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Cultivating Talent to Thrive in the Innovation Economy

Carol A. Dahl, Executive Director at The Lemelson Foundation penned the following message and shared recent publications on the impact of inventors and policy recommendations on how to cultivate student inventors throughout their educational journey.

This past year has brought into stark relief the critical role invention plays in creating solutions to some of our biggest challenges – from creating medical technology essential to fighting COVID-19, to developing more efficient energy consumption to address climate change.

When inventors and entrepreneurs are inspired and supported to develop ideas and turn them into products, we not only benefit from the solutions they create, but also from the high-quality jobs and economic growth generated by their businesses. But we’ve also seen that the opportunities to contribute have not been open to all – preventing us from leveraging the full diversity of potential solutions and limiting efforts to foster more inclusive prosperity.

In recent months, it has become clear that issues including inclusivity, innovative solutions to key challenges, jobs, and economic resilience are priorities for the Biden administration. Momentum is building at both the federal and state levels around supporting our education system to prepare the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs, beginning in pre-K all the way through higher education. If we are to produce inventions that effectively meet our social and economic needs, we must build a pipeline of diverse inventors who are prepared to thrive in the innovation economy.

I am writing to share recent publications and reports that provide evidence about the impact of inventors, and policy recommendations for how to cultivate student inventors throughout their educational journey.

On February 11, National Inventors Day, I posted an article to Medium – “If We Want to Build Back Better, We Need a New Focus on Invention and Innovation” – about the importance of strengthening the invention ecosystem, which consists of two pathways: the inventor pathway inspires and prepares students to become problem solvers and to thrive in the innovation economy, and the innovation pathway supports inventors and entrepreneurs who turn their ideas into products and businesses that generate jobs and foster economic growth. In my article, I showcase the following reports:

At the end of last year, The Council on Competitiveness released “Competing in the Next Economy: The New Age of Innovation,” a call-to-action for state, local, state, and national policymakers to boost US innovation tenfold. The Council’s report has numerous policy recommendations related to spurring innovation and competitiveness, with specific references to educational approaches that nurture innovation talent and entrepreneurship through exposure to and hands-on experience in invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship, from K12 through higher education (pgs 83, 85 - 87). A key theme is the importance of equity and inclusion (pg 81).

In February of this year, the Day One Project published the report “The Invention Ecosystem: A Pathway to Economic Resilience and Inclusive Prosperity.” It makes the case for a stronger invention ecosystem and provides high-level snapshots of policy change that would strengthen it. A critical point in the document is the importance of exposing all K12 and higher education students, regardless of gender, race, or background, to invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Note: the Day One Project is open to submitted recommendations - an opportunity you may want to consider. You can find examples here.

The last paper I will highlight is “Measuring the Value of Invention,” a study published by RAND documenting the impact of the 26 inventors who received the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize over the past 25 years. An especially compelling datapoint is about economic impact: the independent business entities founded by those 26 Lemelson-MIT Prize winners employ approximately 40,000 people and generate total annual revenues exceeding $54 billion. These extraordinary figures underscore the importance of tapping the potential of all inventors by educating them with the skills to identify problems and create solutions.

Carol A. Dahl, Ph.D.

Executive Director

The Lemelson Foundation

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