Rethinking Innovation in Clean Tech

In an effort to boost employment, promote cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy, and give the U.S. a global competitive advantage, governors across the nation are looking to implement policies that spur clean tech innovation.

In February, Professor Andrew Hargadon, director of the UC Davis Center for Entrepreneurship, participated in “Spurring Business Start-ups and Innovation in Clean Technology,” a National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practices Webcast co-sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation.

Hargadon outlined the two common assumptions about how innovation happens. With the linear model, innovation occurs through research, development and deployment demonstration. In the “great man model” innovation occurs in a single moment and by a single person. “These models,” Hargadon said, “[have] shaped the way governments invest in entrepreneurship and innovation with an eye toward economic growth.” He said both approaches have proven inadequate in fast-tracking wide market adoption of innovative technologies.

Hargadon made the case for the network model. “Innovation is really finding new combinations of old ideas and building a network of people that can find these new combinations,”  he said, explaining how Thomas Edison painstakingly stitched together a network of disparate people—university researchers and institutions—that made the light bulb and the whole electricity infrastructure possible.

“[Edison] brought together existing technologies and new research, competing lighting and generator companies, the telegraph industry, investors like J.P. Morgan, and regulators that enabled him to create a business model for electricity,” Hargadon said.

As an invited presenter, moderator and keynote at conferences and industry events worldwide, Hargadon continues to gain international prominence by challenging industry and investors to rethink innovation and energy efficiency.

In October, Hargadon traveled to Qatar for the Connected Speaker Series hosted by ictQatar (the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology). Addressing nearly 300 attendees, Hargadon shared his insights on networked innovation and how it can be applied to energy efficiency and information and communication technology. Before his lecture, Hargadon met with 75 students from Qatar University’s School of Engineering, and encouraged them to think of innovation as connecting ideas, as opposed to inventing the “next big thing.” He urged the students to expand their social networks and to include those from other fields to increase their chances of being successful innovators.

Hargadon served as a moderator at the “Technology Transactions in the Post-Financial Crisis Economy” symposium sponsored by the UC Davis Law School in March. His next stop: the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance in San Francisco, where he discussed entrepreneurship and teaching entrepreneurship programs.