When George Kozmetsky created the IC2 Institute some 36 years ago, he asked Bob Peterson to join as one of its earliest fellows. Peterson has been active at the University of Texas’ entrepreneurship-focused think tank ever since – and as of today, he takes over as its latest director.
Peterson’s deep experience with the institute includes roles as director of research and deputy director under John Sibley Butler, who led the institute for about a decade and whom Peterson will replace.
As a marketing professor and UT’s vice president for research, Peterson has a direct view of how the efforts of the institute ripple through the university, through Austin, through the U.S. and around the world.
The American-Statesman recently talked with Peterson about his new role and its global influence.
American-Statesman: What did you glean from John Sibley Butler during his tenure as the IC2 director over the past decade?
Peterson: When George Kozmetsky created the IC2 Institute in 1977, he envisioned it as a “think and do tank.” This vision has been maintained over time. John and I have a symbiotic relationship that goes back decades and predates our time spent at the IC2 Institute. At the Institute we “co-managed” virtually all of the Institute’s “think and do” functions and activities during his tenure as director. John is clearly a visionary and always focuses on the big picture. I plan to continue executing his vision as director of the institute.
How has the fundamental role of the institute changed over the years, and how do you envision its role evolving at the university, in Austin and around the world?
During John’s tenure as director, the institute became more global in nature. Currently it conducts research and manages innovation-related programs in countries as disparate as Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea and Turkey. The global footprint of the institute will continue to expand and even accelerate over time. Indeed, we like to say “the sun never sets on the IC2 Institute.”
What sorts of new directions and ideas do you hope to explore?
One result of the globalization of the institute is that an international innovation hub is being considered for Austin. This hub would bring together companies and institutions from around the world to interact and undertake business and commercialization activities beneficial both to themselves and to the Austin ecosystem. The hub would be an extension of the institute’s TechBA, a business accelerator that houses nearly two dozen Mexican companies trying to do business in the United States.
A second result is that this globalization has actually facilitated the institute’s networking within the university. Many of the economic issues being faced today are best addressed through multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary efforts, and consequently the institute is more and more frequently being asked to collaborate with other departments and entities in the university or to serve as a catalyst when interfacing with external constituencies. This networking will be expanded as requests to cooperate increase.
The institute does a lot in Austin through the incubator and the Bureau of Business Research. But you also exchange ideas and innovation throughout the world through your other programs. How does that exchange benefit the UT, Austin and Texas communities and economies?
The international programs of the institute have many, many benefits for the university, Austin and Texas generally. First, and most obviously, the programs benefit university students by providing them with opportunities to experience and engage with students, universities, research entities and companies from around the world. I view this as an exceptional benefit for those students with global aspirations. Additionally, the international programs provide research opportunities for university faculty members by providing contacts, topical areas, and resources that they otherwise would not have. For instance, this summer university faculty members were able to collect data on-site in Japan and South Korea for their research projects; this would not have occurred without the assistance of the institute.
Austin and Texas benefit from the international programs in a variety of ways. Not only do these programs bring new companies to the Austin area through, for example, the Austin Technology Incubator’s “landing pad” program (ATI is part of the institute), but they are also the source of new insights and learning for researchers at the institute and university. These insights and learning are then shared with students, faculty members, businesses, government agencies and a host of institutions throughout Texas and the United States.
How much does what you learn here in Austin filter out into programs elsewhere?
Much of what has been learned through the institute’s research and development activities is disseminated through publications, lectures, workshops, conferences and even one-to-one communications. Moreover, the institute is constantly learning about what works best in its programs and adding that knowledge to its research and educational offerings. The institute has a global fellows network, a group of nearly 200 distinguished individuals that also helps disseminate institute-generated knowledge and actually puts into practice what has been learned through these activities.
As you mentioned, Kozmetsky founded the institute with the idea of not only researching entrepreneurship, but encouraging it and supporting it in practice as well. As you take up that mission, how do make sure all of the institute’s great theories and ideas translate into a better and better platform for entrepreneurs in Austin and beyond?
Accomplishing the institute’s “think and do” mission is an ongoing and ever-changing goal. Through its researchers, the institute has added significant knowledge and contributed leading-edge concepts that have helped understand and further entrepreneurship, technology commercialization and the notion of a technopolis, such as Austin. Through its development programs the institute has helped local firms raise more than $1 billion in capital and helped international firms realize hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Clearly, the institute has been successful to date, regardless of the evaluation metric used.
The term “IC2” signifies the mission of the institute — innovation, creativity and capital. These words guide everything done at the Institute and serve to integrate all of its “think and do” activities. With a clear focus, the institute is poised to reach heights that George Kozmetsky could only dream about.
About this series: Statesman Sunday Interview
There are many interesting and insightful people in the Central Texas business community. On Sundays, the American-Statesman business team brings you in-depth interviews with some of them, focusing on topics that matter to our community. To nominate someone for the Statesman Sunday Interview, email Statesman business editor Barry Harrell at email@example.com.