Terri Willingham

Executive Director of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation

I think the word “innovation” is overused. Not that I don’t appreciate or value interesting ideas, but I think many things touted as innovative today are simply refurbished old ideas or mid-to-late 20th century concepts clothed in the early21st century parlance of so-called influencers.

I think we need to be honest about what constitutes real innovation, and give credit where credit is due for reimagined ideas. Thomas Edison was not more innovative than Nikola Tesla, just better at applying the accrued knowledge of others to profitable good use. The same can be said of Elon Musk, who takes Tesla’s name for his company.

To me, innovation is about how we put time-tested ideas and contemporary knowledge together to come up with new or improved solutions to modern challenges. I’m less interested in hearing from self-proclaimed groundbreakers and startup funders touting the next big thing, than I am in listening to those who fly under the radar and may take a little more time to articulate their thoughts, but whose ideas have more conceptual and actionable meat on their bones.

The real super nova of ideation erupts not in the harried rush to market but from brewing slowly in the social forum of thought and conversation with fresh minds and voices. That’s where the magic happens, where the real, enduring solutions to life’s challenges are born. At this point in history, we don’t need more widgets, or the next great household product, or another app. We need real solutions to societal challenges like climate change, efficient transportation, strong infrastructure, improved communications tools, resources for scientific endeavors and, as of this writing, solutions to serious healthcare challenges like COVID-19.

I believe the way to seed and support meaningful real-world innovation in Tampa Bay is to provide more equity in entrepreneurship and to democratize access to the tools and resources people need to think and experiment. That’s the whole point of AMRoC Fab Lab. It’s a place where anyone can do meaningful work in an inclusive and accessible environment that welcomes people across the human spectrum.

"To me, innovation is about how we put time-tested ideas and contemporary knowledge together to come up with new or improved solutions to modern challenges."

- Terri Willingham

We need to see less monochromatic boardrooms and a more diverse entrepreneurial and start up ecosystem reflecting the actual multiethnic, intergenerational, cross-gender community in which we live. We need to work with more people who do not look like us, or think like we do, who have different histories, languages, perspectives and experiences to bring to the table. This is the wonderful human amalgam in which true innovation can flourish. We don’t need to be disruptive. We need to be constructive. We need to be collaborative.

If we want to see real innovation, we have to be prepared to work with people who are not like us, to listen to ideas we’ve never heard before, and to consider them honestly, openly and with a willingness to let someone else, someone new, someone unheard of take credit, or to give up credit altogether. We can’t move forward if we’re always locked down, tied up in IP and patent protection and thinking in lockstep; that’s just ideating in a vacuum and calling it innovation.

In the end, we all profit if we support each other and nurture an accessible, inclusive ecosystem of real innovation – the reimagining of ideas into evidence-based solutions for real world challenges. Tampa Bay is fertile ground for this type of useful knowledge-based growth and development. We have a diverse, multi-cultural community with a rich history of independent thought and action.

We just need to invite more people who are not like us to the table to think and work together, diversify our board rooms, and open our minds and our hearts to the community we live in, for the truly innovative solutions that will make the lives of all of us in Tampa Bay and beyond truly and equitably enriching and fulfilling.

AMRoc Fab Lab

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