Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

How to Build a Global Center of Innovation Excellence in Salzburg, Austria

Pascal Levensohn Salzburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (c) Blowup Salzburg / Fachhochschule Salzburg

I recently joined the Advisory Board to Gerhard Blechinger, the Rector of the FachHochschule Salzburg, (the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences) and became a guest lecturer on Entrepreneurship at the University.  My inaugural keynote lecture focused on the challenges and opportunities for Salzburg to become a global center of innovation excellence.  To succeed in this ambitious initiative, the academic, business, and entrepreneur communities will need to collaborate closely.  In my view this commitment to collaborate is in place. I also believe that the greatest challenge for the region will be overcoming cultural biases that punish risk-taking and are intolerant of failure in the process of building new companies…

Below are selections from my formal remarks:

“… While many countries have accelerated their national research and development investments and funded national venture capital ecosystem development programs, there is still no proxy for the scale that has been achieved in the US, particularly in Silicon Valley itself.

The challenge that many regions face in seeking to become innovation centers of excellence can be summed up in one sentence:

Good ideas are generated from all corners of the earth, but few regions offer a complete and cost-effective ecosystem to develop these good ideas into great companies.

Why is this the case?

Silicon Valley has proven its fertility in giving birth to world changing technologies over many decades; its inspiration to the entire world has grown exponentially over the past 20 years because the Internet has empowered millions of previously unconnected individuals to collaborate, enabling information about anything to be shared globally and discussed in real time through audio and video conferencing on an unprecedented scale and at extremely low cost.

But it is not enough to simply have technology tools and risk capital in hand to build a sustainable innovation ecosystem.

For Salzburg to succeed as an innovation hub, it is essential for local private sector business leaders to make a long-term, active, and visible commitment to be active partners in this process.

How can Fachhochshule Salzburg act to further catalyze and contribute to a complete and cost-effective ecosystem for innovation?

How can the Salzburg community come together to nurture ideas into startups and see these startups grow into globally relevant companies?

How can we transform the Salzburg region’s traditional rural economy into a knowledge based, innovative business community?

First, we need to differentiate between whether Salzburg should prioritize the funding of entrepreneurs who are pursuing breakthrough innovation as opposed to incremental innovation. Pursuing breakthrough innovation can lead an emerging company to global scale more quickly, whereas incremental innovation leaves a resource-constrained startup vulnerable to both entrenched and emerging competition, especially in a regional innovation center.

Many entrepreneurs confuse what may be an exciting idea that is only a feature with a truly innovative concept that can become a standalone company. For example, today, designing a smartphone App that alerts you when you have lost your car keys isn’t a viable standalone company; today, a service-based local software solution to manage ecommerce for brick and mortar companies, even if it is profitable, is not an interesting technology investment.

In contrast, consider a patented, proprietary software platform that verifies whether goods are authentic or counterfeit. When that solution combines low-cost, unique labels that are a fraction of the cost of all other solutions, and uses an App on your smartphone to interact with your customers in a manner that has previously been considered impossible, that is an example of an innovative company. Not only does that company exist, it is Salzburg’s own Authentic Vision—and you will hear more from co-founder Thomas Weiss later this evening when he tells you about his journey as a Salzburg entrepreneur.

… Because of Silicon Valley’s large private risk capital pools and attractive startup ecosystem, many startups based on incremental innovation have flourished, but the long-term survivors, now industry leaders, remain few in number—this is a widespread reality in the world of technology: think of the semiconductor industry’s implosion since the 1980’s; the browser, search engine, and ecommerce wars of the late ‘90’s; and the social media wars of the 2000’s—giants have emerged, but many more players have fallen on the battlefield. Let’s not forget that Microsoft had a huge monopoly in operating systems in the 90’s. Apple’s iOS & Google’s Android emerged, challenged, and overtook operating system dominance in the space of a few short years.

In America, Silicon Valley’s cycles of creative destruction and renewal continuously spawn many new challengers– by funding multiple startups that compete relentlessly until they reach dominant self-sustainability, acquisition by a competitor, or bankruptcy. This has not occurred without excess and without some years recording staggering losses.

But the fundamental concept that entrepreneurs have the freedom to fail, and that, if they are worthy, the resources are out there to support them to try again, is at the core of the culture of entrepreneurial success that defines Silicon Valley.

