Thursday, August 13, 2009

Impressive Gathering of Leaders Cite Bay Area as Innovation Leader at SF Business Times Summit

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi - image retrieved here.

Mayor Gavin Newsom - image retrieved here.

Gathering at the UCSF’s newest campus at Mission Bay, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, SF Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sean Randolph, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, Dale Bonner, California’s Secretary for Business, Transportation and Housing, John Kao, author of ‘Innovation Nation’ and ‘Jamming – The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity’ and a host of others discussed why the Bay Area was a leader in the world of innovation and would continue to be so in green tech, biotech, digitech, environmental stewardship, and high tech creativity.

Tom Stiers, of Farollon Partners gave opening remarks and cited the Bay Area’s willingness to embrace change as a significant contributor to our being innovation leaders.

Speaker Pelosi praised San Francisco’s leadership in providing universal healthcare, passing green building laws, and embracing diversity. She called the City a model for the rest of the country, and gave Mayor Newsom credit for making these things happen, calling him a ‘global leader on climate and energy matters’. Pelosi said she was happy to see science take its rightful place as one of the most important areas for the Federal Government to focus its resources. She also recounted the billions of dollars that the Stimulus Recovery Act will provide, much of it going to scientific endeavors. She also expects the Recovery Act funds will help ‘unleash the private sector to innovate in clean energy technologies’. Pelosi finished her remarks by citing the current healthcare debate and calling for innovative thinking as Congress and the President try to bring expanded healthcare access to all Americans while preserving everyone’s right to choose their healthcare providers. She said the “insurance companies must be taken out of the driver’s seat in this healthcare debate, and that insurance coverage should go with the individual, not with the job. She called for a cap on costs but no cap on benefits. Pelosi said she is looking to the biotech and other high-tech companies of the Bay Area to come up with the innovations and processes to reduce medical costs, and improve Americans’ overall health. She cited the recent improvements in genome mapping as a terrific example of doing both.

Mayor Newsom talked about the effort his predecessor (Mayor Willie Brown) and he went through to turn Mission Bay into the high-tech center that it is today, beginning with getting UCSF to open an extension there, and then to win the right to locate the state’s Stem Cell Research Center there. There were the ‘four Ps’ that made Mission Bay a success: changing the perception, creating adequate parking, expediting the permit process, and creating a graduated payroll tax exemption for bio-tech firms. Newsom praised Rep. Pelosi was helping to bring much-needed Federal funding to the City and the Bay Area to help clean up land for redevelopment.

Author John Kao said the country needs a ‘national innovation agenda’ and suggested it should be modeled after what the country did in the late 1950’s when the Soviet Union launched sputnik thus galvanizing the U.S. into beefing up its space and science education programs. He said it would need to be based on three things: realizing we are in a global competitive environment, sharpening our creativity to focus on new ideas with a desired outcome in mind (‘user-centered design format’), rather than basic research, and, thirdly, to create ‘innovation clusters’ such as was employed in the Manhattan Project or the Apollo project to create an environment that is self-enriching. He cautioned that all countries, not just a few, can win in the ‘innovation race’.

Dale Bonner, Secretary of Business, Transportation, and Housing for the State of California, stated that his $20 billion agency was really focused on ‘quality of life’ issues in the state. He said the state is leveraging its resources as much as possible to get infrastructure projects kick-started and to portray the state in a positive light abroad. He said the state is moving forward to create certified ‘innovation zones’ for companies which will offer high impact/low cost solutions to help grow companies and their # of employees. He said his challenge is getting the general public to understand and support the need to invest tax monies into scientific innovation, especially when there are so many other immediate social welfare needs in the state.

Regis Kelly, the head of QB3, a consortium of three universities that connects the private sector to life science studies at UCB, UC Santa Cruz, and UCSF, said Mission Bay has succeeded because it identified its competitive advantages, had strong political support, and created the necessary public/private consortia to get things done. QB3 has kick-started 10 companies and is looking to establish an Innovation Zone Investment Fund in the near future to provide stable longer-term funding for biotech startups. He predicted the ‘hot’ areas of future biotech research: deep DNA sequencing, biofuels/biomaterials, and early disease diagnosis/detection techniques.

Michael Cohen, the Mayor’s Director for Economic and Workforce Development, stated that ‘Burning Man’ may have saved San Francisco’s economy because our current biotech industry grew out of a ‘yeasty environment’ which was the result of San Francisco’s having a rich diversity, a history of having fun (‘Summer of Love’), and being an interesting, and edgy place to be. Cohen also announced that the city would be establishing a United Nations Global Compact Center at the Hunter’s Point shipyard Parcel C as part of a planned 2.5 million sq. ft green technology campus.

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