In an important piece of research recently released, two smart analysts have put numbers to what many of us active in economic development in New York State have long been saying: there exists a deep, fundamental mismatch between the stylistic preferences of regionally based venture-capital firms and the kinds of innovation emerging from the state’s university R&D community.

The study by Judy Albers and Tom Moebus – both well known and respected players in the statewide innovation ecosystem1 – employs data from NVCA and other sources to nail the case that while the amount of venture capital under management in New York City is rising, it is specializing heavily in digital technologies (IT, software, media) and focusing on capital-efficient “quick hits,” often at the expansion phase, with high potential for fast liquidity and outsized returns. Almost none of that potential is available upstate, and consequently almost no regionally managed capital goes there.

The authors show that while the VC industry in California and Massachusetts is more eclectic in its tastes, only a very small share of that money comes to New York to begin with, and exceptionally little makes its way upstate. That leaves ventures in what Albers and Moebus call the hard sciences (subdivided into the engineering technologies and life sciences) a long, hard slog with few early-stage investors (and almost no seed investors) either based here or deploying money anywhere in the state.

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  1. Judy, now an entrepreneurship professor at SUNY Geneseo co-founded the Pre Seed Workshop program, and Tom runs several innovation programs for the SUNY Research Foundation []

A 220 mph High Speed Rail Preliminary Feasibility Study — prepared for the State of llinllinois Department of Transportation by the University of Illinois in collaboration with three private-sector engineering firms — cites in its introduction Gov. Quinn’s “vision to more closely connect the University of Illinois to Chicago” as the animating idea behind an interest in the southbound O’Hare-Chicago-Champaign1 route as a priority for further study, evaluation, and development.

Whether this idea is a serious stab at improving university/industry linkages to a fairly remote campus or only a political stunt is hard to tell. I can find no further reference to the matter in Gov. Quinn’s public speeches or on the website of the University of Illinois system trustees. Regardless, it was a deliberate choice: Gov. Quinn already backs a well advanced project to serve Chicago-to-St. Louis with 110 mph service via Springfield, and there are several other credible possibilities in the envisioned Midwest High Speed Rail network, such as Chicago-to-Minneapolis.

But the idea of connecting the state’s principal city to the state’s own flagship research university at true high-speed (which is to say >155 mph, by all standards except those prevailing in the U.S.) apparently held enough appeal to warrant separate study. Under the vision for operation at maximum speed of 220 mph, rail travel time from Chicago to Champaign would drop from 2:10 on Amtrak currently to just 45 minutes via HSR.

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  1. and thence onward to either St. Louis or Indianapolis []