"Entrepreneurial Contributions to Science, Engineering, Technology and the U.S. Economy"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Remarks, Technite 5.0 Keynote Address
May 13, 2004
Good evening everyone. I am pleased to join this talented and eclectic
group of people who get things done. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss
with you "Entrepreneurial Contributions to Science, Engineering, Technology
and the U.S. Economy."
Since the dawn of civilization, forward thinkers have been essential
to the progress of a nation, and ours is no exception. Visionary
thinkers and venture supporters have been vital forces propelling
our industrial progress.
Entrepreneurs put ideas to work and thus are a critical element
for innovation if we, as a nation, aspire to continued success.
The competition from China and elsewhere is just the beginning
of a global economic pattern that will become ubiquitous. To prosper
on this playing field we need to be a paradigm ahead, that is,
to reach the next dimension of capacity such that there is no competition.
Constant change, accelerated progress, and increased expectations
are emblematic of this new time. One thing is certain – this
trend of scientific, technological, and societal transformation
will escalate, and while much of what lies ahead is beyond predictability,
we can, in the words of Peter Drucker "look out the window
and see what's visible but not yet seen." In other words,
if we are astute we can anticipate well. This capability requires
that we are well informed about what is, that we continually focus
on what could be, and that we take entrepreneurial risk to bring
ideas to fruition. Of course, without a continually refreshed stack
of ideas, there is nothing to bring to fruition. Thus, a symbiosis
among the idea makers and entrepreneurs is an imperative.
Entrepreneurs are the bridges between the present and the future.
The skills they bring to the melting pot of innovation include
a comprehensive understanding of our society's structure, infrastructure
and nuances; the present state and future potential of science
and engineering; and the creativity and outlook to transform our
current situation into the potential that awaits us. This is a
In a marketplace economy, entrepreneurs are the disruptive agents
of Schumpeter's "creative destruction." Their putting
new knowledge to use for things that are new and different literally
defines innovation. Robust innovation lifts us to a dimension beyond
competition, raising our prospects for wealth creation of great
Innovation moves us forward earnestly, if hand-in-glove with fresh
science and engineering knowledge. Discovery and innovation are
the twin pillars of 21st century progress. Coupled together, they
offer the potential for an era of breathtaking transformation.
Of course, this is a tall order and may feel daunting, but however
elusive innovation may feel, it is not an abstract force. Rather,
it's what people do to drive change.
Innovators break the "rules." It may be a leap of faith
to trust them, but trust them we must, or we suffer the quagmire
of the status quo. Their stretch to realize new ideas, like all
revolutions, alter the fabric of society. Innovators apply knowledge
to tasks that are new and different keeping us fresh and moving
Our nation's need for highest performance in every sector is expanding.
In creating his tome, The Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush, in a
May 31, 1945 letter to the Chairs of the four Committees he had
chartered to help him in his task, wrote about the covenant of "[s]tability
of [research] support" from the commonweal, justified by the
consequent "healthy flow of new scientific knowledge," resulting
in an increase of "new products and industries and jobs, and
in the flowering of scientific talent." He was setting our
compass "over the horizon" big time. Based on his vision,
NSF was founded in 1950.
We have watched with great satisfaction, the subsequent growth
and development of our nation's Science, Engineering and Technology
("S, E & T") enterprise. The investment in R&D
of the past half-century gives ample testimony to the progress
made in bringing benefits to the nation and its citizens.
Warmed by a genuine sense of satisfaction, we are in a position
to look toward the future and ask, "What next?" In answering
this question, we should be aware of two characteristics that will
determine how well we are able to meet the challenge of innovation
in our 21st century world: how adept we are in anticipating
the future, and how wise we are in shaping
it to our ends.
Looking back, we are struck above all by how startling and visionary
the ideas were that shaped our nation's R&D enterprise – and
equally by how much we take it for granted today!
We are so steeped now in the rhetoric of "innovation" that
it's something of a struggle just to imagine how little salience
it had two decades ago.
That's an indication of the extraordinary transformations that
have swept through our society and our lives during the past two
decades. Changes that we scarcely could have imagined 20 years
ago are now our common currency. Today, new technologies – and
whole industries – emerge in what seems like the blink of
Many threads intertwined to produce the innovative tapestry that
is our nation's S, E & T investment. I'll mention just three
that will be familiar to you all.
