From the President: Creating Pathways – The Key to Innovation

4 minute read

A brand-new and groundbreaking study from researchers at Harvard, Stanford, MIT and the London School of Economics highlights one of the main challenges facing the Innovation Quarter as we strive to fulfill our ambitious mission to drive economic growth and build vibrant community. That challenge is the growing realization that innovation and income inequality are inextricably linked. Dramatically, the study starkly shows that being an inventor relies upon two things in America: excelling in math and science and coming from a high-income family. This finding supports the reason for our mission to drive economic growth and to build vibrant community.

The study, covered by dozens of news organizations, including the New York Times and Vox, highlights the tragic reality of “Lost Einsteins,” lamenting the harsh truth that we have likely lost or delayed some of the world’s most amazing discoveries.

These deficits occur because many children never have the opportunities to engage in science, technology, arts, engineering and math in ways that can eventually turn them into our next generation of scientists, mathematicians, artists and engineers.

According to the study, “the probability that an individual becomes a star inventor is just as sensitive to his or her conditions at birth as the probability that he innovates at all.”

Providing fertile ground for advanced education is a part of our approach to building vibrant community. Today, more than 1,500 students seek undergraduate or advanced degrees from Wake Forest University or Wake Forest School of Medicine in the Innovation Quarter and over 9,000 students are participating in Forsyth’s Tech programs in emerging technologies. It is vital for us to build the type of vibrant community that fosters that advanced education, and we will continue to do so.

But the decision—or even ability—to pursue these pathways starts well before college application time. By middle school at the very latest, we need to expose students and their families to these fields, cultivating their interest and helping them believe in the possibilities.

My hope is that, with your help, the Innovation Quarter will continue to evolve into a place where our future Einsteins are never lost, but find a home.

Eric Tomlinson

That is why it is equally as vital for us, in our role as a catalyst for the innovation ecosystem, to provide multiple pathways for diverse groups to participate. You’ll read about some of those pathways in our latest feature story, which highlights the wonderful efforts of three of our participating academic institutions: Winston-Salem State University, Forsyth Tech and the UNC School of the Arts.

You’ll read about how Forsyth Tech at Innovation Quarter is providing small business coaching and workforce training to underserved populations in Winston-Salem. You’ll read about Winston-Salem State’s legacy of increasing minority participation in the sciences. And you’ll read about how the Center for Design Innovation is creating cross-functional learning opportunities.

Opening up pathways for all to participate in the innovation ecosystem is why we continue to support the SciTech Institute, a joint program between the Innovation Quarter and Winston-Salem State University. Each summer I have the unique pleasure of visiting with these students as they participate in SciTech’s summer camp, gaining immersive exposure to STEAM-related organizations and companies here in the Innovation Quarter and across Winston-Salem.

Opening up new pathways for participating in the innovation ecosystem is why we worked, along with others like David Mounts of Inmar and the DataMax Foundation, to bring Venture Café to Winston-Salem, a free weekly gathering of local innovators, complete with mentoring and programming designed to educate and inspire.

Opening up new pathways is why we are excited by the new developments with HUSTLE Winston-Salem and its leader, Fay Horwitt. You’ll hear much more in the coming months about this exciting effort to increase diversity and inclusion in our start-up community.

According to the study, “if the social planner’s goal is to increase innovation, the key question is what types of policy changes can bring these lost Einsteins into the innovation pipeline.”

My hope is that, with your help and the bright minds and focused hearts that exist here and will in the future, the Innovation Quarter will continue to evolve into a place where our future Einsteins are never lost, but find a home.

The finding that excellence in STEM subjects combined with high family income aligns precisely with our dual mission of driving economic growth and building vibrant community.

By prospering and creating pathways for education and training in STEAM, we succeed.