Last week a reader forwarded an article to me from Bloomberg on the most innovative states in the nation. And although California has some of the most valuable and successful technology companies in the world headquartered here, we came in a close second to Massachusetts. Bloomberg based their rankings in part by the quantity of companies rather than their market value, and analyzed data from research and development intensity, productivity, high-tech density, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) concentration, science and engineering degree holders, and patent activity.
California is still a global innovator, and Inland Southern California, while not Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach, or San Francisco, is still positioned to build on the state’s legacy and culture of innovation. It’s a story we must continue to tell others…as well as remind ourselves. It’s easy to look at the negative statistics, the poverty, lack of college education, and crime rates, and miss seeing the opportunities, successes and positive trends in our region.
For instance, in November I was invited to join 40 leaders from academia, industry, government and nonprofit entities across the United States at an all day dialogue at UC Riverside, part of the Council on Competitiveness ‘Exploring Innovation Frontiers Initiative’. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the initiative brings together experts from the public and private sectors to enhance U.S. competitiveness in a global economy.
UC Riverside was chosen to host the western region dialogue because of its success in embracing and leveraging diversity to boost innovation and improve student outcomes. In U.S. News & World Report’s latest rankings, UCR is tied 7th in the nation for diversity, and is 25th in the U.S. for citations in Science and Nature magazines. That was news to me.
During the all-day convening I had the opportunity to sit next to Dr. Sheldon Schuster, president of Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), one of the newest of the Claremont Colleges. Founded in 1997, KGI is the only American graduate institution devoted solely to bioscience education and discovery. The university has a focus on leadership and business, so not only is the school turning out highly skilled researchers, it is creating bioscience industry leaders. The programs engage students in industry through summer internships, and working in interdisciplinary teams with faculty and industrial advisors to perform contract research. They are graduating students with an 89% employment rate, they are starting companies, attracting other bioscience start-ups, and creating an innovative ecosystem.
Over lunch, Dr. Schuster briefly mentioned that there are at least 30 start-ups and small companies already located in the surrounding area. That was also news to me, so I researched the topic and found a published KGI study that found a diverse and vibrant regional bioscience industry that encompasses six counties in Southern California: Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and both San Bernardino and Riverside. The study found 240 research-intensive bioscience companies headquartered in the region, along with 29 subsidiaries of major companies located here. Yes, San Bernardino and Riverside counties are also attractive to this sector, Dr. Schuster commented, because of lower rents and access to top research institutions.
And like KGI, UC Riverside is positioned to help foster an innovative ecosystem.
During the formal dialogue, we heard about The Dynamic Genome Program, one of UCR’s most creative educational initiatives. Developed by Susan Wessler, distinguished professor of genetics and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, The Dynamic Genome Program is helping attract and retain students in biology and related STEM fields. The program engages students in cutting-edge scientific research in their freshman year and teaches them to use state-of-the-art equipment and computational biology software. They are also trained in experimental design preparing them to be immersed in research and excel in STEM careers.
There is a narrative of innovation here in the Inland Empire, a story I believe that is not being told. Sometimes we spend so much time listening to the loudest naysayers that we miss the whispers of progress. In the coming months, I look forward to bringing you more stories like these in my first Rants & Raves series entitled, “Innovation in the IE”.