The first is the realization that universities and their science
and engineering faculty and students are critical
can make a valuable contribution to economic development – much
the same way that agricultural, industrial and natural resources
did in the 19th and 20th centuries. New knowledge at the frontier
is our new capital, our engine of innovation.
The second is the notion that partnerships – among academe,
business and government – can speed the transformation of
new knowledge into new products, processes and services, and in
their wake produce new jobs, create wealth, and improve our social
well being. The wise advice of Woodrow Wilson applies here. "I
not only use all the brains that I have," he said, "but
all the brains I can borrow."
Third, and perhaps the most radical of the three, is the idea
that we can design partnerships and institutions to achieve common,
long-term goals – in this instance, to bolster economic development
and raise the standard of living and security of the nation.
These three conceptual innovation parameters – knowledge
as capital, partnerships as transformational, and design as intent – are
the heart and soul of what drives today's S, E & T investment.
In anticipating the future, we must recognize that civilization
is on the brink of a new industrial world order. The big winners
in the increasingly fierce global scramble for supremacy will not
be those who simply make commodities faster and cheaper than the
competition. They will be those who develop talent, techniques
and tools so advanced that there is no competition.
How will we get from here to there? Standing at the nexus of accelerating
scientific and technological change, we are expected to foster
progress toward a daunting array of ends – creating new knowledge,
products, and systems; stimulating economic development; creating
wealth and jobs; sharpening the nation's competitive and leading
edges; raising our prospects for more creative and satisfying lives;
caring for the environment; and strengthening the security of our
nation and its myriad infrastructures.
With this as a backdrop, I would like to examine some important
questions with you. What is the essence of innovation? What attributes
do innovators and entrepreneurs exhibit? How do we encourage innovation?
Inspiration is a key characteristic of innovation. In the United
States, we have admired and even been enchanted by inspired entrepreneurs.
Life magazine cited our most famous inventor - entrepreneur, Thomas
Alva Edison, as the peak achiever in the last millennium. This
non-stop "idea-to-reality machine" beat out queens and
kings, scientists and mathematicians, and writers and artists in
the Life magazine competition.
The "Wizard of Menlo Park" was number one in a list
of a hundred leaders and thinkers that included Elisabeth I, Galileo,
Pablo Picasso, Helen Keller, and Albert Einstein.
Born in 1847, Edison radically changed global society by transforming
electricity from a novelty to a household and commercial necessity.
Talk about entrepreneurial spirit, Edison cleverly garnered critical
investment from a group of Manhattan "movers and shakers" by
inviting them to his home and lab for a weekend. However, despite
his stellar record of over a thousand patents, Edison believed
that, "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
In any large-scale societal change, there is a lot of perspiration
in the carry-through, but the spark comes from the inspiration.
Inspiration is that chaotic and complex moment where past and present
knowledge combine to synthesize an idea that stands on the edge
of the future. Imagining something is where it starts.
If our goal is to instill entrepreneurship in those we educate,
then encouraging them to use their imaginations, to be visionaries,
and to think creatively is critical. We must teach them to think
against the grain; swim upstream; violate the norm.
Albert Einstein, believed that "imagination" was the
key to his work. He said, "Imagination is more important than
knowledge." Imagination in the hand of entrepreneurs brings
the ability to connect the results of research to society, i.e.,
to envision. The ability to understand the larger context in which
we work - the sector, the society, and even the time in history,
the moment in civilization, is crucial to any form of entrepreneurial
leadership. Learning to read the larger context provides a path
for imagining the future.
Part of our task is to mentor others in scanning the big picture
for the relevant signals. We must develop acumen for such thinking
in our nation's students. We cannot graduate talented young professionals
with supremely specialized expertise that exists in a vacuum.
The ability to read the subtle signals will often make the difference
between our nation being the industrial leader or laggard. Reading
the tealeaves, so to speak, is not just for mystics anymore. It's
a job for mentors, managers, entrepreneurs, and every kind of leader.
The astute "readers of the context" and "imaginers
of possible futures" have proven to us that envisioning is
a worthwhile endeavor.
Envisioning combined with risk-taking is a supercharged combination
on the personal level as well as on the level of the economy.
