President’s corner

Innovation Odyssey:
Relay Stations of Pessimism and Optimism



Triple Helix Association

Visiting Professor, Birkbeck, University of London



Why did it become ‘old hat’ to think of innovation in terms of ‘product’ and ‘process’ when only a relatively short time ago these were the taken for granted parameters of the field (Utterback, 1996)? Innovation Studies has broadened its remit to social and cultural innovation without fully taking into account broader social, political and economic drivers of change (Fagerberg, Mowery and Nelson, 2005). Christopher Freeman, the field’s modern founder, derived National Systems of Innovation, a government orchestrated model, from the bureaucratic continuity between pre-war authoritarian and militaristic and post-war pacifist and democratic Japan (Freeman, 1987). Michael Gibbons and his colleagues posited a shift in academia from an internal disciplinary culture (Mode One) to an externally linked inter-disciplinary culture (Mode Two) that, while just beginning in Europe, was well underway in the states and thus was less of a revelation in that venue (Gibbons et al, 1994; Kruytbosch and Messinger, 1968).
Carlotta Perez (2002) showed how technological revolutions transform society and culture, but in this essay we turn her thesis on its head and suggest that a reverse flow of influence may help explain the recent expansion of Innovation Studies from product and process to social and cultural innovation. Establishing the relationship between the material and ideational domains is, of course, not a new problem. Karl Marx ordered them as base and superstructure, while Albert Salomon (1955) noted that Max Weber had turned Marx on his head in showing the driving force of a variety of religious ideas in shaping the classical societies of China, India, and Israel, finding especially noteworthy, the unintended effects of Protestantism on the rise of Capitalism. Such issues have also been the underlying theme of economic historians’ empirical studies, debating whether military or civilian needs are the primary drivers of technological innovation (Nef, 1950). More recently, Science, Technology and Society (STS) has provided a series of cogent studies of missile accuracy (Mackenzie, 1990) transportation paradigms (Latour, 1996) etc with implications for this conundrum. However, STS has increasingly diverged from Innovation Studies to become a parallel universe, simultaneously undergoing reification and withdrawal from reality to construction of reality (Berger and Luckmann, 1967).

Developed in response to the effects of a regional precursor of the 1930’s depression, Triple Helix is an extrapolation from anomaly to paradigm of an instance of Innovation in Innovation, a project that creates a new innovation format (Etzkowitz, 1993). Triple Helix seeks to ‘bring human agency back in’ to Marx’s superseded theory of capitalism’s transformation by showing how hybridization among institutional spheres and normative change in scientific and gender roles and relationships produces innovation and entrepreneurship. University-industry-government interactions inspired the pro-bono origins of a venture capital science-based innovation model. Proponents in both developing and developed countries hypothesize and put into effect normative policies to jumpstart processes of economic and social development most fully realized, to date, in Silicon Valley. Some were highly knowledgeable of the original MIT-based case while a basic framework, often in association with related incubation, technology transfer and cluster concepts, inspired others. The macroscopic Triple Helix model is instructive but is it sufficient?

‘The Answer is Blowing in the Wind’

Perhaps, the original model, inferred from meso-level historical events, to be fully comprehensive, requires elements drawn from additional sources, including literature and the arts to give it predictive insight and heft (Leydesdorff, Etzkowitz and Kushnir, 2016)? The London Science Museum Sputnik exhibit this Spring, on loan from Russia, traced spaceflight from late nineteenth century fiction writers utopian dreams to their scientific readers early twentieth century rocketry experiments. Their modest successes were upgraded with political support into military projects of the highest priority. Technological accomplishments were subsequently transmuted into popular support for the political system that made them possible, though aggregation of significant resources to realize a flight of literary imagination. Cosmonauts like Gagarin were selected for their exemplary family backgrounds, as well as body size and technical skill, to represent the aspirations of the Soviet societal and political system. Projecting a dystopian view of technology, early twentieth century British author H G Wells foresaw mass bomber attacks on cities, the invention of the tank and even the atomic bomb in various fiction and non-fiction writings (Lodge, 2011).
The self-invented individualist of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920’s Gatsby had metamorphosed into a corporate personage in an unfinished account of Hollywood: his own life shortened by alcoholic over-consumption. ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac’s tale of a marijuana-infused cross-country ‘buddy’ road trip exemplified the bright side of early post-war America’s counter-culture in contrast to Alan Ginsburg’s Howl at the loss of many of his generations best minds. A series of challenges and responses to the dominant productivity growth/consumerist culture were also expressed in music. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons, a country ballad evocation of an ageing coal miners’ despair at the illogic of increased work and personal debt; Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind expectation of positive change and Hamilton, the Revolution, a hip-hop take on nation-formation conflict, echoed globally (Miranda and McCarter, 2016).
Europe took a parallel intersecting path of cultural transformation, exemplified by the current Brussels Bozar Exhibit ‘Facing The Future: Art in Europe 1945-1968’, accompanied by a political and technological commentary that includes Sputnik, and closes with the student generated upheavals of the latter year. Picasso’s Cubism that took apart existing structures and refracted them in new forms began the exhibit whose opening was punctuated by the British electorates decision, in referendum, to depart the European Union.

