Sunday, March 23, 2008

Forbes Reports Columbus Number One Among Up-and-Coming Tech Cities ?? ??

Forbes magazine just named Columbus a top tech town.

Does this mean anything to you? Do you think that Columbus is a good place to grow your company?

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Blogger C. Matthew Curtin said...

One issue with these kinds of surveys is methodology. A favorite means of assessing up-and-coming technology is a simple patent count. Dr. Auerswald used this method for input (as far as I can tell; I haven't found the actual paper discussed in the article). It's true that we have some real technology powerhouses here (Battelle is the obvious case with its patent portfolio) but obsession with patents didn't keep Lucent from tanking (Bell Labs had something like an average of three patents granted per day).

In theory, patents are a way to measure how much technology is being created, but that's not really the way that it works anymore. The Amazon one-click patent, for example, was an absurdly obvious use of cookie technology brought to the Web by Lou Montoulli of Netscape and used widely in technology before that. It was a bunch of work for attorneys and the federal government. It was used only against Barnes & Noble but then the patent was struck down last year.

Another issue is that there is a huge difference between the creation of technology and its commercialization. Xerox PARC was great at the former and horrible at the latter. Most of the "tech companies" that people think of are not creators of technology but organizations that use or deliver technology. (Is Google a technology company? Where does their money come from? It's not technology.)

It's nice to be counted and it's good to have an organization like Battelle in town but I wonder if we're trying to measure the future by using the techniques of the past. Ultimately, maybe we're asking the wrong question. Rather than trying to figure out how many patents we're being granted, we should be looking for other indicators of technology being turned into real business.

March 23, 2008 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

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March 23, 2008 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

It seemed I heard 2 significant announcements the same week - NetJets expanding and the Forbes Report.

As our established business, university and community leaders join together to promote Columbus -we will continue to gain more credibility in this arena. It seems this credibility builds upon itself as a self-reinforcing loop.

What we do have is a number of high quality universities graduating strong young talent. Concurrently, we have significant investment in research (1.5 Billion per year in technology) and a high quality of living (cost of living, commute time, etc), we have government investment in Technology, we have TechColumbus, an organization that brings resources from many sectors of the economy to support technology. As these elements converge, it seems we have the making for a solid and growing tech city.

March 23, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Eric Schmidt said...

I believe Columbus is a great place to start a tech business, having done so and approaching the 8 year mark with iBeam Solutions. We have a lot of business technology needs in Columbus, and therefore the market is out there. The state of Ohio needs to do it's part and create a better tax structure and incentives to really help kick it in to gear. I also believe the tech community could help by understanding the value of doing business with other Ohio based businesses. A prime example is the battle my business faces on such things as web or email hosting. Yes, you can get it a dollar cheaper elsewhere, but what is lost is that the jobs, spending and tax base created by doing this with an Ohio based business returns to all of us in many ways.

Talent retention is also a critical factor. I have had many friends move out west or to the Seattle area because investment in startup businesses is higher out there. We need t correct this. It pains me to see some of the very high caliber people leave to start their business elsewhere. Recently it took us 2 months to find a good network engineer to hire. It does not seem that we are creating tech talent fast enough. The tech community needs to engage our high schools, create more internships and speak more at career days and the like to encourage our youth to check in to high tech careers and give them more consideration than they do today.

March 24, 2008 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Rick Coplin said...

The Forbes’s article is a good indicator of what Central Ohio residents already know - Central Ohio is a great place to establish, nurture and grow a company into a successful enterprise. The article focuses on the importance of patents as measured by the number of references existing patents in a geographic area receive. With the presence of Battelle and their impressive catalog of valuable patents and ongoing R&D, we should be a slam dunk on this measure. Add to that the patent generating capability of The Ohio State University, nationally recognized research hospitals like The James, Ohio Health hospitals, Nationwide Children’s etc. and a number of companies with extensive R&D, and the region looks great.

