The Third Wave of digital technology meets the Rustbelt

Much excitement has been building over what feels like the beginning of an era of immense technological advance, the central role that entrepreneurs will play in its development, and the potential for a wide range of regions to reap the rewards. But progress won’t come easy. Significant challenges are likely to follow as digital technologies expand into relatively untapped areas of the economy.

Two excellent books out in as many months—and a quick data analysis here—persuasively drive these points home.

Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy (Book Review)

If you’re like me, and in search of a much-needed reprieve from the professed doom and gloom of a hyper-autonomous and apparently jobless future, then I have just the book for you. Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy, out last fall, takes a hard look at the realities of the coming wave of automating technologies, such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, and the role humans will play in an increasingly digital future.

What Startup Accelerators Really Do

Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States and beyond. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community. However, the measurable impact accelerators have on performance varies widely among programs — not all accelerators are created equally. Quality matters.

Accelerating Growth: Startup Accelerator Programs in the United States

Startup accelerators support early-stage, innovation-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing, in a fixed-period, cohort-based setting. This process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aims to accelerate the lifecycle of high-potential companies and the experiential learning of their founders. Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States, but are commonly misunderstood or mistakenly lumped-in with other early-stage supporting institutions. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community and local economy. However, the measurable impact accelerators have on performance varies widely among programs. To that end, an accelerator pioneer offers some best practices.

Better Late Than Never: Creativity, Inc.

Although it's been out for nearly two years, I finally managed to read Creativity, Inc.—the first hand account of Ed Catmull, the genius behind Pixar, about his journey in building the company. While the book contains engaging stories behind some of the most commercially successful and entertaining animated films of all time, it's really a book about managing a fast-growing, innovation-driven, entrepreneurial, creative enterprise.

A cure for health care inefficiency? The value and geography of venture capital in the digital health sector

Relative to other affluent countries, the United States devotes disproportionate resources to health care with disappointing results. Recognizing these problems, entrepreneurs are increasingly applying information technology to health care equipment, monitoring, treatment, and service delivery, creating a sector known as digital health. These technologies, once embedded and distributed around the country, hold the potential to substantially alter the efficiency and quality of health care through the better generation, processing, and use of information; the reduction of overhead costs; and the empowerment of patients. This analysis finds that digital health venture capital investment is a substantial and growing share of total venture capital, creating, even in its infancy, valuable returns for owners. Venture investments in digital health are more dispersed geographically than total venture capital, yet digital health entrepreneurship has no geographic relationship to the traditional health care sector. Rather, the presence of workers in advanced service industries strongly predicts digital health investment at the metropolitan scale.

The Gig Economy Is Real If You Know Where to Look

A number of reports in recent weeks have stressed that employment effects of the so-called gig economy—contract workers on software platforms such as Uber and AirBnB—have been overstated. At minimum, these reports indicate, any increase in gig economy employment hasn’t shown up in the aggregate statistics—at least not yet anyway.

But my analysis tells a different story, showing that the impacts can in fact be seen if you look more deeply at the data and in the right places.

The Farm Goes Digital

Digitization is transforming products, processes, and industries across the economy, and could be the key to sorely needed productivity growth across a wide range of sectors in the coming years, from manufacturing to mining, and from healthcare to home automation. One area of the economy that stands to benefit greatly from the coming wave of digital disruption is the oft-forgotten agricultural sector. Not only are the digital applications compelling, but agricultural innovation is an imperative—with no end in sight for global population growth, environmental degradation, and growing ecological constraints, increased productivity in the farming sector is a must. However, agricultural productivity growth has been steadily declining the last few decades, making a sustainable and inclusive global food source all but guaranteed. Technological innovation can—and indeed must—play a big role. Though in the early stages, emerging “AgTech” innovations have begun to show promise.