Ideally, innovative startups should be built on ideas that face little or no competition—and this is one of Peter Thiel’s key messages to entrepreneurs who want their startups to be “born global”. Peter Thiel was born in Germany, co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and is one of the most successful venture investors in the world through his Founders Fund. He published the book Zero to One in 2014 . In this book Thiel urges entrepreneurs to pursue only breakthrough innovation: “don’t compete, truly innovate—competition sucks your profits away—find a way to have a monopoly.”

Thiel’s core thesis to get from zero to one is all about breaking through and doing something really new, and he encourages starting on a small scale: “Start small and monopolize.Once you create and dominate a niche market, then you should gradually expand into related and slightly broader markets.”

With this in mind, and of direct relevance to Salzburg’s entrepreneurial initiative, I will now point out several of the most important elements for establishing a successful center for global excellence in innovation and assess their viability in Salzburg:

Defining a Global Center

To be more than moderately successful today, any startup’s potential must be considered on a global scale from its inception. This means that all entrepreneurs must be aware of competing global technologies and try not to step directly in their paths— I have visited entrepreneurs from Finland to Shanghai to Santiago who are simply not doing the work required to be aware of the best in class technologies, of their competitors at other startups, and they don’t really know how to find out what is happening in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Special

In closing, I would like to highlight how we believe that Salzburg can be transformed into a vibrant global center of innovation excellence. Salzburg is blessed with several key elements that are necessary preconditions for a global innovation center of excellence to emerge …

I do see challenges with respect to overcoming some of the cultural barriers to an entrepreneurial culture—specifically in developing and nurturing a cultural understanding and tolerance for entrepreneurial failure. But at the same time I am convinced that there is a real opportunity for global collaboration, supported in partnership with leading international corporations from the Salzburg business community, that can attract the best and the brightest entrepreneurs to FH Salzburg.”

Salzburg Advantages

New Book by Professor Mannie Manhong Liu and Pascal Levensohn– Venture Capital: Theory and Practice, published by the University of International Business and Economics Press, Beijing

I never expected to have my first book published in China, much less in Mandarin, but that goes to show how much the world continues to change.  My contributions to this undergraduate textbook, Venture Capital: Theory & Practice, are the result of two important collaborations.  First, the body of collaborative work on corporate governance best practices that I have developed since 1999 with other venture capitalists and professional service providers to the venture industry; and, second, the direct collaboration on venture capital that resulted from meeting Professor Mannie Manhong Liu in the summer of 2007 at the  Symposium on Building the Financial System of the 21st Century between China and the US, sponsored by the Harvard Law School together with the CDRF (China Development Research Foundation) and PIFS (the Program on International Financial Systems).

Venture Capital started in China in 1985, when the first government-sponsored venture capital firm was established. The industry built slowly until a few years into the new century. In 2006, China’s total venture capital investment reached $1.78 B, becoming number two globally, next to the US; the US venture capital investment was $25.6B that year, accounting for 67.9% of the world total ($37.7b).  While China was far behind, accounting for about 4.7% of the total, nevertheless, China became number two and has kept that status ever since.

Venture Capital is a popular buzzword in China. Renmin University was among the first universities to create a venture capital major in the School of Finance and teach venture capital for undergraduates.  In recent years, many universities have followed, teaching venture capital as an elective course. In October 2010, our new textbook will become available.

Mannie and I share a strong interest in research in the field of venture capital and private equity. Mannie was working for Professor Josh Lerner at Harvard Business School before she returned to China to teach these subjects. The backbone for my contribution to our effort is the best practices work “for practitioners by practitioners” that I have developed in the area of venture capital through the multiple articles and three white papers that I’ve written.

Mannie was invited by a publisher in Beijing to write a textbook for undergraduate students in China; she in turn invited me to join her as the book’s co-author. Writing the book was a very intensive task, and both of us have worked on it for many months, with Mannie and her team translating my work and both of us discussing the context of the content for the Chinese audience.

Venture Capital: Theory and Practice, is in Chinese and is categorized as one of  “China’s National College Major Investment Textbook Series for the ‘Twelfth Five-Year Plan.’” The book has three parts and a total of 12 chapters. The Theory includes chapters on the venture capital concept, entrepreneurship, and a simple history; The Practice covers fundraising, business plan construction and analysis, investment due diligence, post investment monitoring and exit; and The Future emphasizes early stage investment, especially angel investment, as well as Cleantech VCs and socially responsible investment.  In the last chapter, Venture Capital in China, we explore the amazing development of China’s unique venture capital industry.

