Current Major Projects
The Texas Foundation for Innovative Communities (TFIC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit, focused on the design and optimization of regional innovation ecosystems. Our efforts are based largely on the work of Dr. George Kozmetsky, credited as the primary architect of the Austin “Technopolis.” Together with TFIC Chair Pike Powers, they and their colleagues built the “Austin Model” innovation ecosystem, and recruited Microelectronics and Computers Corporation (MCC), Sematech and large swaths of the semiconductor industry to Central Texas, resulting in one of the foremost global examples of economic transformation.
Innovation Ecosystem Reference Model and Analysis
TFIC has developed numerous tools and methodologies for analyzing and architecting robust innovation ecosystems, including a comprehensive Innovation Ecosystem Reference Model. Efficient innovation ecosystems magnify the quantity, quality and velocity of innovation, sharply increasing regional productivity. Innovation ecosystems are the critical infrastructure of the 21st century.
Other tools include methodologies leveraging identification of high-impact firms; predicting near term jobs growth; and identification of regional differentiated advantages in research and development.
The success in development of the Austin innovation ecosystem has inevitably led to the question of how to compress 40+ years of development into 10 or 15 years, assuming appropriate regional prerequisites. For such major metros, development of a high performance innovation system can add billions annually to the local economy.
TFIC has aggregated numerous tools for accelerating development, but lacked a tool for rapidly integrating regional gatekeepers for talent, technology, capital and know-how effectively, rapidly, and on a large scale. After a global search, TFIC identified MassChallenge, a Boston-based network of large, non-profit global accelerators, as the best solution.
As a result, MassChallenge and TFIC cofounded MassChallenge Texas. Unlike most commercial accelerators, MassChallenge operates at a very large-scale, offering a non-profit “no strings” model for startup entrepreneurs – attractive even to experienced serial entrepreneurs, who offer disproportionate value for a region.
While MassChallenge is consistently ranked among the country’s best accelerators, the value for Texas goes much further. TFIC is utilizing MassChallenge as a tool to effectively construct and activate high-performance innovation ecosystems, and to connect the disparate ecosystems of Texas to more effectively resource and scale entrepreneurial ventures.
A side-effect of operating a large-scale accelerator in each region (attracting 1000 global applications and launching up to 128 companies annually), MassChallenge also aggregates up to 600 mentors and experts (chosen from a pool of 2000 applicants) to work together on behalf of these companies each year. These mentors are the gatekeepers of the region’s talent, technology, capital and collective know-how. After several iterations of the MassChallenge accelerator, a coherent ecosystem develops, where before there was most often many isolated silos of activity.
When complete, MassChallenge Texas will launch up to 384 companies annually, from three full-scale accelerators in each corner of the Texas Triangle (Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin-San Antonio), and bridge programs extended to all other areas of Texas.
Accelerating Research Funding
A robust innovation economy starts with a robust research base. Ensuring strong performance in the competition for federal research funds is a key leading indicator in later success in development of innovation-intensive industry. Texas has consistently ranked #6 in federal research funding for science and engineering over the past 20 years, but Texas could vastly and systematically expand its research base.
The Texas SBIR/STTR Network, operated by TFIC, provided a prototype for accelerating Texas research funding. Using SBIR/STTR funding as a testbed, Texas increased its share of SBIR funding more than 30% at minimal cost, and for the first time was ranked #4 among all states. While the focus was SBIR/STTR funding, the pilot provided proof-of-concept for a larger potential effort supporting the overall expansion of federal research funding.
Texas Venture Capital
Equity capital is critical fuel for innovation-intensive companies, and there is much more Texas needs to do to ensure an adequate supply and efficient marketplace. Collectively, states have created more than 200 programs for enhancing early-stage investment. However, Texas venture funding has started to drop sharply among the states, from #3 for most of the past three decades, to #5 today, and soon to #6. A major reason for this is that Texas has always relied primarily on investment coming from out of state. However, the investment climates in those states has now improved to the point that Texas has lost its comparative advantage in attracting those funds.
Though there are many approaches that will need to be explored in parallel, ensuring that Texas develops its own “domestic” venture industry is key. TFIC works across numerous stakeholder groups around the state to explore the options, and a suitable role for public policy.