cornerstone of a three-pronged strategy to thrive!
Our state needs a bold commitment to innovation, and it starts with investing in ideas, people and capital. That’s the key to the future knowledge-based economy that will benefit Floridians for generations to come.