From war effort-driven inventions through to John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put man on the moon, governments have pushed innovation forward throughout history. But should governments invest directly in innovation, or do it by inviting companies to invest and giving them better conditions to do so? This is a debate with roots in another never-ending, highly political and ideological argument: if, how and to what extend should the State intervene in the economy.
One of the best-known examples is when, in May 1961, President Kennedy challenged the United States to take men to the moon by the end of the decade. It was a movement led by government investment that called upon the brightest minds and achieved its remarkable goal on 16 July, 1969. Another less alluring, but impactful, example is Napoleon’s prize for food preservation to help feed his army, giving us the basic technology still used to can foods.
Food is naturally a key sector, proved by the Canadian government’s recent resolve to support the Canadian Food Innovators and also to invest in key technological firms, which are welcoming this innovation push. The Gulf States have been investing heavily in promoting innovation and creating new hubs as well, taking lessons from previous examples, such as Japan’s.
With countries and companies eager for innovation – take India’s start-up ecosystem, for example – there is no single answer to this discussion, as there is no single way or formula to innovate. All in all, the message may be that innovation and moonshots are valuable, for companies and governments and, ultimately, for all of us.