economic development

Venture groups: Sustained investment needed in Knowledge District

Posted 3/13/12

PROVIDENCE – Leaders from three prominent nonprofit technology venture groups said Tuesday that Rhode Island is well-positioned to expand its creative economy with sustained investments from the government, research institutions and businesses.

The three organizations – Cleveland Clinic Innovation in Ohio, Innovation Works in Pittsburgh and University City Science Center in Philadelphia – have all leveraged public money to become major investors and business incubators in their regions. They spoke at a Knowledge District panel discussion with Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee.

“State money fills in a very important gap between private funds,” said Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations. “The [public] support has made a difference.”

But while public investment is important, the three panelists also said it must be aligned with the private sector as much as possible.

“I think it is the private sector that needs to lead these efforts,” said Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works in Pittsburgh, who applauded the efforts of Providence startup-incubator Betaspring.

When asked by Butler Hospital Medical Director Dr. Steven A. Rasmussen what Providence leaders should ask of new Brown University President Christina Hull Paxson, all three panelists said she should foster an entrepreneurial spirit at the school.

“Both of the universities we work with, they established an entrepreneurial culture from the top down,” Lunak said, citing allowing professors to start companies and recruiting outstanding talents in targeted fields to create “centers of excellence.”

Of Providence’s strengths, Jeanne Mell, vice president of marketing and communications for the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, said the fledgling Knowledge District has a great concentration of technology resources.

“You are in a good spot,” Mell said. “A lot of our incubators [at the Science Center research park] are there for proximity to the universities.”

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