LST|CON keynote speaker outlines major policy initiatives to move the needle

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The Vice President for Global Innovation Policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation told attendees at last week’s “LST|CON” event that Tennessee has made great progress but reminded against “resting on your laurels” because there is still much work to be done.

Stephen Ezell keynoted the Life Science Tennessee annual conference that drew about 150 people from across the state and beyond. His presentation was titled “Innovation Economics: Powering Life Sciences Innovation in Tennessee and America.”

Ahead of a series of recommendations, Ezell noted that advanced technology industries employ 250,000 workers or 8.3 percent of the state’s workforce. Perhaps more important, Tennessee leads the nation in advanced industry job growth.

ITIF has created a “New Economy Index” that measures each state’s economic structure on 25 indicators in five categories – knowledge jobs, innovation capacity, economic dynamism, globalization, and the digital economy.

How does Tennessee rank? We’re 32nd, not a particularly encouraging position. Areas where the Volunteer State is strongest are health information technology (7th), non-industry investment in R&D (8th), export focus of manufacturing (11th), share of fast-growing firms (12th), and manufacturing value-added (14th).

In terms of weaknesses, Tennessee has these biggest areas of deficiency – patents per capita (43rd), workforce education (41st), inventor patents (39th), industry investment in R&D (39th), and migration of domestic knowledge workers (37th).

During his lunchtime presentation, Ezell identified a number of programs and initiatives that would further accelerate Tennessee’s life science sector. We asked him to rank the top three, and he obliged with these recommendations:

  • Increase the pool of funds available to match Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards to small businesses;
  • Implement a collaborative R&D tax credit; and
  • Support financially more translational research or commercialization.

Other areas that Ezell suggested included implementing proof of concept or Phase Zero funding for start-ups along the lines of efforts in Colorado and Connecticut, launching a matching program for start-ups that secure angel or venture funding, provide grants for postsecondary student internships with life science companies, provide incumbent worker training in skill shortage areas, create simple and standardized technology transfer contracts between universities and corporations, establish an innovation vouchers program like RevV manufacturing innovation program but designed for life science companies, and allow university faculty and students to suspend tenure track positions and classes respectively without penalties to pursue entrepreneurship.

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