Issue Date: June 6, 2011
Challenging Times Require Fresh Approaches To Job Creation
During my presidential succession, I have focused on one overarching theme—to ensure that aspiring chemists and seasoned professionals in the U.S. have the skill sets, resources, and external environment to build and sustain a robust workforce in the U.S. Given the historic levels of job loss in our enterprise over the past few years, including thousands of R&D jobs for chemists, I felt this was one of my most important priorities.
I appointed a task force charged with providing recommendations for how the American Chemical Society can play a vital role in helping the chemical enterprise in the U.S. remain the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the world. This Task Force on Innovation was headed by Harvard University chemistry professor and entrepreneur George M. Whitesides and consisted of eminent individuals from industry, academia, and government, all with experience in entrepreneurship. The members were Henry Chesbrough, University of California, Berkeley; Pat N. Confalone, DuPont; Robert H. Grubbs, California Institute of Technology; Charles T. Kresge, Dow Chemical; Chad A. Mirkin, Northwestern University; Michael Lefenfeld, SiGNa Chemistry; Timothy M. Swager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Kathleen M. Schulz, Business Results Inc.
The task force outlined the current landscape of innovation in chemistry; defined barriers and opportunities for stimulating innovation; and recommended specific new programs that ACS could implement to help chemists become innovators and entrepreneurs and thus create new, high-paying sustainable jobs in the U.S. and stem further job losses. The report will soon be available on the Web and in print to policymakers and ACS members.
The task force noted that the nature of innovation is changing. Over the past 15 years, the process of transforming ideas into marketable innovations within the chemical enterprise has undergone dramatic change. Innovation that disrupts existing competitive markets and creates new customers has slowed. Large companies—traditionally the main sources of disruptive innovation—are instead increasingly focused on innovation that sustains existing products in order to leverage their brands, distribution, and sales channels. And when new proprietary, high-margin products are developed and launched, the products are finding a shorter market life due to intellectual property theft as well as rapid deployment of competitive technologies globally.
Nevertheless, large companies want to rebuild proprietary positions in high-margin products. They may not be innovating fast enough to compete globally, however, and they now appear to be turning to others to develop innovative products. The source of that innovation could be universities and/or start-ups. The task force found no intrinsic reason why chemistry start-ups could not be commercially successful and, in fact, documented numerous such enter prises.
In light of these trends, the task force made recommendations that fall into four major categories.
First, it recommended that ACS develop a single organizational unit—a “technological farmers market.” ACS is already doing much to help entrepreneurs, and these activities will continue. The new unit is envisioned as a one-stop virtual portal, supporting entrepreneurs by facilitating more affordable access to resources that would foster the creation of small companies from start-ups. Relevant resources might include information about how to start a company, management expertise, links to key services, and a list of potential mentors. The unit could also support entrepreneurs by making introductions to sources of capital and fostering partnerships with large companies. I am pleased to report that ACS staff and several ACS governance units are already exploring how this one-stop portal can be implemented.
Second, the task force recommended that ACS increase its advocacy of policies at the federal and state level to improve the business environment for entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The task force suggested that ACS urge and support reforms within the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to ensure more accurate patents and faster issuance. Incidentally, ACS has suggested to PTO that the society’s talented unemployed members might be of assistance to patent examiners.
The task force also outlined a number of financial policies that could encourage large companies to partner with small ones to promote entrepreneurship. These include preferential tax treatment for repatriated income invested in U.S.-based developers of technology and making the R&D tax credit simpler and permanent.
Third, the task force urged ACS to partner more vigorously with academic institutions and other relevant organizations to promote awareness of career pathways and educational opportunities that involve entrepreneurship. The task force had several interesting suggestions that will be pursued by staff and governance units.
Finally, the task force determined that ACS should increase public awareness of the value of early-stage entrepreneurship in the chemical enterprise with focused media coverage and information targeted to federal agencies that support chemistry. In addition, ACS should provide ways to recognize entrepreneurs publicly in order to increase their visibility and enhance their opportunities for success.
It is my firm belief that the American Chemical Society, with the task force recommendations, is now better positioned to help stimulate entrepreneurial activities across the chemical enterprise and spark the creativity and imagination of our country’s chemical practitioners—and thereby create quality jobs in the U.S.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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