Colorado on the edge of business innovation leadership

The Rocky Mountains are on their way to becoming the next Silicon Valley.

While California and New York have led the country in technological and financial innovation, Colorado has built up a reputation as the quiet business innovation leader between the coasts, according to economics professor Stephan Weiler.

The Colorado Innovation Index, an inaugural report compiled early this year by Weiler and a team of graduate and undergraduate CSU students, provides hope that Colorado’s economy and business climate will continue to grow.

“We care because innovation determines how Colorado’s economy is going to do,” Weiler said. “We are on the edge –– there’s real promise there and we get a sense that the next few years will really matter.”

Innovation is a product, profit or service that adds new value to the marketplace, according to Weiler. For innovation to occur, four pieces explored in the Index must fall in place: Talent, Ideas, Capital and Entrepreneurship.

“From a big picture view, innovation is critical to both economic growth, job creation and our overall quality of life. While the specific role of this index was to benchmark innovation, it fits into the larger goal of trying to promote innovation in [Colorado],”  economics graduate student Gregory Totten, who worked on the Index, wrote in an e-mail to the Collegian.

Weiler and his team analyzed publicly available data to determine Colorado’s innovation status compared to other states.

“We see where our strengths and struggles are,” said Michael Yeadon, an economics graduate student who worked on the project. “It’s important for everyone in Colorado to understand where we’ve been and see that we’re a standout state in some areas.”

Colorado is strong in the talent sector and pulls from an educated work force that develops a large amount of good ideas, according to Weiler. Early stage capital in the state also supports Colorado’s entrepreneurial strength.

Many people choose to move to Colorado, especially the young and talented, which boosts the innovative work force already comprised of educated workers, Totten said.

Colorado exceeds the national average for attainment of science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees, and is only behind Massachusetts in having the most workers with a bachelor’s Degree or higher, according to the Index.

“[Education] is important and will continue to be important,” Yeadon said. “Jobs will require it more and more in the future. Students can be encouraged that they’re already in the process of post-secondary education.”

Although the Index’s primary goal was to measure Colorado’s innovation compared to other “benchmark” states like Massachusetts, California and New York, it also served to encourage Colorado entrepreneurs and their financial backers to continue to innovate and draw in businesses and capital from outside the state, according to Totten. The team presented the report Aug. 30 at a Colorado Innovation Network summit comprised of business leaders throughout the state.

Colorado hasn’t reached the peak of innovation yet and has room to grow, especially in educating its own young work force, Totten said.

“I’m excited to be a part of everything that’s happening,” Yeadon said. “It’s a big time for us. I think we’re going to grow a lot in the future.”

Ultimately, Colorado’s business and economic climate will affect those preparing to enter the workforce, like junior business major Kenall Hershey.

“I think innovation is what is going to keep America together,” Hershey said. “It gives opportunities to students like myself to know possibilities are out there. It gives my class more hope than what we went into college with.”

Politics Beat Reporter Kate Winkle can be reached at news@collegian.com.