This textbook combines the strength of my Silicon Valley experiences as a venture capitalist and Mannie’s research as a professor, and it will help strengthen Chinese college-education programs in this particular field.  The book draws on and acknowledges important contributions from the members of the Working Group on Director Accountability and other experts in the field of venture capital.  I’ve donated all of my royalties from the book to the Society of Kauffman Fellows, which reported on the publication of this book in their July report.

Update on America’s Slipping Global Competitiveness– Implications for Intellectual Property Development of Senate Bill 515

ot_logoThis morning I gave the keynote speech at the ICAP Ocean Tomo IP auction in San Francisco.  My remarks explained the relationship between the long-term decline in America’s global competitiveness, the impact of the capital markets crisis on new investment in research and development, and specifically addressed Senate Bill 515, the pending U.S. legislation that will transform the U.S. patent system and broadly impact intellectual property rights in our country.  Some excerpts follow, and you can download the entire speech and slides by clicking at the bottom of this post:

“The absence of cohesion in American public policy can be seen in many areas—with cybersecurity coming immediately to mind.  Mike McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, recently wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post on why the U.S. is losing the cyber war, commenting that “The problem is not one of resources; even in our current fiscal straits, we can afford to upgrade our defenses. The problem is that we lack a cohesive strategy to meet this challenge.

This lack of cohesiveness comes from short-term thinking that has become prevalent in many aspects of American society.   The notion that “posterity doesn’t matter” has unfortunately taken root in our country, and this has led to fragmented approaches to public policy solutions across the board, corroded leadership among our elected representatives, and contributed to an entitlement culture and a lack of accountability that permeate much of American society.”

“The key obstacle to moving [patent] reform forward continues to be disagreement between several large high-tech companies, namely the group of Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Intel, on the one hand, and life sciences organizations such as PhRma, BIO, MDMA, AdvaMed, Universities, several union groups, the NVCA, and others, on the other hand, over the idea of creating a new post-grant review procedure within the PTO and over the proposal on apportionment of damages in infringement cases.

As we consider the broad implications of this polarizing issue, we must first step back and remember that inventors and investors devote time, energy and risk capital to innovate new products and technologies.  Since the drafting of our country’s Constitution and even well prior to the establishment of the United States, it was understood that the greater good was served with a patent system that encourages this type of risk taking by protecting inventions resulting from innovation.  It is also understood, though in our country it appears to have been forgotten, that innovation, and job creation, come not just from large, well-funded enterprises, but in large part result from the efforts of small companies and individuals laboring to make a better mouse trap.

The core principles underlying the patent system have not changed.  We need to encourage and reward those that take risk to innovate new products, services and technologies.  Unfortunately, the patent system that served us so well for so long is under assault.  The cost of filing patents has increased dramatically.  The cost of enforcing patents has gone through the roof.  Injunctions have been taken away except for cases of head-to-head competition in the patented item.  Patents are now easier to invalidate after-the-fact.  A patent holder can no longer offer his/her patents for license without putting himself/herself at risk of litigation that he/she may not be able to afford.  Innovation involving patents has become a rich-man’s game, with an increasingly uncertain chance of return.

At a high level, we need to understand that anything that changes our patent system creates winners and losers.  In general, changes that weaken the patent system hurt inventors and innovators, while benefiting large companies with established market positions (e.g., monopolists) and low cost producers (e.g., offshore companies with lower labor costs, fixed currencies and weaker environmental standards).

Some argue for changes in the patent system based on a claim that non-practicing entities, often pejoratively called trolls, have too much power.  Some extraordinary examples, such as NTP seeking an injunction that would shut down Congress’ use of Blackberrys and some high dollar jury awards and settlements, have been cited by some as sufficient reason to argue for a radical restructuring of the way that patents are filed, challenged and enforced in court.

We need balance in this process, as changes may have the unintended affect of hurting those that we need now more than ever – inventors, entrepreneurs and investors that will innovate and create jobs here in the U.S.”

For a full transcript of the speech, including the slides, CLICK HERE.

