Creative Molecular Economy Innovation Model: McAllen, Texas
By Steve Ahlenius
Communities face numerous challenges when it comes to creating and attracting jobs, producing wealth, and fostering economic opportunity. Too many communities are caught in the trap of focusing on job relocation or industrial recruiting as the cornerstone for economic development.
McAllen, Texas, is taking a different approach based on the emergence of a Creative Molecular Economy (CME), a term and concept pioneered by the Center for Communities of the Future. The figure at right shows how the McAllen Chamber has transformed its approach for creating wealth and economic opportunity by developing a “bio system” of innovation. This new approach connects multiple ideas and programs to create small business economic development opportunities and a flywheel effect of momentum for the development of entrepreneurs, innovation, and small business start-ups able to compete in a global economy.
Of key importance is the creative use of networks, including a unique community called Inventors and Entrepreneur Network (I&E Network). A monthly meeting brings together inventors and business creators to connect and start “stuff.” Ideas that emerge from the I&E Network can be funded in two ways: through the chamber’s Innovation Grant Program (providing up to five $10,000 grants per year) and through the community’s business plan competition. These two sources fund start-up needs such as patent search, prototype development, market research, testing, and other services that can move an idea to a pre-launch stage.
The McAllen CME Innovation Model is unique in several ways. Prospective innovation applications and business plan competitors are required to complete two different phases of “venture ready” software that help the entrepreneurs assess their readiness for market. Once the assessment is complete, the ideas are ready for competition and selection. The process is competitive and based on viability and prospects for success. As products or ideas move forward, other funding sources are identified through crowd funding or local angel investor networks. The goal is to have ideas or products that have been polished and have a realistic chance to succeed or to get serious consideration for funding.
Another key part of the CME Innovation Model utilizes a business accelerator concept designed to get an idea developed or dropped quickly, before too much time and energy is spent. Entrepreneurs see this part of the process as critical for the chamber’s and program’s credibility. A Makers Faire will be added to this CME Innovation Model in 2012 to connect entrepreneurs, ideas, and emerging products more quickly.
Clients are encouraged to become comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, and nonlinear activities. Stops, starts, and changes in ideas and direction are central to this innovative process. Old rules are no longer applicable in today’s volatile global economy. In the future, economic success will be measured by how fast new opportunities can emerge from connecting and disconnecting people, ideas, and processes. If one looks beyond the horizon to find economic innovations for a Creative Molecular Economy, the leaders of McAllen, Texas, will be found.Steve Ahlenius
is president of the McAllen, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, www.mcallenchamber.com.
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