Obama's Strategy for American Innovation

“Innovation is more important than ever,” declares President Barack Obama in a white paper released yesterday. A Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs doesn’t exactly break new ground, but the 22-page report does present a good snapshot of where we are now.

It doesn’t pull its punches, either. The first few pages provide historical context, painting a bleak picture of American dystopia, an America limping along with a broken economy, a neglected, out-of-date education system, decaying infrastructure (both physical and virtual) and out-of-control health care costs. But read on! The Obama Administration is here to help, and looking not only to avoid unsustainable, bubble-driven growth but also to avoid “unproductive and anachronistic debate” about the government’s future role. “The true choice in innovation is not between government and no government, but about the right type of government involvement in support of innovation,” says the report.

So how does Obama define innovation?

As it happens, pretty straightforwardly: "Fundamentally, innovation is the development of new products, services, and processes." Then this, more interesting: "The greatest job and value creators of the future will be activities, jobs, and even industries that don't exist yet today."

Essentially, there are three steps to Obama's plan, tackling the grassroots to the macro challenges facing the world at large. So, he's talking about investment in basic research, a topic BusinessWeek has written about a lot of late (in particular, see Adrian Slywotzky's essay and this response from Vivek Wadhwa and Robert E Litan. He's talking education: "educate the next generation with 21st century knowledge and skills". He's talking infrastructure, both physical (roads, bridges) and virtual (Internet access.)

And he's talking entrepreneurship, including sponsoring high-tech visas, a topic close to the hearts of many VC's, including Paul Graham of Y Combinator, who's been calling for a Founders' Visa for months now. [I also noted this similar suggestion from Mike Milken back in February.]

What does it all add up to? A snapshot of Obama's commitments to date, with a reminder of his commitments to issues such as energy, healthcare and education. And sure, it all sounds good and it's great that innovation has so much buzz around it at the moment (stay tuned for Reena Jana's report from the Clinton Global Initiative gathering in Manhattan tomorrow, where the topic is also front and center). The commitments are terrific. Now they must be executed. And as we all know, executing an innovative idea effectively is just as hard as coming up with it in the first place.