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A Wake-Up Call for America– Free Webcast Discusses Systemic Market Failure in U.S. Equities and Formal Release of New Grant Thornton Study, November 9th 12:30 PM EST

Join Grant Thornton for a free Webcast on A Wake-Up Call for America, the greatly anticipated study demonstrating how market structure changes over the past 10 years have had a profound negative effect on the number of publicly listed companies in the United States – ultimately inhibiting economic recovery, worsening the job market and undermining U.S. competitiveness.

wake-up-america_civilizationcalls
Date: Monday, November 9, 2009

Time: 12:30-2:00 EST

Note: Register now,  Company pass code – 710004, Course code – 11738


The Webcast will feature a lively discussion among the study’s contributors and other industry-leading capital markets executives, and will include an in-depth look at the steep decline in U.S. listings, the macroeconomic implications, and recommendations for attainable solutions. A Q&A session will conclude the event, and all participants will receive a copy of the study.

Participants include:

  • David Weild – Former vice-chairman and executive vice president of the NASDAQ Stock Market, and current Senior Advisor at Grant Thornton LLP and founder of Capital Markets Advisory Partners.
  • Edward Kim - Former head of product development at the NASDAQ Stock Market, and current Senior Advisor at Grant Thornton LLP and Managing Director of Capital Markets Advisory Partners.
  • Pascal Levensohn – Founder and Managing Partner of Levensohn Venture Partners, and Director of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), where he is chairman of the education committee.
  • Barry Silbert – Founder and CEO of SecondMarket, the largest marketplace for illiquid securities.  SecondMarket was named the top start-up in the entire Northeast by AlwaysOn Media and one of the Top Fifty Startups You Should Know by Businessweek.

Space is limited. Register today. <http://university.learnlivetech.com/gtt>

Follow the steps below to register. You will receive an email confirmation with instructions for attending the Webcast. If you need assistance with registering, please call 206.812.4700.

  • Go to http://university.learnlivetech.com/gtt and choose “New Student Registration” to create your account, then enter company pass code 710004.
  • If you have attended a Grant Thornton Webcast within the past year, simply log in to your account.

Locate the Webcast in the catalog and sign up for A Wake-up Call for America, course number 11738.

Proposed International Tax Reform Carries Serious Negative Unintended Consequences for U.S. Companies and Damages U.S. Global Competitiveness

images-7The accounting firm KPMG recently issued a public policy alert with respect to new international tax regulations that were introduced in May for Congressional consideration.  According to the report:

Under existing U.S. tax rules, companies may defer paying taxes at rates as high as 35 percent on most types of foreign profits so long as that money remains invested overseas. The administration proposals are intended to reduce incentives to invest overseas so that companies would be more likely to invest in the United States.  The potential consequences ofthese proposals include a significant increase in the financial accounting and cash effective tax rates of affected companies, accompanied by a corresponding reduction in net income and earnings per share.

The three proposals impact the deferral of U.S. deductions allocated to foreign-source income, reform foreign tax credit (FTC) rules through pooling, and modify the “check-the-box” rules, requiring certain foreign entities that were previously ignored for tax purposes to be classified as corporations.

Based on my discussions with KPMG tax partners, the practical impact of these proposed rules is negative in two important ways: First, companies will still be required to deduct expenses from foreign operations for book purposes but will not be able to deduct the majority of them for tax purposes, regardless of whether the income is repatriated or not.  This effectively raises corporate taxes and will reduce corporate earnings and free cashflow for re-investment.
Second, and this is the part that should be of greatest concern to legislators and American business people, I do not believe that this legislation, if enacted, will achieve the intended objective (per KPMG) of reducing incentives to invest overseas.  On the contrary, it will encourage corporations to both accelerate and permanently  increase their investments overseas by divesting themselves of their foreign subsidiaries, selling them to foreign-domiciled intermediary corporations, and paying those corporations a margin for servicing the U.S. corporation’s continuing needs.  In effect, the unintended consequence will be to permanently keep these assets offshore and make U.S. companies pay more to intermediaries for the same service, because it will still cost them less than paying the higher tax burden imposed by the Congress.

The abundance of risk capital during America’s technology bubble in 1999 and 2000 effectively financed the launch of the technology innovation ecosystems that now thrive in China, India, Singapore and other emerging (and increasingly robust) economies.  Are we now going to change our international tax structure to further entrench the dependence of American companies on these emerging giants?  The pursuit of short-term tax revenues as the expense of sound long-term industrial planning is yet another example of tunnel vision among Washington policymakers.

If you are involved with companies that do international business, please do the research, understand the implications, and contact your legislators in Congress and urge them to vote against this ill-conceived regulation.  We must stop damaging America’s global competitiveness.