A Perfect Storm of Crises

The Triple Helix Association received a ‘canary in the mineshaft’ early warning precursor of Brexit’s likely effects in Malik’s withdrawal of support for a Berlin-based conference focused on innovation systems issues, since replaced by the Helmholtz Foundation supported meet on ‘Addressing Ecosystem Challenges in an Era of Crises’ at the DKFZ in Heidelberg. 25-27September 2016. Malik, a Swiss firm, headquartered in St Gallen, apparently expected funding from the Swiss government, that was itself dependent upon the expectation of European Union funds for R&D and innovation projects.
When the Swiss electorate voted to restrict access to employment in Switzerland in April 2015, the European Union immediately cut off Swiss researchers access to its funding programs. While the Swiss government swiftly intervened to make up the missing funds in core research programs; there was little hope that innovation policy programs on which the prospective support for a Triple Helix conference depended would be similarly recompensed. In turn, Malik cancelled its MOU with THA withdrawing its sponsorship and involvement in organizing the projected innovation systems meet. On the morning of the vote announcement when I visited the Education directorate, senior officials were huddled in just-called meetings, pondering a response to the, so-called Brexit.
In the British, if not Swiss, case, a negative vote seemingly about the European Union was more an expression of domestic dissatisfaction; an uprising of a working class whose highly skilled jobs and industrial traditions had been uprooted, technologically superseded; transferred abroad to be produced by lower waged work forces. Ignored by London, Whitehall, indeed the entire south of England, a middle class mistakenly thought they represented all of England as in the comment of a colleague who said that ‘We are a middle class country’. The North took its revenge. Led by a strong negative vote in Sunderland, a city whose glass industry had become a ‘museum memory’ like the banners of colliery locals on display in Union headquarters that will likely become museums themselves if not totally disappear. A forgotten working class expressed its solidarity, and resentment, in the referendum much as their American peers had in the Republican primaries. The descendants of the coal haulers of the previous generation, through the Trump presidential candidacy, defeated establishment candidates, much as Jeremy Corbyn had earlier dispatched his opponents in the Labor Party Leadership race, just months before, albeit from opposing political perspectives and contrasting campaigning styles.

Challenge and Response

The consequences of Brexit for British academia became the implicit theme of ‘Universities’ engagement in Knowledge Exchange: what do successful strategies look like, at the University of London, Birkbeck’s 28 June Workshop. One thesis is that the impending relative decline of ‘the City’, as Europe’s financial center will make room for increased attention to the UK’s greatest potential resource; its concentration of world class universities. The test will be whether the next UK government will replace the research funds that will be lost from EU research programmes; the hidden cost of Brexit scarcely mentioned even by academics during the campaign was Britain’s success in achieving a disproportionate share of research funding. With the decline of ‘the City’, Britain’s remaining future strategy is to transition from a service to a knowledge-based economy; spinning off and growing new industries and firms from its universities and research institutes; complementing its parallel intersecting cultural resources and institutions, like the BBC, that have only begun to be tapped for economic and social advance.