In 1999, the Economist highlighted Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter,
in an article on innovators. Schumpeter developed a rule-breaking
theory of economics in the 1940s in which he described a "creative
destruction" of industrial cycles.1
As Schumpeter described it, a normal healthy economy was not one
in equilibrium, but one that was constantly being disrupted by
technological innovation; that is, disruption is the normal state
of a healthy, vibrant economy. The trick to turning this process
into success is having a rational hand on the tiller, with a capacity
to perform no matter how the frontier may move.
Something new and exciting is happening in the 21st century that
can help us foster this capability. The borders between discovery,
learning, and innovation are blurring.
Increasingly, scientists and engineers, educators, and entrepreneurs
are working across many different disciplines, fields and even
sectors to make the connections that lead to deeper insights and
more creative solutions.
We look ahead to exquisite but practical improvements in everything
from drug delivery systems to renewable energy resources. I like
to think of this as "creative transformation" - the flip
side of the coin of "creative destruction."
Focusing on creative transformation can help us act intelligently
as we move ahead. It can cultivate a benevolent approach to robust
The question for us is: how do we mobilize such an effort? A critical
founding stone is to ingrain early on in education that failure
is a part of the learning process – if students fear failure
they will surely avoid changing the status quo.
As students move on, we need to educate them beyond their technical
expertise. The best technical training must be combined with understanding
how that expertise fits into the larger societal environment, into
our overriding national goals, and indeed, into the goals of other
Today, the trend in science and engineering research, technology
development and business operations is much more cross-boundary
centric. Many disciplines are converging in surprising ways to
generate the new knowledge needed for the increasingly complex
challenges we face as a society.
Today's graduates must be capable of integrating knowledge from
a variety of disciplines and working with industry-partners to
advance that knowledge into innovations.
Engineers, scientists, educators, entrepreneurs, and workers at
every level must be able to see functionally beyond the boundaries
of their own fields. In the past, when the tools for discovery
and application were rudimentary, innovative progress across the
frontier of science and engineering was possible only by parsing
the frontier into doable pieces that we called disciplines. But
today's increasingly exotic tools allow a more holistic attack
along the frontier.
If we want to change the way the workforce thinks, and increase
its creativity, innovation, and boundary-crossing abilities, we
must ingrain these ideas, while students are on the path to becoming
the workforce we need them to be.
The business community has a large role in creating the 21st century
workforce. Connections and partnerships must be made in a joint
effort to draw in and excite young workers.
Together, we need to educate today’s students and tomorrow's
future entrepreneurs to think strategically and holistically. They
need to be able to read patterns and trends from the larger context
to envision the future. And, in particular, integrative, cross-boundary-educated,
visionary engineers and scientists are critical components to success
in our age of complexity.
In the larger sense, innovation depends upon a synergistic set
of interactions that includes not only science, engineering and
technology, but social, political and economic interactions as
We need new arrangements that foster the kind of integration that
supports innovation, and the social and economic well being it
If innovation is at the heart of progress, then we need to understand
the skills that foster the capacity for risk taking, for imagination,
and a tolerance for unfamiliar and uncertain territory. That in
turn will mean that our institutions must evolve to cultivate these
Innovation and competitive entrepreneurship will always remain
an enduring quest, an on-going process. There is no peak that we
can reach that will assure continuing success. It is not a matter
of sticking to the task for the long haul. It is the "haul."
We will always need to keep improving the process with fresh ideas
and a fundamental commitment. We will need to break the right rules
and take the right risks. It will be demanding, exciting, and a
bit precarious, as the unknown always is.
Entrepreneurs will have to be effective collaborators, innovators,
risk takers, and communicators, working across shifting boundaries,
and embracing diversity. They will need to know the human and social
dimensions of technology. Our social and economic progress depends
upon it. All of you carry the excitement and the responsibility
to make it happen. The contribution of entrepreneurs is to tie
the whole package of ideas, knowledge, workforce and institutions
together into a productive engine of economic growth. That's not
only a big job-but a worthy goal and I am certain that you here
in Roanoke can carry this through!
Best wishes for the future and congratulations to Technite 5.0's
1 From February 20, 1999 article in the Economist on innovation.
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