Entrepreneurial Local Governments -- A Catalyst for Collaboration and Innovation

Rob WhiteRob White is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in local innovation. 

Being named a White House Champion of Change is a strong validation for our work to build collaborative relationships between government, academia, and industry. Too often local governments become tied to process over opportunity and limit their ability to innovate or become true agents of change. In my role as an economic developer, I have been given the incredible chance to work across sectors and regions to translate the entrepreneurial ecosystem present in Silicon Valley into a living network of government advocacy, research collaboration, and industry investment.

Starting in 2007, I was given the unique opportunity to work closely with two premier U.S. research institutions Sandia National Labs/CA and Lawrence Livermore National Lab. We focused on creating new partnerships and economic development prospects in Livermore, the eastern-most region of the San Francisco East Bay area. Concurrently, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia/CA were creating plans for the Livermore Valley Open Campus, and we worked to identify numerous community benefits that could be realized by partnering with the Labs in their endeavors.

The most significant outcome from this engagement is the i-GATE Innovation Hub, which was co-founded in 2010 with a colleague at Sandia/CA. Formally recognized by the State of California as an emerging innovation ecosystem, we built coalitions throughout the East Bay and Sacramento regions in order to address a range of issues in developing a strong entrepreneurial climate that would increase new technology startups and commercialization in conjunction with the Labs. These challenges included a lack of entrepreneurial support services, growth capital, innovation networking, and academic interactions. The regionally-focused i-GATE initiative was designed to address these gaps in the research-to-commercialization continuum thus increasing local capacity for technology transfer.

As an example of local government entrepreneurship, I leveraged my small City of Livermore departmental resources to established two 501c3 nonprofits for the i-GATE iHub. The organizations are tasked to support small technology businesses and create an accelerated growth environment to maximize the economic potential of sustainable transportation, clean-energy, and high performance computing technologies. i-GATE programs also include the NEST Commercialization Center, which serves small and emerging technology companies by leveraging technical assistance, expertise, and connectivity with Sandia/CA and Lawrence Livermore user facilities, R&D programs, and technology transfer programs. The NEST is partnered with federal agencies such as the US Commercial Service, Small Business Development Centers, USDA, and MANEX/NIST to increase client access to services without duplicating other programs. After just 15 months of operation, the i-GATE NEST has helped to create over 50 direct and 100 indirect jobs.

Recognizing that the Livermore region was also in need of additional academic opportunities, I helped create the Academic Alliance which brings together academic and research institutions to support the mission of i-GATE, the Labs, the Livermore Valley Open Campus. This Alliance has resulted in development of partnerships with the University of California at Berkeley and Davis, the California State University System, the regional California Community Colleges, and Midwest universities such as University of Oklahoma. These partnerships focus administrative connection and researcher interaction through the i-GATE consortium in order to leverage technology transfer, accelerate commercialization, assist workforce development and training, and increase innovation.

Over the last 30 months, my  i-GATE efforts have created a proactive, two-way link between national laboratories and entrepreneurs, industry, innovation networks, venture capital firms, universities, business support services, and economic development resources in order to accelerate the commercialization of innovative energy technologies and grow a cohesive innovation ecosystem.

I am humbled and honored to be selected as a Champion of Change. From this recognition, I hope all local government employees are reminded that the public sector, too, can be entrepreneurial, have a positive impact and contribution to economic and business ecosystems, and can create change that propels our nation’s efforts on the forefront of innovation.

Rob White is the Director of Economic Development for the City of Livermore and the Interim CEO of the i-GATE Innovation Hub, a broad super-regional partnership that is focused on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories/CA as economic engines.

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