Founding Entrepreneurial Universities

The Res Publica think tank has called for a MIT-like University to be founded in England’s North, echoing the New York Innovation Forum’s 1990’s call for a similar institution to fill the entrepreneurial university gap in the city’s innovation system. Eventually adopted by the Bloomberg Administration towards the end of its tenure; a partial version of this vision is currently under construction on Roosevelt Island, the Cornell-Technion campus supported by a combination of public and private resources. An IT masters degree, designed to train potential start-up founders is the first degree program started, in space made available by Google in its New York City headquarters, while construction is underway.
The UK has learned how to create spin-offs and has support structures in place for this purpose; it has been less successful in creating growth firms, with the notable exception of Cambridge’s Arm1, a chip design firm with customers across leading cell phone companies. A typical outcome is sale to a major US high tech firm, with the intellectual capital of the firm moved aboard or, even if kept in location as a subsidiary; prospect for independent expansion and growth becomes foreclosed. A recent development at Oxford recognizes and attempts to remedy this gap in the UK innovation system.
Without any apparent awareness of its 1940’s Boston predecessor, the American Research and Development Corporation (ARD), the pro-bono venture capital firm, with a long time frame, oriented towards regional development; Oxford has re-created and improved upon the model by addressing its major flaw; the lack of commensurate compensation if and when great success is achieved. This was the flaw in the ARD model, which had staff on modest salaries and did not expect the major success of DEC, that took more than a decade to achieve but when this overwhelming success took place; it created dissatisfied ARD employees since they did not share appreciably in its success. As a result they left and modified the venture capital model, creating relatively short-term partnerships, solving their compensation issue, but narrowing the focus of the industry to fast growth firms with monopoly potential, like contemporary Uber. Thus, Oxford Venture Capital recuperates the original venture capital model focused on long-term high growth successes, rather than quick albeit profitable exits.
The Silicon Valley innovation model built upon the Boston Triple Helix regime, creating planetary systems of mega-firms, satellites, and start-ups designed for takeover. Firm growth allowed a hyper-entrepreneurial ideology to take root, eliding the sources of growth in government investment in innovation and academic sources of new industrial paradigms. Nevertheless, periodic recessions, international challenges to the Valleys’ technological dominance, eg. Japan’s 1990’s semi-conductor success and national level blockages such as the Bush Administration’s human stem cell research policy, recall the Valley to classic Triple Helix coalition modes (Etzkowitz and Rickne, 2014).
Switzerland has already achieved significant results by following this approach. Arriving at the metro, Dr Christiane Gebhardt, Heidelberg University Sociology and Malik, who was joining for a meeting with Frontiers, the innovative scientific journal publishing firm spun-off from the European Brain Project with Zurich venture capital funding, explained that Switzerland had achieved much of its success by adopting the Stanford technology transfer model of developing firms based on Intellectual Property (IP) licenses from universities. This statement brought to mind a discussion with Hans Wiesendanger, Senior Licensing Associate at Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), who departed from the specific topic of our 2005 interview to talk about the technology transfer evangelical work he had been invited to undertake in Switzerland, his country of origin. Industrial regions had hollowed out with the failure of mechanical industry firms. Wiesendanger had been invited to introduce the Stanford model into leading Swiss universities. The positive results were apparent as we walked through the science park to our destination, passing firms like Logitech that had successfully achieved significant niches in world technology markets.
Portugal is another positive ‘hot spot’. Two decades ago, Portugal’s then Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Gago, initiated programs to train large numbers of STEM PhD students at leading Universities abroad. Gago’s successor, the country’s current Minister, Jose Caldeira, informed the author at a recent meeting of ISPIM in Porto, that Portugal is currently reaping the benefits of this far-sighted initiative. The Ministry kept contact with the students during their studies and oriented them to their expected role in Portugal’s knowledge-based future economy. More than a decade ago, a meeting of hundreds of Portuguese PhD students in the Boston area held by the Ministry, live streamed to similar gathering at Stanford in San Francisco Bay area, included a presentation on the Triple Helix and MIT’s historical role as an entrepreneurial university at the invitation of Dr Gago.
The Triple Helix Association’s banner is on view in the corridor of the Moscow State University Economics Department Innovation Group, host to the Russian Triple Helix Association Chapter, headed by PhD candidate, Tatiana Pospelova. The Group has several significant initiatives, including a consultation project to assist Russia’s universities in developing technology transfer capabilities and project–based courses offered in an ergonomically planned design training and prototyping workspace. The facility draws students from across the university to put their ideas into practice, in a similar format to Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering 310 course.