CLICK HERE to see the original White house document.

Setbacks in White House and DHS Organizational Responses to Securing Critical Infrastructure—a Troubling Trend?

images-3Organizational challenges and governance questions appear to be gaining the upper hand in faltering efforts by the White House and DHS to address America’s cybersecurity.  Last week two respected leaders in the cybersecurity realm, Melissa Hathaway of the White House and Mischel Kwon of the Department of Homeland Security Computer Emergency Response Team (DHS CERT), announced their resignations.

Below I quote from reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post:

From the WSJ’s Siobhan Gordon on Melissa Hathaway, reported on August 4, 2009:

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The White House’s acting cybersecurity czar announced her resignation Monday, in a setback to the Obama administration’s    efforts to better protect the computer networks critical to national security and the global economy. The resignation of Melissa Hathaway, Barack Obama’s choice to monitor the nation’s online security, is a blow for the administration, which had made the position a priority. The resignation highlights the difficulty the White House has had following through on its cybersecurity effort.  In February, the White House tapped Ms. Hathaway, a senior intelligence official who had launched President George W. Bush’s cybersecurity initiative, to lead a 60-day cybersecurity policy review. Ms. Hathaway completed her review in April, but the White House spent another 60 days debating the wording of her report and how to structure the White House cyber post.  National Economic Adviser Larry Summers argued forcefully that his team should have a say in the work of the new cyber official.  The result was a cybersecurity official who would report both to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. Supporters said that arrangement would cement cybersecurity as a critical security and economic issue; detractors said it would require the new official to please too many masters and would accomplish little.  “It’s almost like the system has become paralyzed,” said Tom Kellermann, a former World Bank cybersecurity official who served on a commission whose work influenced the White House’s cyber planning.

From the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima, reported on August 8, 2009:

images-1Mischel Kwon, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, submitted her resignation letter this week. … Kwon, who is the fourth US-CERT director in five years, was frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of authority to fulfill her mission, according to colleagues who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  In March, another Homeland Security cybersecurity official, Rod Beckstrom, resigned, citing a lack of support inside the agency and what he described as a power grab by the National Security Agency.  The resignations, although unrelated, point to a larger inability of the federal government to hire, retain and effectively utilize qualified personnel, experts said.

[Note: Beckstrom has recently become the CEO of ICANN]

While these resignations do send a message, we must be equally concerned about positions that get less daily press but are equally critical because they deal with the details of policy implementation.   In my view, the fact that we are now seeing departures from people who are in critical execution positions raises a red flag, particularly because it appears that organizational dysfunction and lack of coordinated leadership are at the root of these departures.  From government’s perspective, the cybersecurity problem is difficult to address effectively because it is widespread, new, and amorphous relative to other types of criminal activity (for example, a bank robbery by an armed gunman).  It also crosses many disciplines and therefore touches multiple competing government bureaucracies.

Our nation’s policy leaders need support from empowered lieutenants to execute on policy. As a nation, we cannot afford to take our collective eye off the ball as we address the challenges faced by the U.S. economy, the U.S. capital markets, and America’s cybersecurity.  President Obama’s ambitious agenda will stand or fall on the ability of people to implement the Vision.  While critics are quick to seize upon the Administration’s mis-steps, whether you support the Administration or not, we should all be very concerned when we see highly respected domain experts voting with their feet.

The vast scope of the cybersecurity challenge and the urgency with which we must address it present us with opportunities to contribute at many levels. Let’s not stand down but rather rise up to meet this challenge head on, even if we must do so incrementally.

Taking Silicon Valley’s Innovation Message to Washington: A Special Event on Cyber Security at the National Press Club June 25th Sponsored by the Security Innovation Network

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Four years ago I became very concerned that the threats to our nation's critical infrastructure from cyber attacks were not only increasing, but that the escalating risks to our country's economic and national security were being largely ignored outside of the intelligence community and small groups of innovative entrepreneurs focused on addressing this problem.  Through Levensohn Venture Partners' involvement as the lead venture sponsor of the IT Security Entrepreneurs' Forum (ITSEF) since its inception in 2007, and through my personal initiatives advocating public policy solutions to address cyber security issues, I have had some positive impact in increasing awareness of this problem.  The non-profit Security Innovation Network, on whose board of directors I now serve, is taking this message to Washington on June 25th. I am joining an unusual group of thought leaders crossing big business, small business, academia, venture capital, and government who have all come together to address the urgent need for solutions to our nation's cyber security vulnerabilities:

Admiral (Ret.) Michael McConnell
Sr. Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
Former Director National Intelligence
 
David Cullinane
Chief Information Security Officer
eBay

Tony Sager
Chief Vulnerability Analysis & Operations
National Security Agency
 
Jerry Archer
Chief Information Security Officer
Intuit

Randy Katz
United Microelectronics Corporation Distinguished Professor
EE and Computer Science Department, UC Berkeley
 
Dr. James Finley
CEO, The Finley Group
Former DOD Deputy Under Sec.
Aquisition & Technology

 

Dave Robbins
Chief Executive Officer
BigFix
 
Bob Ackerman
Allegis Capital
Managing Director and Co-Founder

 
John Weinschenk
Chief Executive Officer
Cenzic

 
Steve Elefant
Executive Director
Heartland Payment Systems

 
Robert Rodriguez
Chairman
Security Innovation Network

 
David Bryan
Executive Vice President
ManTech International

 
Dr. Douglas Maughan
Program Manager
Department of Homeland Security S&T

 
Bob Bragdon
Publisher
CSO Magazine

 

A brief description of my panel follows:

The Innovation Crisis in America—Implications for Cyber Security

The global financial crisis has exacerbated long-term negative trends
undermining the foundations of America’s economic growth engine.
Entrepreneurs, corporate and academic research and development
professionals, and venture capitalists are inextricably linked together
in this crisis. Declining spending on basic research by the U.S. Government and universities, reduced corporate R&D expenditures,  and systemic risks to the integrity of the venture capital growth engine are converging to undermine the development of cutting
edge future solutions needed to protect our country’s cyber security.
This perspective from two venture capitalists, a leading academic, and
a successful security entrepreneur highlights the interdependence of
these communities and the implications to our country’s prospects for
sustainable economic growth, new job creation, and national security.

Panel Chair: Pascal Levensohn

Panelists:

Dave Robbins, CEO BigFix
Bob Ackerman, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Allegis Capital
Randy H. Katz, United Microelectronics Corporation Distinguished Professor, EE & Computer Science Department UC Berkeley
Co-Chair, Committee on Assessing the Impacts of Changes in the
Information Technology and Research and Development Ecosystem, National
Research Council of the National Academies

Attendance at this special event will be limited to 125 applicants.

Registration Fee: $75.00

Registration Fee for Government Employees: $45.00

Registration Fee for Media: No Charge

For more details about the Security Innovation Network and this special event, CLICK HERE.

Getting From Here to There– It’s Time to Engage in Common Sense Approaches to Public Policy

I usually try to keep my blog posts short. Today I have failed in this endeavor but urge you to please read through to the end of this important post. The current issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine features an excerpt from Leslie Gelb's new book, Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy.  This essay is exceptionally good, and, in my view, Gelb's thesis should be applied to all forms of statecraft and to promote the resolution of both newly emerging and long stagnating public policy debates.

Gelb accurately diagnoses the "weakening fundamentals of the United States.  First among them is that the country's economy, infrastructure, public schools, and political system have been allowed to deteriorate.  The result has been diminished economic strength, a less vital democracy, and a mediocrity of spirit."

Several paragraphs in this powerful essay deserve highlighting:

"The bases of the United States' international power are the country's economic competitiveness and its political cohesion, and there should be little doubt at this point that both are in decline.  Many acknowledge and lament faltering parts here and there, but they avoid a frontal stare at the deteriorating whole.  It is too depressing to do so, too much for most people to bear. … The United States is now the biggest debtor nation in history, and no nation with a massive debt has ever remained a great power.  Its heavy industry has largely disappeared, having moved to foreign competitors, which has cut deeply into its ability to be independent in times of peril.  Its public-school students trail their peers in other industrialized countries in math and science. They cannot compete in the global economy.  Generations of adult Americans, shockingly, read at a grade-school level and know almost no history, not to mention no geography.  They are simply not being educated to become the guardians of a democracy.

These signals of decline have not inspired politicians to put the national good above partisan interests or problem solving above scoring points.  Republicans act like rabid attack dogs in and out of power and treat facts like trash.  Democrats seem to lack the decisiveness, clarity of vision, and toughness necessary to govern.  This tableau of domestic political stalemate begs for new leadership.  The nation that not so long ago outproduced the rest of the world in arms and consumer goods, the nation lionized and envied for its innovation, can-do spirit, and capacity to accomplish economic miracles, has become overwhelmed by the tasks it once performed competently and with relative ease."

