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Economic Clusters and The Regional Innovation Strategies Program

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City and county administrators, elected officials, economic developers,  and citizens themselves. Who is not in favor of strong local economies that provide jobs at home and competition abroad? The Economic Development Agency's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship is once again offering its Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program to help build a region's capacity to  transform innovative ideas into commercially viable opportunities.

What Is an  Economic Cluster?

A major theme of the Regional Innovation Strategies Program is cluster-focused innovation. According to Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, who has championed the concept, an economic cluster  is a  geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field. A cluster contains many businesses of one certain type, their suppliers, customers, and those who advance industry knowledge, such as vocational schools, academic institutions, think tanks and trade associations. Porter believes that clusters provide advantages to the businesses within them, especially start-ups. Necessary infrastructure, a pool of highly trained employees, shared knowledge, the best suppliers and industry-friendly regulations are all more likely to be available in areas where one type of enterprise is concentrated. Even competition is a plus: Porter believes it spurs innovation and keeps everyone on their toes. All these factors  synergistically converge into what he refers to as critical mass, with Silicon Valley and Hollywood being classic examples of successful clusters. The late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill loved to repeat the phrase all politics is local; one can glean from Porter's work that all business is local as well.

The Regional Innovation  Strategies Program

 The RIS program is comprised of two separate competitions.

The i6 Challenge

Funding for this competition supports new and existing capacity building projects that create centers for innovation and entrepreneurship that can transform ideas into reality. Projects may focus on the following outcomes:

  • Innovation - Creating a culture of idea generation which leads to useful applications
  • Entrepreneurship - Educational programs and work experience to help students prepare for their future occupations, and creating entrepreneurial ecosystems to help ensure jobs will be available
  • Regional Connectivity - Connecting economic development and  technology commercialization resources by hosting special events to showcase innovation and exchange ideas
  • Commercialization of Research - Converting research, ideas and prototypes into viable  products by providing access to industry catalysts and other facilitators, as well as identifying access to seed funding

Seed Fund Support Grant Competition

  • Funding for this competition supports seed funds that invest regionally managed capital in promising innovation based start-ups.

RIS Success

Preliminary statistics indicate promising results for the RIS program. In his article entitled "Success Story: Jobs, Capital and Ecosystems: The Regional Innovation Strategies Program Show Results," Guy Suetopka chronicles that, as of September 30, 2016, the previous two year's i6 Challenge grantees have:

  • Created over 950 full-time jobs
  • Assisted over 1,000 entrepreneurs and innovators
  • Conducted 2,615 technical assistance meetings and 4,876 mentoring and coaching sessions
  • Raised $166 million in private investments, SBIR funding, grants, and loans

If you would like to read some specific examples of grantee projects, refer to our previous post Innovation Meets Entrepreneurship - The Regional Innovation Strategies Program.

Applying for the RIS Program

Eligible applicants are Native American tribes, state and local governments, academic institutions, nonprofits, the private sector, and consortia. Applications are due on or before June 23, 2017.  An optional webinar will be held on Monday, May 22, at 3pm ET.

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