Innovation Lemmas

Rob Atkinson’s Washington DC based Information Technology and Innovation (ITIF) think-tank that promotes policy debate over the role of technology in economic productivity held its tenth anniversary conference on 16 June 2016 at Washington DC’s Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. The conference opening session exemplified the flaw in the Foundations’ premise of bi-partisan support for technology development. Democratic congresswoman, Eshoo, supported the governments role while her Republican counterpart viewed government as an obstacle to private sector innovation. The solution for one was the problem for the other; posing a possibly irreconcilable dilemma for ITIF’s eminently sensible series of policy proposals. Although SBIR, a 1980’s initiative, continues to receive bipartisan support; it is difficult to see any new initiatives seeing the light of day if they are dependent upon federal government support that clearly will not be forthcoming given current political strictures.
An electoral political revolution that would allow such policies is conceivable. However, in the meantime, the suggestion put to the meet by this author is: focus on the state level where there is a diversity of political environments, both favorable and unfavorable, allowing room for action. Moreover, there is a more generally accepted acknowledgement of government responsibility for economic development at the regional and local levels, given the fraught history of US constitutional development recently hip-hopped in the musical play, Hamilton! Therefore, let us focus on initiatives at the state level, following the successful example of Proposition 71, establishing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in 2005.
When the Bush administration made it virtually impossible for stem cell research to be funded by federal agencies, California voters passed a referendum authorizing 3 billion in bonds to be authorized and sold, based on the credit of the state, to support stem cell R&D and commercialisation. This model has been followed on a smaller scale in Ohio and is available to be replicated in other US states, for various fields of technology development. Indeed, the model of debt funded R&D and counter cyclical venture capital pioneered in California has potential for international replication (Etzkowitz and Etzkowitz, 2016). In a knowledge-based society, intellectual infrastructure is amenable to similar methods of support as physical infrastructure in industrial society.
In his Rede lectures at Harvard, C P Snow (1959) set forth a model of parallel literary and scientific cultures, each proceeding in relative ignorance of the other. He despaired of a fruitful interaction beyond introducing basic scientific literacy through the so-called ‘Physics for Poets’ modules. Today, we are experiencing convergence between the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering, taking shape in the ever-expanding discipline of computer science, itself an interdisciplinary synthesis of applied math, library science, electrical engineering and a machine (Peters and Etzkowitz, 1988). Electronic music is the prototypical format for a variety of digital and analogue advances that have produced the contemporary digital humanities, network analysis in the social sciences and other emergent fields. The story of the synthesizer and the innovators who made early computer music in industry, academia, and concert venues is an instance of conjoint product, process, culture and social innovation (Nelson, 2015).
Given the gradual acceptance of the cannabis transition into a legal big business, a consumerist era of productivity growth may be arriving at its apotheosis. Long disconfirmed predictions of unemployment due to the supersession of existing modes of production may finally be confirmed as an outcome of artificial intelligence displacing in part or in whole increasing number of skilled jobs, not only in trucking but aspects of the classic professions of law and medicine. On the other hand, increased leisure, long projected as an outcome of productivity growth but belied by a long hours work culture as an end in itself, may begin to be realized through guaranteed annual income schemes. Designed to reduce escalating inequalities, they may provide a basic income floor, encouraging artistic, literary and other cultural pursuits. This is an optimistic take on a business model that emphasizes deregulation and removing worker protections, slicing full-time jobs with benefits into contractual units, carried out by ‘task rabbits’ left on their own to confront the strictures of a ‘market’ designed to make workers ever more powerless, while amassing fortunes for a few: the 16 tonnes of a cyber-economy.

Conclusion: Gender Dynamics of Innovation

The feminist fight for gender equality, formerly focused upon the creed of hyper-masculinity, exemplified by author Ernest
Hemingway, has come up against a new more elusive opponent; the supposedly meek males scorned by ‘Papa’. An even narrower male model than the Hemingway paradigm has been instantiated in seemingly neutral software and hardware, making stereotypes more difficult to discern than the old ones boldly displayed in a bygone era’s magazine short stories and novels (Berg, 1978). The rise of a nerd masculine subculture to economic and political power through the development of social media and infusion of big data into political campaign strategy and tactics collides with feminist and minority aspirations for inclusion in the societal mainstream, with equal access to the levers of economic and political power. Ann Grimes (2016) in her study of new and old media firms showed how this newly empowered male subspecies is a ‘tail wagging the dog’ of broad swaths of excluded women and men from a start-up culture that demands conformity to its norms as the price of success, irrespective of human cost.
Nevertheless, a counter-movement to diversify Silicon Valley is emerging. Ellen Pao’s failed anti-discrimination lawsuit and the fallout of the Adreesen-Horowitz venture capital firm’s phyrric victory have seemingly opened a new chapter in the Valley’s gender dynamics (Boorstin, 2016). However, this stirring has mostly been at the level of a push for diversity metrics rather than achievement of substantive equality, to date. The outcomes of this climactic cultural clash and its implication for innovation models have only begun to be discerned (Nielson et al, 2016; Ovseiko et al, 2016). Even the gendered definition of ‘geek’ and what counts in a science fiction hero is opened to re-valuation (Hurley, 2016). Studies of ‘gendered innovation’ have demonstrated the costs of excluding more than half the human race from full use of the products of technological innovation (Schiebinger, 2014). There are even greater costs of excluding women and minorities, locally and globally, from participation in shaping the goals and objectives of innovation’s culture, even to innovation itself.

