Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Civilian Innovation Corps - A 21st Century Solution to the Jobs Problem

I am 46 yrs old. I'm a husband, father and engineer and I have what I think is a solution that will re-invigorate the American Innovation Engine/Mindset and bring us out of the mess we find ourselves in.

I was a corporate worker for 20+ years but in July 2007 I was laid off. In the past 4 years journey into becoming a startup company founder I have reached a realization that traditional large corporations were poorly equipped  at leveraging my full abilities. So it was time for me to take a big chance and start my own company and make things happen on my own.

However, the problem I have struggled greatly with this past 4 years is; with 2 kids, a stay at home wife, who had to go back to work in 2009, and a mortgage to pay, it is extremely difficult to find the money to start a company.

Venture Capitalists operate in a way that makes it very difficult for people, even those people with vision and drive, to get the chance to start something new unless they have already led a prior successful company.  Banks won't loan money to a startup without existing customers and revenue so the entrepreneur has a "catch-22" situation dealing with banks.

My only avenue was to make it happen anyway by investing my past and future retirement savings.   This process has made me realize just how high the barrier has become for people to take this step and take control of their lives and careers.It is very clear to me now that this country is full of millions of "30-something, 40-something" and "50-something" people, just like me, at the peak of their abilities, that are perfectly capable of make great things happen in solving big problems for society while generating new jobs for the next generation.

The problem is how to empower those people to realize their potential. Most are criminally underutilized in corporate jobs or have been dumped on the street by corporations seeking "cheap labor" overseas.Today this great pool of wisdom, experience and ability is going largely wasted. Imagine what is possible if we put those people to work in a more powerful way solving the problems we know how to solve.

The Solution: The "Civilian Innovation Corps" (CIC) ******************************************

Economic recovery is about only one thing and only thing; Jobs. Without jobs that pay well across a range of careers and industries the economy can't and won't work.

Therefore I strongly believe that a wise use of a large portion of the "Rescue Plan" funds, combined with philanthropic donation from people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, would be to fund a program I call the "Civilian Innovation Corps" (CIC). This program would be a 21st century version of the CCC of the 1930s.

In the 1930s CCC put 'out of work' people 'back to work' in rebuilding the infrastructure of the US. That rebuilt foundation set the stage for our success in WW2 and the breakthroughs we had in the 50 years after WW2.We of course had our failures; but we also had many successes in leading the world to new levels of human societal success and prosperity.

The new deal programs like CCC set the stage for the interstate highway system, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Hoover Dam, the Civil Rights movement, the Space Program, the "people's vision and action" that ended the Vietnam war, our survival through the cold war and ultimately our ability to turn cold war defense technology (ArpaNet) into what we now call the "internet"."

Innovation mindset" is what brought people to this continent. It's what created this "great experiment" called the USA and it's what made the USA the leading force on earth for progress and a better future. "Innovation mindset" is the essential component of what makes America unique. I believe our "innovation mindset" needs a recharge for this new century.

Our Fortune 500 corporations, combined with our Universities, were the primary stewards of our innovation mindset in the 20th century. But with our largest corporations off-shoring product & service innovation and focusing on short-term profits and cost cutting, the F500 innovation engine is sputtering. Also with the high cost of a university education fewer American-born students are staying in school to get Master's degrees and PHd's. University research historically has contributed hugely to our countries core research and innovation so this loss is concerning.

The CIC would launch a new "innovation mindset" stewardship using the modern principles of self-organizing and collaborative communities. The CIC would provide and support a social networking community for laid-off and/or frustrated innovation workers with strong work experience and skills.

These people would have all types of abilities plus a desire to start and be involved in a new innovation-generating startup business. The CIC social network would also look to attract young people with less experience but plenty of drive and passion to make a difference. The CIC platform would then allow people to seek and/or create "Startup Teams" in the CIC community.

The leadership of teams will emerge naturally from small groups of people having the right mix of engineering, science, finance, legal, marketing, etc skill-sets. The team leads would build fast moving extended teams that would tackle hard problems in every industry.

The goal of each team would be to both solve a hard problem and build a viable wealth-generating business that can employ people. The teams would be able to draw from a vast pool of CIC volunteer talent including everything from physical laborers and skilled blue collar workers, to tenured college professors to former corporate CEO's.

The CIC community would also provide short, highly-focused education courses in all disciplines. Volunteer mentors/instructors from all disciplines would lead these courses so people could, if they want, rapidly bootstrap themselves into a new or different career. CIC would allow even for students in high school and middle school to engage in the community to learn, be mentored and to prepare for an entrepreneurial future.The future career path for many people may be something like.....

- At least one viable, CIC-supported small business launched and operating by your high school graduation.

- CIC volunteer work for one year with a second small business started by end of first year.- Income from 2 or more small businesses subsidizes your college education through grad school.

- Launch a more advanced venture in CIC as a team-lead focused on solving a hard problem.

- Launch more ventures until success, and financial independence is achieved.

- Independence from a monthly paycheck by ~35 would allow for people to volunteer their time back to CIC mentoring the latest crop of CIC entrepreneurs and/or CIC youth members in solving the next generation of problems.

Each CIC team would seek a limited initial "venture fund" of anywhere from $10K to $200K depending on the nature of the venture concept. This money would be a mix of CIC government grant money and private money invested in the CIC ecosystem by private equity investors. The initial money would not be used for salaries for team members but only for operations costs.

The participants would however get basic, and free, healthcare coverage provided by the CIC.After some amount of time ~1 yr, if the business passes it's success milestones they would receive a followup fund to scale the business. That funding would either come from CIC, if the concept addresses a very important public/societal need, or would come from private venture funding after having proved the business model as viable. Once funded the people working in these company's would begin to get salaries, as well as equity positions in the founded companies.

As such, CIC would be a classic American combination of governmental seeding of an ecosystem that ultimately becomes maximized for success by private investment and personal enterprise(hard work).

America provided my ancestors with a ladder to success with reachable rungs they could use to reach ever higher with only persistence and hard work. But that ladder has gotten old and is missing enough rungs where it's getting too hard for enough people, even those who are very persistent, to "make the climb".

This CIC concept could be a new American "ladder" to success for ourselves and our children. It would also be the ladder for the next generation of American immigrants from around the world with... "innovation mindsets, yearning to breath free".

Today someone in a foreign country who wants to come to the US must get a corporate sponsored visa to come here and work and start the citizenship process. With CIC, innovation-minded visionaries from anywhere could get a CIC sponsored visa to start them on their path to American citizenship.

America is an idea. The idea is, summed up in a statement we make to people of all countries,...

"Send me your visionaries of every generation and we will put them to work building toward a future where peace, prosperity and respect are the words that describe the human condition on this planet and beyond."

I'm ready to lead a movement to make CIC and other great ideas a reality.

The question I have is; Does the President or Congress care enough about solutions to find and support people like me who are ready to make solutions happen?