The measure developed by 1790 Analytics ( and further explained in a short Business Week article ( is a great tool for measuring regional innovation trends and capacity in technology oriented industries. More importantly, it is one of several factors that indicate a region is a healthy environment for innovation, and as an extension, entrepreneurism. So what are some other key factors to a region’s healthy environment and success?

How about an existing base of successful entrepreneurs – those that have started successful companies in multiple industries; those who have experienced failure and resurrected themselves with new ideas and successes; those who have made themselves available to help others with ideas and dreams? In Central Ohio? Check. In fact, there are several hundred if not a few thousand who fill this category. Most of the help budding entrepreneurs receive is informal across this large group. Within this group there is a cadre of entrepreneurs who are intentionally active within the community, many of whom volunteer time and resources throughout the region regularly making themselves available on a more formal basis through various organizations and schools.

How about an active, accessible social network among entrepreneurs – various venues to gather formally and informally and learn from each other that welcomes newcomers? In Central Ohio? Check. Opportunities abound throughout the region on a near daily basis. Some are sponsored events by organizations; some are informal gatherings of a few smart people in a local pub just to network and bounce ideas off of each other. The old adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” applies in the entrepreneurial world – and the ”what you know” - and can learn - is what makes an idea unique and impacts commercial viability.

How about organizations dedicated to helping entrepreneurs attain success? In Central Ohio? Check. Actually, we have a robust number. For example: TechColumbus, the Small Business Development Centers, The Ohio Department of Development, The Center for Entrepreneurship in the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University – home of the Deloitte Business Plan Competition, The Extension Office at Ohio State, various consulting firms, reputable intellectual property law firms, and many, many others.

How about the availability of investment capital to make the most of the best ideas? In Central Ohio? Check. A great example is TechColumbus which focuses on rapidly scalable Advanced Materials, Bioscience, and Information Technology and offers support for Federal Grant proposals (SBIR I and II, STTR); has funds available to transition companies from the concept stage to commercialization activities (TechGenesis) and funds for helping companies complete the steps necessary to attract follow-on funding from venture capital and other sources (Regional Commercialization Fund). There are also funds for amplifying the impact of investments by Angels and others in companies with potential for regional, tech based economic development (The Co-Investment Fund). In addition, Central Ohio boasts the third largest angle fund in the nation, with an impressive track record to boot. Over 250 angels participate in the group investments as well as in sidecar investing (Ohio TechAngel Funds). Follow-on funding via Venture Capital is available for the best of the best through a variety of local VC firms. State and Federal funds are available through the Third Frontier Program’s research grants, Ohio Research and Commercialization Grant Program, Innovation Ohio Loan Fund and others. Add to this the direct assistance to entrepreneurs provided by TechColumbus, SBDC and others that accompanies the investment funds, and Central Ohio is highly fertile ground for starting and growing a company.

How about the presence of an incubator with a proven track record of success to help companies reach success? In Central Ohio? Check. The TechColumbus incubator has over 25 companies in various stages of commercialization currently in residence. On top of that, there are over 60 graduate companies of the incubator, 75% of which have attained sales or commercialization success in the Central Ohio area. These companies account for nearly 300 jobs at an average annual salary of $65,000. Additionally, the number of companies that benefit from coaching and mentoring from incubator staff is substantially greater, and the economic impact is regional. The incubator has brought together the intellectual and physical infrastructure necessary for success, making it an epicenter of access to regional entrepreneurial expertise and services.

So, I’m certain Central Ohio is a great place for starting and growing a business, particularly for technology based businesses. I’ll bet others can come up with even more key factors than what I have recorded above. Access to funding, coaching and mentoring and the other resources Central Ohio has to offer is highly competitive, and while accessible, is no guarantee of success or ease in commercializing an idea. The final key ingredient is the entrepreneur – He or she must be willing to work hard, be open to mentoring and learning, be both a dreamer and realist, and must have a myriad of other qualities that form a foundation for success. In the end, it is the individual who makes Central Ohio a great place for starting and growing a company. Those of us who live in this fertile region are fortunate indeed.

March 27, 2008 at 4:39 PM  

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