Two new books on technological innovation in Israel and on the Irish Economy
(Note: I have only read the reviews of these books, but the books and their reviews seemed sufficiently interesting to mention them here)
The Irish Times provides a review by Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation Conor Lenihan of Marc Coleman, a media economist’s new book, ‘Back From The Brink’ (Transworld Ireland Books). The Financial Times provides a review by Tobias Buck of ‘Start-Up Nation – The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle’ by Dan Senor and Saul Singer (Twelve Books).
Minster Lenihan provides many comments Marc Coleman’s book, but I want to focus on just one of them. Coleman advances the idea that:
‘…a call to take on the challenge of poor spatial planning by increasing the levels of housing density in our urban areas so that public services can be delivered cost-effectively. Behind his density argument is a view that our population is rising and will rise again, despite the recession, and that high-tech societies need to be organised around mid- to high-rise living that of itself encourages innovation.’
This is an important idea which is insufficiently discussed in Ireland, especially in the context of innovation. Clustering of people, with competition for good ideas, appropriate institutions and legal frameworks with sufficiently broad and deep capital markets seems central to the development of zones of high innovation internationally. This suggests in turn the focus of our innovation policy should be on our four or five large cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, ??) to get any sort of a bang for our buck. The relative success of certain sectors around these cities speaks volumes (pharmachem in Cork and medtech in Galway are good examples) suggests policymakers know this implicitly already. Spreading innovation too thinlyis unlikely to work. Coleman’s book looks worth a read.
The other book focuses on high-tech innovation in an economy of similar scale to our own – that of Israel. Israel apparently has the highest volume of venture capital and the highest density of start-ups in the World. This is a most remarkable achievement. Tobias Buck notes that Israel has a technological particular strength in ‘technological mash-ups’, bringing innovations from disparate fields together. The other key variable is an early-stage training in innovation and entrepreneurship, something absent from the Irish education system (although the TCD-UCD alliance is trying to provide a part-redress at the latter end of the education system (http://www.tcd.ie/Communications/news/news.php?headerID=1355&vs_date=2009-12-17). The major flaw in the Israeli model is a propensity to sell out too early, which is why there has been no Israeli Google or Microsoft, for example. Of course this range of development takes place in a culture which invests in and reveres scientific research and development (another lesson for Ireland).