This is the most succinct and gut-wrenching summary of our national predicament that I have read.  Gelb puts his finger directly on the jugular vein of America's innovation ecosystem and diagnoses the multiple layers of dysfunction that have launched our country into such a deep crisis.  I share his fear of a new global reality developing along the following lines:

Images-1"The real danger in this universe of primitivism and plenty is not new wars or explosions among major states, or a world war, or even a nuclear war.  It is the specter of nations drowning in a flood of terrorism, tribal and religious hatred, lawlessness, poverty, disease, environmental calamities, and governmental incompetence.  Many nations are going under because they are simply unable to cope, and they will drag others down with them."

 

Gelb closes this essay with an impassioned plea for action, and most important, he retains a strong sense of hope and pride in our country:

"Every great nation or empire ultimately rots from within.  One can already see the United States, that precious guarantor of liberty and security, beginning to decline in its leadership, institutions, and physical and human infrastructure, heading on the path to becoming just another great power, a nation barely worth fearing or following.  It is time to send up flares signaling that the United States is losing its way and its power, that it is in trouble. But it is even more important to reaffirm the belief that the United States is worth fighting for both across the oceans and at home.  There should be no doubt that the United States, alone among nations, can provide the leadership to solve the problems that will otherwise engulf the world.  And for all the country's faults, there should be no doubt that it remains the last best chance to create equal opportunity, hope, and freedom.  But to restore all that is good and special about the United States, to rescue its power to solve problems, will require something that has not happened in a long time: that pragmatists, realists, and moderates unite and fight for their country."

ImagesI've been sending out flares to other realistic moderate pragmatists on this and other topics that demand a "common sense" approach for years.  Through groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute's Socrates Society, the Working Group on Director Accountability and Board Effectiveness, and, most recently, the Security Innovation Network, I have joined and helped forge communities of interest bound together by empowered individuals who are thoughtful and constructive agents of change.  As Gelb points out, we have a lot of wood to cut, but I remain energized and, most importantly, hopeful that we can make a difference because we have to.  Given where America stands today, fomenting pragmatic and realistic change is not an option, it is a requirement.

  

 

ITSEF Video: How Global Competition Has Changed and the Critical Role of Venture Capital in America’s Growth Economy

Global Competition and the Critical Role of Venture Capital in America’s Growth Economy

[RUN TIME 3 MINUTES 17 SECONDS]
Dr. Curtis Carlson, President and CEO of SRI International, speaking on the panel with Dr. Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, Chairman Sparta Group, LLC and Lesa Mitchell, VP Advancing Innovation, Kauffman Foundation, at the IT Security Entrepreneurs’ Forum held at Stanford University on March 18, 2009.
Since 2007, ITSEF has focused on advancing innovation in security technologies through public-private partnerships by developing a community of interest between Washington and Silicon Valley. ITSEF is the only conference of its kind designed to “bridge the gap” between the Federal Government, system integrators, venture capitalists, and academic research communities. Dr. Carlson discusses the fragility of the U.S. venture capital ecosystem and how the U.S. Government needs to better understand the role of venture capital as the growth engine in the U.S. economy. Dr. Carlson also describes the declining competitive position of the U.S. in research and development today.
ITSEF is a part of the Security Innovation Network (SINet). For more information on SINet, click here.

ITSEF III Video: Curt Carlson, CEO of SRI International, on America’s Challenges Making the Transition to an Innovation Economy

Challenges Created by America’s Transition to an Innovation Economy

[run time 2 minutes 36 seconds]
Dr. Curtis Carlson, President and CEO of SRI International, speaking on a panel at the IT Security Entrepreneurs’ Forum (ITSEF) held at Stanford University on March 18, 2009. Since 2007, ITSEF has focused on advancing innovation in security technologies through public-private partnerships by developing a community of interest between Washington and Silicon Valley. ITSEF is the only conference of its kind designed to “bridge the gap” between the Federal Government, system integrators, venture capitalists, and academic research communities. Carlson explains how the US has transitioned to an Innovation Economy and discusses the broad socio-economic implications of accelerated rates of change in technology.
ITSEF is a part of the Security Innovation Network (SINet). For more information on SINet, click here.