In Asheville, A Budding Hub For Innovation
Let us learn to dream, gentlemen. -Friedrich August Kekule
Dreams are the order of business today in Asheville, North Carolina.
So are science, and technology, and entrepreneurialism, and venture capital, and risk, and vision, and social good, and . . . well, just about every ingredient you need for a decidedly innovative and human-centered culture. In fact, it’s not at all far-fetched to think of this small city, nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, as an emerging Silicon Valley. Or, quite possibly, the city is creating a new model of how innovation cultures can operate in the 21st century.
Nowhere is this emergent innovation and vision more apparent than at The Collider, Asheville’s newly opened research, commercialization and meeting space dedicated to bringing together science, innovation and business to solve climate challenges. More than a meeting space, more than an incubator or accelerator, The Collider is really an idea made manifest, a physical place and a real and virtual network for “strategic collisions” to occur between business and science. It is an idea that is going to introduce dreams to the world.
We tend to see things like climate change as problems, or as threats or as something to be fixed. But in the time-honored tradition of innovation — that is, innovation as a force for positive change in the world – the community that is emerging around The Collider sees climate change as an opportunity, one that can put this growing network of climate innovators and scientists smack in the middle of a growing $1 trillion dollar industry. It is an opportunity to both establish Asheville’s national reputation for innovation and — more importantly, of course — to simply make the world a better place. It is the latter outcome that will ultimately distinguish The Collider and its many supporters and collaborators from other efforts.
Innovation cultures are by nature inclusive, and welcoming and open. The culture itself operates as an invitation for curious, interested entrepreneurs to join in, and Asheville certainly has an “Entrepreneurs Welcome!” sign out. But the best invitation to join The Collider and Asheville in collaborative aspirations came from Mack Pearsall, one of the earliest supporters of the idea of The Collider. “Let the word go forth,” Pearsall said, “to all entrepreneurs and researchers. If you think you have an idea with climate data that you can commercialize, The Collider is open for business. Come here and we’ll make your dream come true.”
That last sentence is so important. Innovation is about dreams, more than anything else. Robert Browning said: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.” The community of Asheville and The Collider seem to know this. They seem to get the idea of risk and dreaming and breaking rules and paying it forward. And this is why grand, ambitious things like The Collider begin to appear — and prosper — in communities like Asheville.
So, watch this city and this organization. Expect big things from them. You probably won’t be disappointed.