This saga was inspired by a series of conferences and workshops, visits with collaborators, and interlocutors in a journey accomplished by airlines and trains rather than a friend’s auto. One traversed a single country; the other circumnavigated the globe. Nevertheless, a search for meaning of societal movements’ grinding tectonic plates was common to both excursions. In the background, lay the political and economic substrate of long standing grievances and persisting inequalities that, left unaddressed, generate counterproductive, irrational responses that periodically and persistently hurled themselves into the foreground in the form of terror events in Dhaka and the UK’s Brexit political upheaval. Hopefully, based on the positive instances of innovation policy and practice in Lausanne, Oxford, Moscow, Portugal and elsewhere, we will forge a better way forward.


Berg, S. (1978) Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. New York: Dutton.

Berger, P and Luckmann, T. (1967) The Social Construction of Reality. New York: Doubleday.

Boorstin, J. (2015) In light of Pao: where are women at top VC funds? 27 March,

Caldeira, J. (2016) Interview with the author, Porto, Portugal.

Etzkowitz, H. (1993) Enterprises from Science: the Origins of Science-based Regional Economic Development, Minerva 31(3): 326-360.

Etzkowitz, H and Rickne A. (2014) Citizen-driven innovation:
stem cell scientists, patient advocates and financial innovators in the making of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), Prometheus, 32:4, 369-384.

Etzkowitz, H and Etzkowitz, A, (2016 In Press) Counter-Cyclical Public Venture Capital: An Anti-Austerity Innovation Strategy. Social Science Information.

Etzkowitz, H and Peters, L. (1988) The Institutionalization of Academic Computer Science. Science, Technology and Human Values 13 (1,2).

Fagerberg, J, Mowery D and Nelson, R, Eds. (2005) The Oxford Handbook of Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Farrell, S. (2016) ARM Holdings to be sold to Japan’s SoftBank for £24bn. The Guardian, 18 July.

Ford, T E. ‘16 Tons’.

Freeman, C. (1987) Technology and Economic Performance: Lessons from Japan. London: Pinter.

Gibbons, M, et al. (1994.) The New Production of Knowledge. London: Sage.

Ginsberg, A. (1956) Howl and other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Press.

Grimes, A. (2016) Gender in Tech: Moving Toward a New Model for Inclusive Design. Presentation to Faculty Fellows luncheon, Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University. 2 June.

Hurley, K. (2016) The Geek Feminist Revolution. New York: Tom Doherty Associates.

Kruytbosch, C and Messinger, S. (1968) Unequal peers: the situation of researchers at Berkeley. American Behavioral Scientist 11:33-44.

Kerouac, J. (1957) On the Road. New York: Viking Press.

Leydesdorff, L, Etzkowitz, H and Kushnir, D. (2016 In Press) Globalisation and Growth of US University Patenting (2009-2014). Industry and Higher Education.

Latour, B. (1996) (1993) Aramis, or the Love of Technology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Lodge, D. (2011) A Man of Parts. New York: Penguin.

Mackenzie, D. (1990) Inventing Accuracy: a Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Miranda, L and McCarter, J. (2016) Hamilton, the Revolution. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Nef, J. (1950) War and Human Progress: an Essay on the Rise of Industrial Civilization. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Nelson, A. (2015) The Sound of Innovation: Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Nielsen, M, et al. (2016 In press) Harnessing the power of gender diversity in scientific organizations. Science.

Ovseiko, P. (2016 In Press) A global call for action to include gender in research impact assessment. Health Research Policy and System.

Perez, C. (2002) Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. Cheltenham: Elgar.

Salomon, A. (1955) The Tyranny of Progress: reflections on the Origins of Sociology. New York: Noonday Press.

Utterback, J. (1996) Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Schiebinger, L. (2014) Gendered innovations: harnessing the creative power of sex and gender analysis to discover new ideas and develop new technologies. Triple Helix.

Snow, C. (1959) The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wiesendanger, H. (2005) Stanford University, Office of Technology Licensing. Interview with the author, Palo Alto Ca.

Wilkinson, J. (2016) Oxford Sciences Innovation plc. Interview with the author, Oxford, England.