The science agenda

Yesterday, President Obama gave a major address to the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on his science and technology policy. In the speech he mentioned a number of initiatives his Administration will undertake — see the Fact Sheet for details. These moves are, in my view, long overdue. Some are new initiatives, such as the “Race to the Top” program to support math and science teachers and the emphasis on clean energy technology. Some, such as increased funding for basic research, will simply bring us back to where we should have been years ago.
While he didn’t speak directly about entrepreneurship and broader innovation, his remarks did contain this line:

For we must always remember that somewhere in America there’s an entrepreneur seeking a loan to start a business that could transform an industry — but she hasn’t secured it yet.

That quote should be our take off point for the next step. Science is an important part of our social and economic activities. But it is only part. It is one ingredient that goes into the mix of what we call innovation. Many other ingredients are needed — including the entrepreneurs and the financing issues that the President’s quote highlights.
Financing is especially critical right now as we hear stories of venture capital pulling back. One area we need to look more closely at is use of intangibles as lending collateral (see earlier posting). Another is expanded use of government loan programs for commercialization – such as the Energy Department’s new loan program. Other mechanisms, such as government procurement to create markets, are also needed. But such activities go well beyond a science and technology policy. They require – and create – organizational and process innovations. And they require a broader policy view.
The President has articulated his science policy. In other speeches and documents, he has outlined a technology policy. Next up should be a broad innovation policy.

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