The Twin Cities Innovation Ecosystem: A Study of Stakeholder Perspectives

Author:Foley, Rider, EN-Engineering and SocietyUniversity of Virginia ORCID icon

In the early 1980s, the Office of Naval Research sponsored a novel research project led by Andrew Van de Ven and colleagues (1986) called The Minnesota Innovation Research Program. That study investigated thirteen subject areas from microelectronics and medical products to multi-hospital systems and programs to commercialize outer space, all of which were underway in the state. Van de Ven and colleagues (1989) issued an edited volume that shared the lessons learned from that longitudinal study, which was later republished in paperback form by Oxford Press. The section of this book dedicated to technological innovation featured chapters which are titled: Managing complex innovations: The case of defense contracting; Assessing the emergence of new technologies: The case of compound semiconductors; The management of research and development of a biological innovation; and Technological innovation and industry emergence: The case of cochlear implants. Those cases offered analysis of the people, ideas, transactions, context, and outcomes from those different sectors, which Van de Ven and colleagues later summarized in The Innovation Journey (1999). Of course, others have written compelling narratives that retrace innovations nurtured within firms in the region. For example, the development of 3M’s Post-It® products is recounted in a famous case study of innovation (McNerney, 2002), as is Earle Bakken’s work in his garage (Kenny, 2008). There are plenty of stories of invention and commercial success attributed to firms in the region. This research explores the following question: Who is doing what to pursue innovation, and why? This question affords an opportunity to understand who the organizations are that are working on innovation and what actions and activities they are taking in that pursuit. The why pertains to the motivations and goals that inspire those organizations to take action. To address these questions, this project will rely upon interviews with selected participants from metropolitan Minneapolis and St. Paul (or Twin Cities). This research is distinct, as it doesn’t rely upon economic measures of success. Rather, it accounts for stakeholder perspectives of the innovation ecosystem from the ground up and invites the people involved in the creation of novel technologies to share their stories and to reflect upon their responsibilities and the responsibilities of other organizations within the city. This approach might well serve to highlight gaps in the current innovation ecosystem that would not be identified by simply counting the number of university graduates or venture capital dollars secured. The aim of this research is to facilitate reflection among civic leaders and to help them identify the assets and deficits present in the innovation ecosystem. For the Twin Cities, the growth and expansion of large corporations that are built upon research and development has long served the region. As civic leaders look toward the future, there are opportunities for the region to unite around shared values and interests.

Responsible Innovation, Governance, Science Policy, Urban Innovation
University of Virginia
Published Date:
May 1, 2020