What Raleigh Can Learn From Chengdu

Many groups of people have been trying to spur innovation in Raleigh, North Carolina. One in particular, Innovate Raleigh, has sought to unite the educational community with economic development and entrepreneurship. Conferences, forums, and meetups all have been convened to help identify what needs to be done to create an ecosystem that is comparable to other areas of extreme innovation across the United States. What about overseas? What can be learned from places like Chengdu?Innovation ball

Chengdu, with a population of 14 million, is the capital of Sichuan province. It is the city where paper money — a colossal innovation — first appeared in 1024. The printing of the Buddhist canons “Four Books” and “Five Classics” made Chengdu the early center in the art of printing.Rowan Gibson, the co-founder of Innovation Excellence, describes Chengdu’s spirit this way: “Innovative thinking is part of its history, and it is shaping its future.”

John and Doris Naisbitt, who are well known for global trends and futuristic studies, have recently written a new book, Innovation in China: The Chengdu Triangle.  They make the following observations:

Innovation in Chengdu is growing out of a strategically planned nourishing business environment and an entrepreneur-friendly administration in a stable social climate. Following the principles of a well-run company, Chengdu’s leadership combines management and business acumen with social consciousness and, to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in a Western local government, a service-oriented administration. A good example of innovative service are the quarterly meetings the  mayor holds, and in which every problem, request or complaints must be solved or dealt with within three days. The first meeting was held in March 2003 and meetings have been held without interruption since that time.

The first pillar of Chengdu’s reform is its wider focus which is not exclusive on industrial development, but on a whole range of investment attractions. 

The second pillar of Chengdu’s innovation model is to seek to enhance the allocation and efficiency of “intangible assets.” 

The third pillar of the Chengdu model is bilateral exchange.  

Chengdu is dedicated to beat its innovation drums faster, louder and more insistently on all fronts. But Chengdu is only one of China’s many ambitious and competitive cities. High Tech Parks are growing like mushrooms after a warm summer rain and lure with high wages and $150,000 moving grant for top executives. Top-talents find support in Incubation Centers. Mentors, seed capital, offices and technological equipment are part of the package. China’s “Thousand Talents Program” aims to bring back 2,000 talented Chinese paying salaries between 60,000 and 360,000 Euro. Up to the year 2020 China is dedicating 15 percent of its GDP to human resources.

As we look at ways to broaden the Raleigh economy to capitalize on the success of the Research Triangle Park, the major research institutions, and a highly educated workforce, the Chengdu model is enlightening. We have witnessed the high tech park approach as a key economic driver in our history, and are hopeful that the next evolution of RTP will benefit Raleigh as strongly as the first few decades. The emphasis on Incubation Centers is important. Raleigh needs many such centers of innovation. Thankfully, organizations like the HUB and EntreDot are addressing this need. EntreDot is, in fact, expanding beyond its Kindred Boutique for artisan entrepreneurs and opening a new innovation center in Lafayette Village tomorrow (January 17, 2013).

Innovation centers that offer programs that do not include a strong mentoring component do not prepare entrepreneurs and existing businesses to optimize their talents. Seed capital is needed, as are offices and access to the right equipment. However, the entrepreneurial education and mentoring are key. Finding a way to attract talent back to the area is another idea whose time has come. Even in biotechnology and emerging, fast-growth sectors, study after study has stated the need for more top talent to run world class organizations. Let’s apply some of the principles of Chengdu to our own market and spur even greater innovation!

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