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Highlight: When It Comes to Innovation, Size Does NOT Matter

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Assistant Secretary Williams and DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill participate in roundtable discussion with Arkansas entrepreneurs at the AR Innovation Hub

There is a perception that innovation and entrepreneurship happen on the coasts while the rest of the country gets left behind. Yes, there are many places in America where the airports are so small you have to travel by puddle jumper to get there, and there is not a proliferation of a certain ubiquitous coffee shop on every block. But when it comes to innovation, size doesn’t matter. Small towns and cities across the country are doing some truly amazing things to support their innovators and entrepreneurs. Recently, Assistant Secretary Jay Williams and DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill traveled to Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas to meet with local entrepreneurs at the incubators and training facilities that support them to see what innovation looks like with a touch of Southern hospitality.

After arriving in Memphis, Assistant Secretary Williams and Chairman Masingill met with several entrepreneurs at Memphis Bioworks, an organization that seeks to create companies, jobs, and investments in bioscience. Some of the solutions presented by companies are brilliant in their simplicity. EndoInSight is a company started to reduce the discomfort of colorectal cancer screening, and Restore Medical Solutions is working to reduce surgical site infections with a simple u-ring for surgical instruments. TriMetis connects research entities with hospitals and providers who have excess tissue from samples taken for testing. It’s essentially taking a waste product and using it for potentially life-saving research. So much is coming out of Memphis Bioworks that they were conducting a “Shark Tank” like event for entrepreneurs that same day to help participants find funding that could take their ideas from concept to market.

While innovation cannot be taught, it can certainly be encouraged. From Memphis, they traveled to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to tour the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center, which is training students of all ages in fields like advanced manufacturing and robotics. The courses span all industries and skills building, from service industries to engineering, in order to empower students to pursue jobs that will strengthen the Cape Girardeau area economy and the rest of the region.

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Advanced Manufacturing Training Equipment at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center

The final stop on this whirlwind innovation tour was Little Rock, Arkansas. The Southern Governor’s Association Annual Meeting was held in Little Rock, and Assistant Secretary Williams had been invited to speak on a panel about creating communities of innovation. That morning, he got some additional inspiration on the topic at The Innovation Hub. At a roundtable at the Hub, Assistant Secretary Williams had the opportunity to hear from more than 20 entrepreneurs working in and around Little Rock to build Arkansas’ economy.

Former President Bill Clinton offered the keynote address at the conference and said something incredibly poignant about the times we live in:

“We are living at a breath-taking moment of possibility. And, if we blow it, shame on us!”

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Former President Bill Clinton addresses Southern Governors’ Association Annual Meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas

That possibility he spoke of exists everywhere. Technology has made it possible for people to work and create anywhere – even a town without a Starbucks. It’s all of our responsibility to support and nurture innovation and innovators in big cities and tiny towns.