Is an Innovation Ecosystem Only for the Elite?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the Rainforest Alberta summit.  The Rainforest is a group of entrepreneurs, community economic development experts, academics and government agencies that are looking at how we can improve Alberta's Innovation Ecosystem.  There are six categories of innovation that we are measuring against are: Leadership, Role Models, Activities/Engagement, Culture, Resources, Framework/Infrastructure/Policies.  

As we walked through where we are in the ecosystem development process I looked around the room and it struck me that we are a very privileged and resilient group.  We can "afford" to talk about risk taking and disruption because we know how to access a safety net.  But what about those who don't have that luxury?

Is an Innovation Ecosystem only for the elite who create it?

How do we avoid the "Silicon Valley Effect" where the creators of the innovation are in a different socio-economic class from those that support and surround those creators?  What happens if those individuals can no-longer afford to live in the very space that the innovation is taking place?

As with any form of system disruption and paradigm shift the fissures in the fabric of society will become more apparent. It also means that those of us who are leading this initiative and designing the space acknowledge, and plan, for the unintended consequences of what this type of system will bring for those who are in the supporting roles of the innovators (i.e. the employees, the start-ups, the teachers) and those who are on the fringes of society to begin with (i.e. the marginalized).

The principles of the Rainforest Group are:

  1. Diversity

  2. Free Help

  3. Trust

  4. Pay it Forward

  5. Fairness

  6. Listening

  7. Honesty

  8. Team Sport

  9. Sharing

  10. Role Model

If we take these 10 items to heart then we should be able to avoid some of the Innovation Ecosystem pitfalls that other communities like San Francisco and specifically the Silicon Valley have faced as their communities grew and their social fabric was woven.

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