Last week, amidst the discussions about Alaska being an ideal testing ground for innovative solutions brought to Alaska, we overlooked a more critical topic: the importance of building our own capacity and the potential of Alaskans to create valuable solutions and productive innovation ecosystems IN Alaska for export FROM Alaska, while also increasing the local value and benefit from our current economic activities such as tourism and natural resource development.
History has shown that significant inventions and advancements emerge from vibrant ecosystems that converge around specific places and times. To end the stagnation of our Alaskan economy and the out migration of Alaskans, we must support more education, innovation and focus on nurturing Alaska’s local economic ecosystems that foster collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving in fields such as energy, housing, food, fisheries, healthcare, and logistics that will inspire Alaskans and create investable new ventures solving global needs that Alaskans can take outside to markets to test and profit from exporting.
I’m OK with people visiting to take pictures, but I’m growing weary of our priority on sharing a narrative of an economy that depends on people to come to Alaska to do our work, create our solutions, and extract value. Yes, Alaska IS a great place to test solutions, but let’s remember this is particularly true for the solutions we’ve developed here! (e.g. 60Hertz, Beadedstream, Dowland Bach, Heathers Choice, North Arrow, Arctic Heat, ANTHC, SC Foundation, and many more.) And, yes, we lack depth in our talent, but not breadth and potential. While we write promising plans, we do less to retain or draw Alaskans back to Alaska than we do to attract visitors and businesses.
Ecosystems that Drive Innovation: Throughout history, ecosystems have been pivotal in driving transformative inventions and advancements. Consider some notable examples:
- The Printing Press and Scientific Revolution: The printing press, invented in the mid-15th century, revolutionized the availability of books and spread literacy. This led to an increased demand for spectacles, and the proliferation of lenses sparked new discoveries. Combining two lenses eventually led to the invention of the telescope and microscope, paving the way for the scientific revolution. The ecosystem created by the printing press and lens makers nurtured the skills and interest in observation and deduction, shaping the future of science.
- Electric Light and Technological Progress: Thomas Edison’s revolutionary electric light system, introduced in the late 19th century, transformed society. The development of complementary technologies, such as redesigning factories around electric motors, led to increased productivity, the study of management, and improved living standards. The ecosystem created by electric light sparked secondary inventions like radios and refrigeration, reshaping various aspects of life and the foundations of harnessing and transmitting energy.
- The Automobile and Societal Transformation: The internal combustion engine and the subsequent advent of automobiles reshaped society in the early 20th century. Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line made cars accessible to the masses, altering social relationships and prompting the movement of people to suburbs. This transformation, while not without serious consequences, created new infrastructure, improved logistics, and changed the way we lived, worked, and shopped. The automobile ecosystem had far-reaching effects on supply chains, manufacturing, and everyday life.
Investing in Alaska’s Ecosystems to tackle Alaska’s pressing challenges and building a robust innovation ecosystems within the state is crucial. Here’s why:
- Open Networks of Collaboration and Talent Development: By nurturing collaboration between academia, research institutions, entrepreneurs, and local businesses, we can foster an ecosystem that encourages knowledge exchange, innovation, and problem-solving. This collaborative environment will attract and retain talented individuals, building a solid foundation for sustainable solutions.
- Infrastructure and Resources: Investing in infrastructure, such as research facilities, innovation hubs, and funding mechanisms, provides the necessary resources for entrepreneurs and researchers to thrive. Access to modern infrastructure and resources supports the developing and implementation of innovative ideas.
- Entrepreneurship and Start-up Support: Creating an environment that supports entrepreneurship is essential for generating solutions. By providing incubation programs, mentorship, funding, and regulatory support, we can empower local entrepreneurs to transform our challenges and their ideas into viable ventures. This, in turn, encourages job creation, economic growth, and sustainability.
- Climate Change Opportunity Narrative and Indigenous Communities: Alaska is home to diverse indigenous communities with rich traditional knowledge and practices. Collaborating with these communities offers the potential for an entirely new generation of creative solutions that are ecologically regenerative, economically sustainable, and broadly inclusive. Incorporating traditional ecological and indigenous knowledge (TEK/TIK) into innovation ecosystems, we can unlock unique insights and approaches to solving Alaska’s challenges to share with the world, including the global imperative of adapting to climate change and necessary transitions that might never emerge from outside solutions imported to our state. Our unique economic foundation of local and regional native corporations also offers a novel approach to developing the new ventures and anchoring them in Alaska, tied to multigenerational Purpose and global Shared Value, and insuring the opportunities that are created are accessible to Alaskans.
While Alaska’s potential as a testing ground for outside solutions should not be disregarded, we must increase our confidence in our potential and focus on investing in building ecosystems within the state. An innovation ecosystem grounded in arctic latitude, perspectives, and TEK/TIK offers a distinctive foundation for Alaska to join the history of pivotal areas of technological, community, and societal transformation. By nurturing collaboration, providing resources, supporting entrepreneurship, and engaging with indigenous communities, we can create an environment where Alaskans can live, design, and thrive. By doing so, we pave the way for Alaskan solutions that address global challenges in energy, housing, food, fisheries, logistics, and other critical areas. Let’s invest in Alaska’s ecosystems, creating the foundations for a prosperous and sustainable future.